How To Be An Expat Brat

Complain frequently and look burdened. Hello, growing up in a foreign country is HARD. Especially China. Like – why are there oxen blocking traffic up and down the freeway and why can’t I watch porn or read cooking blogs? Do you know how long it took me to learn how to yell at my driver/ maid/ cook/ tennis coach/ everything in a foreign language? Difficult. The life of an offshore offspring is no walk in the park.

Go to an international high school. Becomes besties with children of diplomats, hotshot journalists and oil execs. Bet on which one of your friends will get deported first. At least two will: One will have actual visa problems and the other will commit a felony but have diplomatic immunity and end up going to rehab in Brazil or something. Fly to Singapore for swim meets, The Hague for Model UN and Thailand to tan during Christmas break. Laugh at your friends who transferred to boarding schools back in the US.

When your best friend’s family moves to Africa, wait no, England, wait no, Australia — have a breakdown. When your parents ask you what’s wrong, shout: “WHY DOES EVERYONE LEAVE ME.” Remember that you only just moved to this country a year ago and move on with your life.

Act out and do really rebellious things. Your bad behavior is so much more edgy because you’re in a foreign country. Go out and get wasted off two shots of Bai Jiu and a bottle of Tsingtao. Proceed to have a cultural identity crisis. “But where is my real home? No, really. I’m so drunk right now tell me where it is.” Pass out in the cab ride home and wake up in the Australian Embassy covered in coal. Leave quietly and don’t ask questions. Succumb to smoking because the city air around you is basically like smoke anyways. Watch your tween life devolve into The Last Emperor meets Thirteen meets anything NGC or MTV.

Eventually graduate from high school and backpack to Tibet to “find yourself.” Mostly just end up finding yak milk and altitude sickness. JK, Tibet is fucking awesome! Take pictures of everything and everyone: Mountains, monks, monasteries, hot monks, your cultured international high school friends, the sky at night. The stars are so much brighter in Lhasa because you’re up so high, you know? Never forget these sights and sounds.

Go to college in the US, but first, run into like, five hundred people you know at the Red Carpet Club or First Class Lounge. Make a scene about it and say things like “it’s such a small world!” and “I love flying! I love airports!”

Show up for International Students Orientation but get barred from entering because you have a US passport. Still demand a free T-shirt. Call your parents and old friends from International School of Whatever to whine about how “no one gets you” and “blah blah culture shock blah.”

Join your college’s Chinese Students Association but leave after two meetings because no one can actually speak English and you can’t actually speak Chinese. Settle for going out to eat Chinese food with your roommate from Wisconsin instead. Whip your splintered chopsticks back and forth in self-righteous disgust at the sight of such inauthentic dishes like General Tso/Tao/Gau’s Chicken and Pu Pu Platter. “Honestly, how can you eat this starchy over-sauced Cultural Hegemony?” Continue complaining even though you secretly like the taste of it because it reminds you just a little bit of what you call home.

Hole yourself up in the East Asian Collections wing of the library and pout. Remember the time that high school was cancelled because of SARS and it was just So. Much. Drama. The girl who sat next to you in IB History asked if she could get her sanitary-mask in paisley. You said “probably.” Cry profusely from being overwhelmed by such profound memories. Profound expat memories.

Enter post-freshman year summer. Miss every internship application deadline in your respective homeland because you are “so over this country right now.” Work your privileged expat connections to get an unpaid desk job back in China instead. Intern at a fashion magazine/PR firm/Fortune 500 for free because you can. At the office, run into four of your friends from the International School of Some Place who also got their jobs the exact same way you did. Collectively laugh and feel no shame.

Party every night after work, occasionally photocopy something like a napkin the next day in the office and spend an inordinate amount of time taking lunch and coffee breaks with the other interns. Duck tape office supplies to the walls of your cubicle and laugh like a madwoman. Translate something every now and then. Know that this behavior is OK because everyone in the office already thinks you’re all completely useless/illiterate but extremely fashionable anyways.

Fly back to college and feel homesick. Fly back to China for winter break and feel ambivalent. Go clubbing at places named “Bling” a lot. Fly back to college and don’t know what you feel anymore. Master the art of getting over jetlag in a day. Graduate from college and fly home one last time before your parents decide to pack up and haul everything back to the US — back to reality. Realize that most of your friends from International School of Where Ever have done the same and left for their respective motherlands.

Watch the Chinese vegetable stands, street markets and Hu Tongs of your city erupt into robotic Western eateries and shopping malls with boring stores like Tiffany and Co. and Burberry. Watch random super-highways overcome the scenic cornfields that you once drank in and had bonfires with friends in. Try to remember the country, the roads and the sounds you once fell in love with. Suddenly feel like you are a Stranger in a Strange Land. Feel lonely, loathsome and out of place. Breathe deeply, get over yourself and appreciate how lucky you have been for the first time in a long time. TC mark


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  • Julia Kath

    wow, story of my life. I went to the international school in london, had sports games in every european country imaginable, and now – after graduating from the IB – I’m back in the US. I loved every minute of it! Except that everyone else was cool and rich, and their parents had cool jobs. Mine just moved there for the fuck of it.

