Cultivating a support system as an expat
By Cathy McKay
Now that you are an expat who has landed in your host country, you need to think about how to create a support system like you had back home.
After spending months or even years planning and putting your move into place to get to your destination abroad, you have had hardly any time to plan how you are going to establish yourself as a local once you get there.
We take so much for granted in the States. Everything we need or want is easily available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So not true once you move abroad!
Those English-speaking friends and family we have been able to rely on will no longer be a phone call away.
My destination has been Cuenca, Ecuador, so most of what I will share is about moving to that location, although it will hold true for moving to other countries as well.
Creating a new life
Remember, you will set up your life in your new country, complete with everything you need to in order to function on a day-to-day basis.
So, let’s start with the basics. Communication. Yes, you need to communicate what you need or want. If you are not fluent in the language of your host country, you will find out how difficult it is to get anything done.
Give this some thought. You will need to set up a bank account, go to the doctor’s office, go to the grocery store, lease or buy a place to live, apply for a visa, and the list goes on and on. I am going to start with some basic advice.
The value of social media
Use social media in your new country. You can Google or Facebook search for “Americans or Expats in Ecuador.” You can join a group and ask for recommendations for what you need.
If possible, find a bi-lingual facilitator who can assist you with your day-to-day needs. Here in Ecuador there are many who work for $10 an hour and will accompany you to your appointments and translate for you. That will at least get you started.
Until you become at least reasonably proficient in your new language (if that is your goal), it will also be beneficial to ask for referrals for English- speaking professionals and service organizations. Most expats are happy to recommend someone they have worked with who has done a good job for them. This is not only for professionals but for any handy work you need done.
In many countries, they do not do business the same way you may be used to. There is no “Better Business Bureau” or “Angie’s List” to contact for ratings and referrals. And nothing is more frustrating than trying to communicate your needs to someone who has no understanding of your language.
Now, so much for taking care of life’s day-to-day details.
Making new friends
Hopefully, you have other interests and want to find like-minded friends to enjoy your new life with.
I am a Google addict, so that is the first place I go to for just about anything these days, especially because I can “Google” in English. There are Facebook groups and other special interest groups all over the globe.
It will surprise you how many people there are who speak English and enjoy many of your same interests. Don’t hesitate! Start searching. I have met some most interesting people online, and it will help a lot until you can start making new friends in your new country.
One last thought. As an expat, you will stick out in a crowd in many countries. Most expats are so happy to see “someone from home”, so walk up and say “Hi.” There’s no telling where that might lead. And I can’t recommend taking language classes enough. You don’t want to miss out on being able to share and learn about the culture of your new home. Make the most of it and enjoy!
Please let us know what you’re thinking and … Bienvenidos!