surinenglish

Stripping the veneer off 'expat' life

Carrie Frais, editor and co-author of #LivingTheDream: Expat Life Stripped Bare.
Carrie Frais, editor and co-author of #LivingTheDream: Expat Life Stripped Bare. / SUR
  • Carrie Frais, along with nine other women, share the trials and tribulations of life abroad, especially at a time of Brexit uncertainty and a global health pandemic

A new book, which its editor and co-author Carrie Frais hopes will expose the reality behind the dream of life as an 'expat', tells the true stories of 10 women who have, for all sorts of reasons, left their own country in search of life in another.

The co-authors of #LivingtheDream: Expat life stripped bare are people Carrie has met through her website MumAbroad, friends who have made the move and people she has met since she cofounded Bremain in Spain, the post-Brexit campaign group which Carrie, along with her friend Deborah Gray, who is one of the authors of the book, set up after the result of the 2016 EU referendum was known.

In one of the chapters, Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, tells her story of transformation from looking forward to retirement in Spain and "without a political bone in her body" to becoming a political activist and voice to thousands of Brits in Spain affected by Brexit.

While some of the women are Brits who have emigrated to Spain, other stories come from Australia, New Zealand, an American in Italy and the French Alps. They are by and large women in their 40s and 50s.

Carrie is keen to point out through the book that regardless of where you live, experiences are often very similar. "It doesn't matter where you live, that feeling of struggling to integrate, language, and dealing with the bureaucracy is the same wherever you are."

She also wanted to dispel the myth that, particularly in Spain, all Brits who have chosen to live here are retirees looking to spend their golden years in the sun. We agree that it's impossible to break that unrelenting media image. "Brexit coverage has been nothing but the typical stereotype retiree," Carrie laments, adding, "We need to smash the stereotypes."

What to call ourselves

The final point we touch on in terms of the book's messages is that sticky issue of the term 'expat'. As Carrie says in the introduction to her book: "I dislike the word 'expat' but, for simplicity, the term has been used in this introduction and in some of our stories. It would be better to describe me and my fellow writers as 'immigrants temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than the one in which they were raised'. Unfortunately, that's a bit of a mouthful."

She goes on to say, "The word 'expat' has probably now run its course, as it retains connotations of privileged, financially mobile western white men and women working abroad, or retirees relaxing on sun-soaked beaches. Nowadays, people are choosing to emigrate for a myriad of different reasons and some of us feel that being labelled an expat can set us apart from our adopted cultures when, in fact, we are trying to do exactly the opposite."

She admits there's an "ironic element" to the title of the book, which aims to "go behind the Facebook veneer of cocktails and toenails in the sand." But at the same time the book's aim isn't to get a "knee-jerk reaction from people who don't understand and think your life is a permanent holiday".

We talk about the wide-ranging reasons why people move abroad in the first place and then end up staying. Take for example Deborah, who came to Spain for a year, aged 29 and is now 50 and still living here.

Carrie, 50, has lived near Barcelona with her British husband since 2006. Their two children were born in Barcelona.

As well as founder of Bremain in Spain and MumAbroad, Carrie runs Fig Communication; a marketing and communications company for Spanish companies wanting an international profile. She also hosts a weekly Desert Island Discs-style show for a Barcelona based radio station.

The book has been co-written by 10 women who have left their native countries to start new lives abroad.

The book has been co-written by 10 women who have left their native countries to start new lives abroad.

"I'm not great at not being busy, I like being busy," the multifaceted mother-of-two admits.

Finding herself with time on her hands during the first lockdown in spring last year, Carrie came up with the idea of putting together the book. She had also recently lost both of her parents and describes not only the pain and grief of loss, but as an 'expat' she said she also started to feel "rootless and with a lack of sense of belonging".

Carrie knew of others who had faced similar as well as quite different experiences. "There are themes around loneliness and major personal challenges," she highlights.

Inevitably Covid-19 and Brexit feature in the women's accounts. "They have come at the same time and really laid bare people's struggles," says Carrie. We discuss feelings of guilt and questioning decisions to move abroad in the first place, especially in light of current travel restrictions.

We agree that there is plenty of scope for sequels. Carrie is already exploring ideas around exposing a different image of retirees, a men's perspective on emigrating and looking at motherhood abroad. "People will always have stories to tell. The book is giving people a platform," Carrie concludes.

The book is available on Amazon.es/co.uk and other countries in paperback and Kindle. There are plans for an audiobook version.