The pros and cons of expat escapism

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Caye Caulker

People become expats for all kinds of reasons, and some of us lucky enough to have done it by choice by moving out of a First World country are doing at at least partially in the name of escapism. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately because I’m an American who is delighted to be outside the US during a presidential election year in particular.

This has also reminded me of some people I know whose motivation to move abroad is at least partly based on wanting to live far away from their family or previous social circle. Whether it’s a good or bad thing for any of us is too complicated to discuss in general terms, but it is a reality which definitely has some benefits mixed in with some negatives.

The joy of limiting one’s exposure to “election season”

It seems that the United States might be alone in the world with the fact that its presidential elections dominate the news cycle for at least one full year out of four, and that they are a pretty big issue during most of those other three years as well. It’s maddening. Regardless of whether you like or dislike the person in power at the moment, there are accusations and negativity being thrown around almost every day within the first few minutes of any newscast, or within the top headlines of any news website.

At least with the British system, as I understand it, the elections have to take place within a longer window of time so no one can really start campaigning too early. On the other hand, I think almost every country around the world shares in this feeling. When I would visit Mexico on weekends in my youth it seemed like there was always actual campaigning (in the form of trucks with big signs and loudspeakers driving up and down the main streets) going on.

When you move to a different country you can choose to limit your exposure to much of the craziness. I spent most of last year in Turkey, and the entire year before that roaming around Asia, so I’ve also been basically on the other side of the world, time-zone-wise, which has also helped.

Needless to say, many of the Turkish people here in Turkey are quite concerned with their current government and many of them support an opposition party, but as an expat I don’t really have to worry about it. If, for some reason, this country took a major turn for the worse that affected me, I could move somewhere else. I don’t get to (or have to) vote here, so it’s easy to just whistle a happy tune and ignore the elections here.

Can a person do the same thing in their home country, and is it even a good thing?

The two questions just above are ones I’ve been wondering about lately. I’ve always been very politically aware and while it’s easy to eventually become more cynical about all of it, I don’t find it easy to actually ignore it when it’s all around you. Even if you only watch a little TV and you fast-forward through commercials on a DVR, you are going to be aware of vicious political ads much of the time. When hanging out with a group of people you can’t ask them all to just shut up about it because you personally are tired of it.

Having CNN (International) and BBC World on the TV gives you plenty of chances to hear about the election if you like, but at least there are no political ads in between segments, and it’s easy to turn the channel or turn the TV off and actually avoid it.

Especially as a politically aware person it’s also weird to be escaping the situation rather than trying to make it better. It’s easy to feel a bit guilty about that. However, with the size of the US population (and that of the UK and Germany as well), it’s hard to imagine having much positive impact. Political activism might be best left to those too young to realize how futile it is, and the lunatics among us. For me, I’m happier to be able to tune it all out whenever I want to.

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2 Responses to “The pros and cons of expat escapism”

  1. Erin
    January 30, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Ugh, I totally agree. It’s refreshing to get away from the madness, although I feel guilty complaining about it considering the political difficulties much of the world has especially come election time. My experience has been, though, that the more people I meet from varying countries, the more American politics seem to come up. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic to have much of the rest of the world tuned in to your countries (charade-like) politics. I’m not sure it has exactly been an escape for me, but definitely a little perspective!

  2. Tom
    January 31, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Erin, that’s another great point about how so many people in other countries are focused on US politics. I suppose it makes truly “escaping” nearly impossible, at least compared to someone from, say, Canada or Australia where almost no one even knows the PMs name, much less the harm they might have done to other countries. I’m unable to tune it all out anyway so I don’t have much problem keeping up with the general public I meet in other countries (at least about US politics), but it does seem like it would be nice to completely get away from it for a while sometimes. -Tom

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