Are Expats Wanderers?


Photo credit: Victoria Nevland / Foter / CC BY-NC


The second prompt of the Expat Blog Challenge is to respond to the line, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

This is the second line to a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien titled “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter”. It appears in The Lord of the Rings.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The subject of the verse is Aragorn. The first line suggests he is more important than he appears. The second line refers to his position as a Ranger, whom appear to be aimless wanderers, but are protectors who know exactly where they’re going.

My father tells a story of my childhood. It goes that I did something naughty, as children do, and he scolded me for it. I responded by yelling that I couldn’t wait to grow up and leave the house. He says that he knew then that I would.

Whether it’s true or not, the popular image perpetuated of American families is that the child leaves home at 18 to attend college somewhere distant. After college, the adult child lands a job, gets married, buys a home, and raises a family. How often it really happens this way, I couldn’t say. At the very least, the expectation that this is the natural chain of events is present.

Hispanic children, on the other hand, are not expected to leave home. Ironically, Hispanic families in the USA are often separated not only by state lines, but by national borders, rivers, oceans, deserts, and politics. But that’s not by choice. If you had the choice, you’d stay home, close to your family.

It was a shock to my parents when I told them I was leaving home to attend college somewhere distant. It wasn’t even that distant, just five hours way (far enough, my teenage mind thought). It was hard, really hard for them. My mother, who rarely cries, cried, more than once. My father just couldn’t understand. I have no regrets about that decision though. It was what I needed to become independent from them. I received a good education and I met people that I still call friends. Little did I know, it would help pave the way for a much bigger separation.

When I ran out of money and my student loans got too big to handle, I moved back into my parent’s home and transferred to a local college where I finished my education. The amazing job with the six-figure income never materialized. That’s what happens when you earn degrees in English and Women’s Studies. I did find work I enjoyed and I did a little bit of traveling. I even went to London by myself. I think my parents had stopped being surprised by this time.

Most Americans that I’ve talked to that ended up becoming expats did so for one of two reasons: work took them to another country or they fell in love with a foreigner. Me? I had dreams of going to Paris, where every morning I’d walk down to breakfast at my favorite cafe, and every evening entertain other American expats in my tiny flat with a view of the Eiffel Tower, drink copious amounts of wine, and talk about writing and books, jazz, and Salvador Dali. That’s the problem with English majors, too much Hemingway and Stein. Many of us just end up working in bookstores.

But I fell in love with a foreigner too. I really have no memory of when I decided to come to Australia though I’m pretty sure I knew I wanted to stay by the time I left the airport. When I told my parents, they were calm and accepting, at least on the outside.

I have wanderlust, but I’m not a wanderer. Sometimes I feel lost and I question what “homes” means, but I’ve always known where I wanted to go even if I rarely know what’s going to happen once I get there. I used to be uncomfortable with the not knowing, but that becomes life when you’re an expat.

Are you a wanderer? Do you know where you’re going?




  1. My six-figure income never materialised either! Everyone in my family lives within 60 miles of each other. I’m the only one who does not live in Louisiana… and, boy! Do I NOT live in Louisiana! LOL

    It’s just me and my husband against the world… or at least… that’s how I see it. He’s the only constant, daily thing I have.

    • I love your comment about it being just you and husband against the world. I guess that’s true for me too, that my partner is my only constant. When I first arrived, I was so dependent on him. Thanks for your comments, Yvette!

  2. I love the story you paint of how we daydream about living in a different country. Reality is so far from that fantasy, but it’s definitely just as great 🙂 I loved hearing a little of your story about how you came to be here!

  3. I’ve packed my bags & I’m headed to Paris. I’m looking forward to staying in your Parisian flat with the view of the Eiffel Tower – drinking French wine – and discussing the latest books we’ve read. Lol. 😉

  4. I am a fellow English major – nice to know there’s a few of us around! Good for you for breaking the mold and heading off to discover the world!!

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