Thursday, January 9, 2014

How Expat Life is Like Summer Camp

I was thinking the other day about the hierarchy and stages one goes through as an expat and realized that expat life is a lot like summer camp. For expats the location is temporary just like summer camp.

New Place, New Rules

Just like that first day of camp, no one is really sure what they are doing when they get to their new location. Different surroundings, rules, and schedules.  You walk around in a daze and just follow the crowd.
Picture via @FirstBaptistNashville on Flickr

There is a definite hierarchy among the expats from the newbies to the seasoned pros, and a pecking order. I started last year as a newbie and I now feel like I've moved to the next stage where I'm no longer a newbie, but by no stretch have I become a seasoned pro.

I think the seasoned pros are like the camp counselors, they are the ones heading the committees at school, they give out advice on which moving company to use, or where to go to buy good meat. On the other hand, they are very hard to become friends with, they've made their friends and they realize the ship is going to be sailing soon. Expat trailing spouses can be very cliquish.

The folks that have been here a few years are like the counselor-in-training, ready to take over when the counselors move on and learning all the tricks of the trade from the counselors.  These folks are the ones that keep all the newbies from losing their minds and jumping the next plane back to where they came from.

Temporary Living

Everyone knows all good things must come to an end. Summer camp ends in the Fall and with the start of school just like an expat assignment can only last for so long.

I was reading an article written by an International School of Beijing (ISB) graduate (Five Things Growing Up in China Made Me Appreciate) and I really connected with her comments about all the "temporary friendships." Now don't get me wrong when I say temporary I don't mean that when I leave Beijing I won't keep in contact with some of my friends, but at the same time the likelihood of us ever being together for more than a vacation, or Facetime calls is not high, and for the most part the acquaintances you make becomes just that, temporary friendships, they don't survive.

New Experiences

At summer camp you may learn archery, do a polar swim, eat wild raspberries from the woods and camp outside next to a fire. Here in China, and as expats we also have amazing experiences and opportunities. From trying new foods, learning a new language and customs to being able to afford amazing vacations, the experiences are awesome.


I think this is the most obvious way that expat life is like summer camp. Whether you are 10 and away from your parents for the first time in your life, or 42 and missing aspects of home, your old house, or even missing your parents, we all deal with being home sick.  

With the good comes the bad but luckily in both summer camp and expat life the good outweighs the bad and you are left with many happy memories and you finish as a new and even better person when you leave.


  1. I think that's a great analogy! We miss seeing you here too! Hope you have some fun trips planned soon so you can escape the smog cloud!!

  2. Hi there. A friend of ours has just landed in Beijing a few days ago as a English Foreign Language teacher but the deal she was promised and what she has actually received is quite different and she's in a panic because she has no money for three months now and a small room to stay in - nothing like she was promised!

    Is there a way for her to contact you perhaps? Email, local telephone number, meet somewhere, etc? I think she could do with a bit of assistance or advice and would probably welcome an English-speaking fellow expat's advice!

    1. Hi KateY, I'm happy to email with your friend, sorry for the delay in response. Sounds only too familiar. I'm not sure how you could get me her email address privately on here?

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