In 2008, I left Italy to begin my life as an expat.
Every year since then I've gone back home to visit family and friends
and every time I experience what expats call"reverse culture shock".
We are all from somewhere but we didn’t pick the place, right?
I know seems crazy but for an expat going back home is weird!
It always takes a little time to adjust.
Life always has ups and downs but still, abroad I hang out with travelers, and they have a very different mindset. Everyone is happy and productive, everyone has a goal. Back home, I have the opposite feeling. One of my best friends once told me he was feeling as if he didn’t have a future. He had a good job, a car, a house, and money. I seriously couldn’t understand his point of view, but I realized pretty quickly that this is a common perspective. Unfortunately, In Italy, it’s all about the crisis, the mafia, unemployment, Berlusconi, corruption and so on.. After 10 years on the road, I’m convinced that traveling leads to opportunities and I honestly have never felt like him since I moved. I really think traveling is the key to appreciating life and the key to avoiding boredom or depression.
During my journey around the globe, I’ve lived in several countries. I left home when I was 19. Due to my poor English and my young age I had to start working from the “bottom” with a low wage, bartending and what not. I moved from Italy to Spain then I became a waitress in London. Then I moved back to Italy to manage a restaurant. At the age of 23, I moved to Australia where I became a head chef. To get a second-year visa I worked on a farm. I was living with cowboys, waking up at 5.00 a.m to milk cows, I was riding a powerful 4WD. I was super happy! After Australia I moved to Thailand, and my first job was at a call center. I didn’t like the position, so I studied and I became an English teacher. At the age of 30, I decided to quit my job to become an entrepreneur. I founded The Outsider with Chotika and opened an online shop.
In addition to working on my career over the past decade, I’ve traveled a lot. I met all kinds of people from all over the world, I have learned their culture and listened to their stories. I’ve visited many places. I’ve lived in rich cities with rich people but also spent months with Aboriginal in Australia and hill tribes in Thailand. I met minorities, homeless and sick people...
I have crossed countries keeping a distance from the tourist's route. In Thailand, I spent few days at a village in the middle of nowhere, where my friend’s family lives. They are very poor and survive just with whatever mother nature offers them. We went fishing and hunting together. They still use muskets from the 19 century, to load a gun they need 15 minutes! The gun needs powder first, then the bullet must be manually inserted from the top and pressurized with an iron stick. To actually kill something they must be in a group and make sure not to shoot at the same time, so if the first hunter misses the target the second one is already there with a loaded gun. We caught squirrels, rats, bugs, frogs, freshwater crabs, and fish. That was on the menu for the night, it goes like that every day.
Cambodia is probably the poorest country I ever visited. I traveled by bus from Thailand and I felt as if I was going from Switzerland to Africa. When I arrived in Siem Reap I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting Cambodia to be so different. The first day I was there while eating street food, a kid came up to me and asked for a few dollars.
He was perhaps 5 and he was carrying a rubbish bag full of empty cans and bottles to sell at the dump. That’s was his job. I refused to give him money so he asked if he could eat my leftovers. I gave him the plate with my fried rice. He then started whistling and waving his hands in the air and in no time 5 kids his same size of him came to eat the food. They were all very little and malnourished, all sharing my leftovers. I remember I cried right away. That situation totally broke my heart.
Once walking around a market of a Siem Reap suburb I met two kids, Leeng and Chung both 10 years old. Their moms were selling fish at the market and I remember it was a very hot and humid day. No one over there has a refrigerator, they can’t afford it. The market was dirty and it stunk like hell, full of rubbish.
Even in these conditions, everyone looked happy. The two kids were happy, as well their moms, everyone was smiling and nice. Leeng and Chung were having fun with 2 straws and 2 puffer fish. They couldn’t stop laughing and they made me laugh as well.
They inserted the straws into the fish's butt and they were blowing inside it, making a balloon out of them. That was the only “toy” they had.
“Here is forbidden sleeping with underage people”. That night I went out and I sadly saw with my own eyes old men dating very young girls. Some of them were kids. I was surprised, I was shocked. I had never seen something like that in my life before. I rushed back to my room to plan how to leave the place as soon as I could.
Sometimes I think about the Italian friend who felt futureless and all my other peers who feel the same way.I think about how feeling privileged is not considered an option anymore. It seems like if we are not super rich, we can’t be happy. I remember before traveling that I was like them. Now, I realize that happiness comes from experiences, not possessions. I hope others will join me and start traveling the world.
Written by: Marta Sailis