    • Julia Kath

      Oh my god I’m such a brat..

      • Frida

        If only to be that lucky… :/

  • Milena Pagan

     I really enjoyed reading this, your writing is funny and lighthearted and I love it. And I’m totally jealous of your experience.

  • STaugustine

    This is one of those PPBS’s (Personals Profile by Stealth),  right?  Bragplaining is a tricky art. And,

    “Do you know how long it took me to learn how to yell at my driver/ maid/ cook/ tennis coach/ everything in a foreign language”

    …Dude, how shall I put this…?

  • damo

    oh to be an expat brat/third culture kid. life is unfair.

  • Rebecca

    “Show up for International Students Orientation but get barred from entering because you have a US passport. Still demand a free T-shirt.” – I thought I was the only one that did that. I love that you put it in writing. I related to everything in that.

  • HipsterFriend

    This could easily be an international Less Than Zero. It has the right amount of disconnection, I just need more felonies!

  • Christopher Michael Luna

    When I moved to Zhuhai, I met a woman who had been here for six or seven years. The first time we got in a cab she started yelling like a terrible bitch at the cab driver and chastising him in terrible Chinese. She didn’t stop until we got out of the cab. Later I asked her how much Chinese she knew, and she said, “Just survival Chinese. You know, like for cab drivers and waiters and stuff.”

  • 狗日的

    哥抽的不是麻是寂寞 啦啦啦

    • Dee

      don’t know what you said, but those characters look pretty

      • another expat

        He’ s saying he’s not smoking pot, but loneliness. la la la. 

    • Lena


  • ed

    whiny pretentious light reading.. its the expat life i remember and kind of try to remove myself from

  • guest

    you’re not charming enough for this writing style to work

  • Anonymous

    This is too true….I was the kid who missed the fun and got sent to a boarding school in the US. Not fair!

  • AG

    Are you from Shanghai?  I went to Shanghai American School and you nailed the experience right on the head.

    • guest

      haha I went to SAS as well. 

      • Gerin

        haha yea. you can totally tell its an SAS’er just by the little things … class of ’06 here, btw.

  • Irma Orlandi

    Hey, props to some really good writing (found out you went to Brown, which explains a lot). I’m actually Stephanie Algranti and Suzie Dash’s friend from middle school (Irma, you might have heard of me). I’m going back to Beijing tomorrow for a week after having been gone for 8 years now (although I visited in 2005 the last time), so it was really nice to read and relate to your/our stories. Thanks again for spoiling us brats just that tad bit more. 

    • Lena


      • Eibba_99


  • Anonymous

  • Purpledream10

    did you go to ISB?!

    • Sweetsummerx3

      definitely ISB

      • guest

        this guy’s definitely isb

      • Guest

        he’s shanghai american school…

      • guest

        hes isb and singapore american school..

      • guest

        this guys ISB, he lives in china & goes to THIMUN in Hague cant be SAS. one of those ISB mun ppl

      • KatieH

        WooHooo!!! SAS Puxi!!!!

    • Nightshade130


  • e.p.

    holy shit, i actually don’t know anybody like this.

  • Quasishire

    story of my brother and most of my students now that I’ve been teaching at an int’l school. you nailed that one. 

  • IntStudent

    story of my life and everyone that came into my life

    • intproblems!

  • Jessica Lee

    story of my life!!  SAS’ers unite!!

    • Kevinc1218

      This is a small world after all

      -Kevin Chang

  • Stephen Yen

    I thought I recognized the author/experience. I hope all is well Matthew.

  • corextacy

    we need to have more content that connects student who went to international schools. loved the writing. :)

  • xpat_01

    LOL…make us sound like such deprived self involved lost souls…haha good to know i’m not the only one! jokes, this is hilarious and so true at the same time… really well written and if you have lived that life then there is something in there that you can identify with. but seriously yeah, despite the whole identity crisis we all go thru, at the end of the day i hope that we just appreciate how lucky we were and use our experiences to…’make the world a better place’….ew so corny :P 

  • TCK

    Great piece – grew up on the IASIS and SAISA circuits and I can relate to so much of this. Thanks for writing! 

    • AISD/ISM

      Yo i grew up on IASIS and SAISA whos this what school u go to

      • Angel Selsor Szwargulski

        I went to ISKL :) from 1990 to 2002 :)

  • diplobrat

    Not exactly me, but I laughed.

    Sincerely, your fellow diplobrat.

  • Slashacow

    this is ridiculously accurate. grew up in hong kong…

    • HKRep

      Hong Kong is easily the best city in the world

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