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Coming Out of the Shell

By - June 26, 2007 (Updated: November 28, 2014)


This is my Expatica blog from last week in case you missed it. As a footnote, since writing this piece, I’ve reconnected with a bunch of friends from university on Facebook and it’s been really great to see everyone doing so well. We’re spread all over Canada and the world, these days….

The past few days, when I should be doing more important things, like writing Expatica blogs, I’ve found myself spending time on social networking sites such as Facebook, digging through the faces of my past.

Although I’m curious what people from the old days are doing now, I’m uncomfortable with the details of my life being so accessible to them. I can’t help but think about how being an expat has forced me into a social role that I’m still not quite comfortable with.

I’ve always been a private person. I hate making small talk with strangers; I always feel out of place at parties; I despise crowds and I always feel nervous and awkward meeting new people.

These days though, you’d never know it. Since moving to Belgium and becoming an expat, my life is more on-display than ever before. If I search Google for my name, pages of information about me appear for the entire world to see. And although the person I see on those pages looks like me on the outside, I can’t help but wonder where this open and outgoing me came from – and what the people-who-knew-me-when think about her.

As a child in elementary school I was so quiet, teachers and classmates often didn’t even remember my name. (Lord knows they never spelled it correctly) In High School I was definitely not one of the popular girls. I had a small circle of close friends. To those outside of the circle, I was often known as “that other girl who’s friends with (insert name of more outgoing friend here).” I didn’t go to my ten year reunion. I’m not in touch with many people from that time period, although those I am still in contact with are friends for life.

In university, I was forced to be braver. I learned how to fake an outgoing personality even though inside I was still the quiet girl at the back of the class. My social circle was much wider but, most of my meaningful friendships were still with the friends from my past.

Fast forward to my current expat life. Long days without work and friends forced me to seek a social life on-line. My main goal was to stay in touch with friends at home and to find new friends in Belgium. Although I was successful on both counts, something else happened that I wasn’t quite prepared for.

Without ever really thinking about it, I started revealing bits of myself on my blogs that I never would think about revealing through small-talk with an aquaintence. Although I’m fine with friends, family and even total strangers reading about these parts of my life, it’s difficult for me to think of these acquaintances from my past seeing parts of me that were hidden for so long.

This bold new me who writes for various expat websites, sells her photography and artwork on-line and reveals intimate details of her life, is not someone I knew before my expat life began.  I see this bold Alison staring back at me from profiles on sites such as Facebook and I still see the shy little girl looking for approval from teachers and classmates.

But this new Alison has been thrown into more difficult situations in the past two years than she cares to count and although she may not always have done it gracefully, each time, she’s managed to land on her feet.

I’m still insecure enough to wonder ‘what they think of me now’, but, thanks to the challenges I’ve already over-come in my expat life, I am finally secure enough not to care.

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