So what’s the big deal about living overseas? Why even bother? There’s all that pesky research to do while you determine where you want to plant yourself. Maybe there will be one or more expensive visits to your new home country to check things out. Once you make the decision (which is never easy), then the real work begins!
There will be a ton of immigration paperwork to navigate (which frequently changes), a language barrier to overcome and the emotions of leaving friends and family behind. If you have a pet, then you must also be sure that your furry buddy has all the required documents for the new country you are entering. One must also make the necessary financial arrangements to manage your money while living in a foreign country. It may be as easy as notifying your present bank that you will be moving abroad or it may be more complex, depending on your requirements.
Then there is the huge logistical and painful undertaking of actually selling your former life; significantly reducing your belongings in preparation for the day when you will finally board an airplane for your new home.
An International move is not cheap! Airline tickets may be the least expensive of all your cash outlays. You’ll need a new place to live, perhaps furniture and household goods, transportation (some folks do quite well using public transportation in their new country) and the cost of acquiring your visa to name a few. If you are one of those who wants to bring all your “stuff” with you (not advised) then you will need to deal with exporters and importers as well as storage and delivery fees, various taxes and duties. Not fun!
Once on the ground, “Settling In” expenses can easily run into the thousands of dollars over and above normal monthly budgeted expenses.
So…really! Why even bother? As a culture, U.S. citizens aren’t all that keen about exploring their planet. Only about *46% of U.S. Citizens hold valid passports compared to Britain’s 75%, for example.
Yesterday as I took my morning walk along the main road that runs through the hotel zone here in Cancun, I encountered the usual mix of locals and tourists also walking. Some, like me, walk for health and recreation and others for transportation, carrying briefcases, lunches and laptops.
The recreational walkers/joggers have digital players strapped to their bodies and often carry water bottles as well. Many of the tourists have cameras slung around their sunburned necks. I was intercepted by a U.S. tourist who had a few questions, which I gladly answered after I took her photo for her.
I asked if she had enjoyed her vacation. In just a few minutes, it was apparent that this woman had been terrified to do anything other than stay in her resort the entire time she was here. She was extremely eager to get on the airplane that afternoon and return to her familiar home in Kentucky. She had seen nothing in 7 days, outside the property boundaries of her all-inclusive resort. She hated the food, felt trapped, could not understand much of what was being said around her and basically was freaking out. “I just want to go home” she said.
Obviously, we are not all built the same. The vacation resorts in Cancun are about as far from a true Mexican experience as one can get. Cancun is an International vacation destination whose primary function is to provide unlimited amounts of Margaritas and Guacamole to the constant stream of tourists seeking to experience the astonishing perfect beaches and crystal-turquoise waters. Like other vacation destinations around the world, the essential business of Cancun is designed to relieve tourists of their money.
As a resident, we do not live a “tourist” lifestyle. There is another Cancun, away from the tourist areas, where we often go for a more Mexican experience.
So, my point is that there really is a big deal about living overseas, however the significant effort that it takes to initially make and commit to such a move provides many rewards that will not be appreciated by some. In fact, what Diane and I consider our rewards in the form of cultural immersion and rich experiences others, like the Kentucky tourist above, fear and simply can’t handle.
Once you arrive in your new home country, the changes in culture cannot be delivered in small increments. They are dumped upon you all at once, like a dump-truck unloading directly into your psyche. New foods, a new language that you will likely not understand at first (Sure…take all your computer courses but be prepared to feel totally overwhelmed for a while) and the feeling that you are running alongside your new life; not quite able to merge with it, all contribute to the initial shock some experience.
Considering the past 3 years…were there moments when we thought we may not make it? Yes, at least yes for me. Diane says she’s never wanted to return to the states. The language barrier almost broke me during our first year in Ecuador. Virtually no one in our small town spoke English, so every day was an advanced class in Spanish and it was really tough! I made cheat sheets that I kept with me and the locals were very helpful, so I made it!
In many ways, moving abroad and becoming an expat reminds me of a relationship. There is the “falling in love” stage where you first discover your new affection and want to spend all your time with him/her. Then there is the marriage and honeymoon phase where everything is roses and candy. Problems and flaws are overlooked or not even noticed. Then the authentic relationship begins when you still love your choice but the flaws are now visible inside the love. Some days it takes work to appreciate what you have as you deal with life’s inevitable problems and issues.
In the end, living life as an expat is not for everyone. One must have an overriding sense of adventure, I think, in order to fully appreciate each day. Not a day goes by without me comparing my new life with my former life in the states. Never once have I ever wanted to buy an airplane ticket back to the states. Not once!
*References: The Expeditioner Online