The Pocket Babe and I have been living outside the U.S. for the better part of 3 years, now. That’s not a very long time but it is much longer than your average vacationer spends outside the states. I frequently meet other expats here in Cancun who have been here over 25 years and we know a handful of long-timers in Ecuador too.
We also regularly meet short-time vacationers here in Cancun who are easily identified by the colored wrist bands they wear designating their status at one of the many all-inclusive resorts. They are also usually the ones with the worst sunburns, their skin painful to look at.
Sometimes we see a couple who has obviously just arrived, looking like they haven’t seen the sun in decades. Their skin is so white they could easily hide and never be found in a small sandbox filled with Pillsbury baking flour. In 24 hours, their skin will be the color of a ripe tomato as they spend way too many hours in this very expensive sunshine often purchased at 18% interest. At the price they are paying, they dare not waste a minute indoors…except to catch their included meals, booze and buffets or perhaps to ride a bus excursion to one of the many Mayan ruins nearby.
The vacationers always presume we, too, are here on vacation.
“When do you go home?” they ask.
“We are home…this is where we live.”
After we proclaim our residence here and relate our previous experience living in Ecuador, many of them just kinda’ glaze over. It is obvious that for those folks, the idea of living in a foreign land is something they would never consider. Some say as much. Others begin to rattle off the usual questions. You can see the wheels turning as they ponder the possibilities of an expat lifestyle for themselves. One younger couple recently saw us on the beach for a second time and stopped to thank us.
“You’ve really opened our eyes to other possibilities”, they said. “Thanks for talking to us yesterday and answering our questions. We stayed up all night talking. Thank you! We see there are other, better ways to live and we are going to go home and begin to make a plan.”
So what does it take to be a successful expat, move overseas and start a new life? In a word…flexibility! Our friends, Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher, editors for International Living Magazine, seem to have it all figured out. In addition to now living in Ecuador and previously living in Mexico, their work dictates frequent travel to exotic locations in South and Central America and the Caribbean as they research and write for the magazine and their books. To me, Dan and Suzan personify what it takes to be a successful expat; calm, flexible and ready to accept every new challenge as an adventure rather than a problem. They ooze flexibility from every pore. By the way, their new book is a gem!! Here’s a link to the Kindle edition.
I’ve met and had conversations with dozens and dozens of expats in the past 3 years and are meeting more every week. If I had to pick one trait that is shared by all of them, it would be flexibility or rolling with the punches. Are you married to your routine? Won’t consider trying other brands of your favorite products? Live your life by the ticks of a clock? If so, you may want to consider loosening up a bit!
About a week ago, Diane was driving in a part of Cancun we had never been. It was evening rush hour and the traffic was horrible! We chose not to use the GPS, thinking we’d find our way home. That would have been fine except for the detours, construction and closed roads. Man, did we get lost! Driving in aggressive, bumper to bumper traffic, trying to change lanes and avoid collisions is not an easy task, especially when you are in unfamiliar territory. While Diane did not maintain a perfect Zen demeanor, she also did not kill anyone or wreck the car. I call that success and flexibility!
The small daily frustrations of life are going to happen whether it’s cleaning up a spill in the kitchen or dealing with heavy traffic. As an expat who will likely not be immediately fluent in the language of your adopted country, what would be normal challenges in your home country become exponentially greater when you are unfamiliar with EVERYTHING! There is a learning curve one must endure and it isn’t always entirely comfortable!
Adjusting to new foods and shopping can be stressful if you allow it. If you are considering the life of an expat, you can start now to increase your flexibility. Go shopping for needed items in different stores than is usual for you. Expand you menu to include different foods that aren’t usually on your list.
And here is possibly the best exercise you can do right there in your home town. Change brands from all the favorites you’ve used for many years to other brands you’ve never tried. Personal items, toilet articles, clothing, and most certainly…food! Change it all! Chances are that many of your favorite brands will not be available in your new home country. Becoming accustomed to new brands and different products is a good primer. Buy different brands of soap, shampoo, deodorant, razors, toothpaste and feminine products. Also, practice carrying toilet paper with you wherever you go. You’ll understand later!
Change all the foods and seasonings that normally find their way onto your shopping list. You now have the luxury of making those changes gradually. Once you move to a new country, that luxury disappears. You may even ask a friend to do your shopping for you for one week telling them to select “off brand” items. Now…that’s an adventure and that is what every day will be like in your new adopted country with one major exception. You will likely not be able to read the labels in your new home country. Sure, you can find some familiar brands and logos but while the labels may seem familiar, don’t be surprised if the contents don’t match the items back home. Some brands are licensed for production outside the USA and are not the same.
Not all are destined for the life of an expat. Those seriously considering making the move can begin practicing some practical flexibility in your home town right now. It’s a start!