EDD SAIDAdvice for the potential expat: Look before you leap
By Edd Staton
I took the time to read through some of the online forums dedicated to Ecuador this weekend and noticed something interesting. On the one hand, there were folks totally gung-ho about making the “big move;” others were quite timid and unsure, asking questions like, “Was there a lot of anguish in your decision to leave family & friends behind?”
Relocation abroad is a major life-changing event, and it is appropriate that a great deal of research and questioning be done. You’re not moving across town or even to a new state; you’re not changing jobs—you are contemplating leaving behind most everything that you know and placing yourself in a culture, and perhaps a language, about which you have little understanding.
But while all the Googling of places to live and the information gleaned through chatrooms and forums is helpful, the main place you need to look for confirmation about the decision to become an expat is in your heart. Ask yourself why you are thinking about leaving. Be honest about your tolerance for change. Most importantly, ask yourself this:
Am I running away from something or towards something?
The implications of this simple question are immense. People sometimes think, “If I can just leave this place everything will be better.” The reality is, happiness is an inside job, and even moving to a foreign country isn’t going to help if you bring your same sorry self with you. Make sure whatever you think you need to get away from isn’t really an external manifestation of personal inadequacies that need attention.
Becoming an expat is an excellent opportunity for personal reinvention, and from personal experience I can share that coming here has allowed me to create an environment where I am pursuing lifelong dreams that probably weren’t going to be possible by remaining in the States. Knowing who you are–knowing what you want– being willing to do what it takes to make it happen—these are the keys to your successful transition.
If I had to name one and only one characteristic of expats who seem to happily and successfully assimilate into this new lifestyle, total commitment tops the list. Being antsy and even overwhelmed is normal, as long as you decide you’ll keep smiling, enjoy the ride and have confidence you’ll eventually get your bearings. If you’re flat-out terrified the odds are strong that it ain’t gonna work out too well.
For couples it is imperative that both members of the relationship are on board. One excited spouse is not going to persuade the other that he or she is having a great time when in fact that person is miserable and wants to go home. Marriages can and do blow up in this scenario. Who knows, maybe such partnerships are on life support anyway and can’t withstand the intensity of so many changes. Just be aware of the danger of saying, “Come on, honey—give it a chance–this will be great!!“
People sometimes comment, “Hey, if it doesn’t work out, I can always go back.” If you’re the one saying that let me ask: does that sound like a solid commitment to you? Yeah, it’s true one can return, but living abroad for even a short time changes a person forever. The you that came isn’t going to be the same you that goes back and attempts to resume your old life. Plus there’s at least a chance your self-esteem won’t be at an all-time high after risking so much, after taking such a chance, and coming up empty.
So conduct proper due diligence, externally and internally. Do the right thing for the right reasons. Know who you are and what you want. After all that, if you’re certain relocation abroad is the right decision, even if the details are a bit fuzzy, go for it. Should you be hesitant for any reason, listen to that small voice inside and consider waiting. This lifestyle is not for everybody; in fact it’s not the best choice for most folks. Be sure it’s right for you.
Editor´s note: Edd Staton is a Cuenca resident, writer and community activist. He is author of the Edd Said blog, www.eddsaid.blogspot.com, and writes a column for Cuenca´s afternoon newspaper, La Tarde.