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The Accidental Expat

by Sharon E. B. White

I don’t know why the universe sent me to Pattaya. I mean I know why I came to Thailand but that is not the story I want to tell.-How did I become an Accidental Expatriate?

It started in January 2007 as a three-week tag along visit to Changzhou, China with my husband, toddler and 6-month-old baby. My husband sat in First Class, as was planned weeks before, whilst I sat in economy with the babies. As we know American Airlines do not have the best of reputations and they would not allow me to switch places to have a break from my wonderful offspring. But my reason for tagging along was because the toddler and I sorely missed my husband on his bi monthly trips to China from Texas. So much so that my son would scream anytime he saw my husband’s computer bag by the backdoor.

Before marrying I had been a flight attendant in the 1990s and had always lived in the United States but marrying a British man, I was open to the possibility of living in the UK and by the UK, I meant London. Eleven years down the line I am still an expat and not living in London but Asia.

The three-week trip turned into seven and half years in Ningbo, China, a small city of four-ish million people -I loved Ningbo. Don’t get me wrong I had my “hitting the wall” moments such as when I slammed my fist on a policeman’s car after he nearly ran me over or when I asked yet another man to please refrain from smoking in the lift. But when my husband asked if I was open to moving to another Asian city I thought he meant Shanghai.

Whilst we were discussing the possible move, my father suddenly passed away. Grief is a funny creature. I was able to make all the necessary arrangements; organize the funeral and deal with the messy financial aspects but afterwards, I had no energy for deciding which city we would move to. So I gave my partner carte blanche; he could decide the country, city, schools, and house - maybe not my finest decision.

A friend of a friend who lived in Pattaya gave advice. Close to an international airport, international hospitals, choice of good schools and roughly an hour and half to Bangkok but what I think won my partner over was sunshine and the beach - he was ecstatic ! In less than a week, he had arranged the school, the house and plane tickets for three children, two dogs and myself to fly to Pattaya.

Then the fun started. As an expat, I know how it feels to miss your home. I just didn’t think I would miss China but I did. I missed China horribly. I missed my job, my friends, my taxi rides, and even the silly smokers in the lifts. In the beginning I tried to like Pattaya but didn’t. I actually hated everything about it and only saw the negatives which is easy to do. But my children, my husband and especially my dogs, loved Pattaya. I wish I could say I quickly snapped out of it. I didn’t. I knew I was doing all the wrong things like staying at home instead of exploring the city. I even cried in front of a newly made expat friend. But little by little, the sun shine stopped being so overbearingly bright. I met a kind woman who drove me to an expatriate coffee gathering (really appreciate that Kylie) and life in Pattaya became slowly but surely, nicer and gentler.

My first three years in Pattaya were painful growing years. I realized important things like I SHOULD always chose the house we live in. I learned not to be so hard on myself and I learned that I do need girlfriends. So my advice is if like me, you find yourself an accidental expatiate, be kind and embrace the bumpy, painful yet ultimately wonderful ride.