I realized today while reading a money blog post on calculating real wages while our little one was asleep (side note: doesn’t that always seem to happen, especially when you’re a new mother and have about 5 minutes to yourself during the day?! I start googling how long to put the chicken in the oven and end up reading a money blog through some tangent…and yet it always seems impossible to sit down and get to what I most want to do all day [which is why I’ve banned myself from my phone in the evening]…anyway) that the worth of being an expat could be measured in kind. The author of said article argued that ‘real’ wages factor in a host of factors, everything that one incurs as a result of choosing that employment: commute, transportation, dress, extra spent on lunches and coffees, and that a ‘real’ value can be derived from adding up total hours and actual income after added expenses. He advocated using one’s ‘real hourly income’ as a tool for assessing whether or not a purchase was really of value to someone, but it struck me that being an expat can be looked at similarly. Is what we gain by being an expat equal to or greater than what we give up? Or is it less?
Save one rather boring year in Foshan, the whole time I was in China I never questioned the value of my being there (in Foshan I had a well-paying but incredibly slow job, lived in a commercial-industrial region with good shops and restaurants but not much else, and didn’t really have any close or inspiring friends who weren’t away in Guangzhou; in fact, I contemplated moving to Guangzhou and making the hour commute just to be somewhere more interesting – but either way, I still knew I wanted to be in China). I thrived being in China. Yes, it was stressful, and yes, I got sick from the pollution, and yes, most years I was underpaid and had to constantly worry about my budget. But I loved it. My experience there was infused with the sense that there was always something new to learn, always some new place to explore, an endless number of people to meet, always some aspect of society to research and discover, and a never-ending [but often rewarding] journey of learning Chinese. The balance tipped far in China’s favor.
But in Bishkek…?
Does what we gain here outweigh what we give up, what other opportunities and experiences we would have had? When I put it like that, the answer is quite simple: no, for us it does not.
My husband’s job is stressful; I’ve struggled to find meaningful employment here that also pays a fair wage. I’m certainly not as interested in the culture as I was in China (it’s more a place I happen to be than intended to be). I miss good, healthy food – especially in the six months between seasons. The weather isn’t great (it’s not even November and it’s already snowed four times). Traffic is even worse, and the drivers can be rude (which adds to the stress of living in the city). We don’t have a solid circle of friends. Most of all I miss intangible cultural opportunities – bike trails and music festivals or films in the park, good places to go on a rainy Saturday afternoon like museums and libraries and concerts and theater. And these are all things I feel we had/could have in Turkey (except for the whole economic-political instability bit over there now) and could create or find in the US without losing a lot. And that’s the clincher – I can’t think of what we will lose once we leave Bishkek. There’s no one thing that I think I will miss especially.
I wouldn’t say that looking at our experience here this way makes me feel bitter; rather, it’s relieving to be able to look at it in a manner so clear and simple.