Name: Albin Deforges
Occupation: co-owner and founding partner of Quan Ut Ut, a BBQ restaurant.
Overseas since: 1994. I have spent 18 years overseas. By the end of the year I would have spent as much time in France as I would have overseas.
Could you name some of the countries you’ve lived in since leaving the place where you grew up?
England, Switzerland, the Caribbean region, Canada, the US, Vietnam.
What’s your definition of ‘home’?
A place where I feel comfortable, where I can relax after a long day of work, and where I have gathered and collected memories of my past.
How did you become an expat?
I always have been interested in the hospitality industry. Studying abroad helped achieve this goal. As well being in this industry, and as I always loved to travel, it came pretty naturally to move away from what was home at that time, and go for holidays abroad.
How has being an expat changed your perception of your home country?
Being French, I’ve realized the perceptions that people, foreigners, countries abroad have made about my home country and fellow countrymen. About true behaviors and stereotypes. So some times I was proud to be from France, some other times less. But I think over the years, I’ve become more proud of my roots. I’ve also become happier than I used to be to explain where I come from and what influence it had on me. Love for food and drink, language, and heritage.
Overall it is more about the history and culture than about the current situation of the country, as for present moment I would not see myself living in France.
Can you think of any particular moment, exchange or encounter that made you mentally or emotionally feel you’d left home “for good”?
The first time someone asked me when I was living in NYC: where do you come from? And I answered I was French, but I was living in Switzerland and currently doing an internship in New York City. Made me realized that for sure, I will not be calling France home anymore.
Are there any ways in which your adopted country has changed your behavior or thinking significantly?
I have changed a lot, especially my behavior over the past nine years but at this point, I’m not sure if it is only because of Vietnam, or because of life, growing old, and getting more experience. But I think I have learned to understand more differences, and in some ways, not always accept them.
Now I try to see which side would be the best to adopt. At some times there are good and bad on both sides. Living abroad for a long time in several countries I’ve realized there are no perfect places. The grass always looks greener on the other side. You need to accept your situation where you are and live with it, or move on. For me in Vietnam specifically, I have learned to become more patient but at the same time, not how to be fooled by it. If you know what I mean.
What aspect of life as an expat is most challenging or worrisome for you?
Being far from my home country where my family and relatives are still living. They grow older and you sometimes feel that you’re missing on your family life: the first steps of your nephews and nieces, first new experiences, your parents that are growing older, best friends’ weddings. To answer the question, it’s more about what I’m missing out from back home. In terms of what is challenging as an expat, I think that everyday life can be challenging. Having to adapt to a new culture that you do not always understand, even after a long time. Often stress and challenges come from the differences of cultures and educations. But that is the beauty of it as well. It makes life more exciting, less boring.
What, if anything, do the expats you’ve met have in common?
Expats all have a tendency to stick with their countrymen!
I guess it’s a natural feeling. Easier to understand each other, express when you feel homesick. At the same time, many countrymen are ready to support each other as we often feel different from the locals. It would be interested to have an insight from an Asian expat on that. But you can notice that with Viet Kieus as well. They often separate from the local crowd. Over the years I’ve come to realize and appreciate that there is a better blend between expat and local crowds in nearly all venues. Hopefully this will continue to get better and better. Overall as an expat we have a tendency to compare our adopted country to our home country and sometimes complain, but at the end of the day we know we will regret it so much when we have to head home.
Can you see yourself living in your adopted country indefinitely? If yes, what makes you stay? If no, why not? Is there anywhere that you can see yourself settling down indefinitely?
So far I do not see myself living in my adopted country indefinitely, but what I’m sure of, is that I do not see myself living in my home country. I don’t see myself going back “home.” I enjoy being abroad and I could not live differently at the moment. When I have a family I will consider differently, as I want to make sure they are in a place that I can raise my kids in a safe environment with a good education. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it will be back home or out of Asia. But where I will settle at this point I’m not sure.