Expat Life

Riding the expat see-saw: Cons and pros

You just know it — that new country you’ve got all picked out for your new expat life is going to be THE ONE. Heck, you’ve probably done so much research that you’re already visualizing yourself there; walking through the streets, chatting with the locals,chl trish logo trying out your new language. You may even have visited already to scope out just where you want to land. Ah, you’re in love, and want to share the news with everyone. Now it’s just a matter of time before you get to experience all that wonder firsthand.

But still, you’re no fool. You know that no place is paradise. There have got to be downsides, and you wouldn’t mind getting a sneak-peak in advance. You’ve prepared yourself for the best, so what could be the worst? Well, let’s check a few of those things out.

Con: You really are starting all over

Wrapping up one life and preparing for another one is not for the faint of heart, especially when you’re heading to an entirely different country. The planning stage before you arrive is overwhelming at times, and unfortunately there are many things you can’t do in advance like finding housing, furniture if you’ll need it, setting up bank and utility accounts, etc. How will it all fall into place?

chl-see-saw
There are plenty of ups and downs in expat life.

The pro to know

Despite all the anxiety-producing decisions to make, one of the best parts about making the move overseas is that it reaffirms just how capable you are. “At home” these things are just ho-hum, but when you’re getting them done in a foreign environment (and sometimes in a foreign language) you wind up feeling pretty darned proud of yourself!

Con: You’ll feel like a lost child at times

Remember how frustrating it was to have to depend on others to guide you all the time? Well, that’s often going to be the case, at least for awhile, in your new country. It isn’t easy to feel like you know close to nothing about where to go and how to get things done. It’s not at all fun negotiating your way through things you think should be easy and aren’t. It’s definitely humbling.

The pro to know

The awesome part about being a child is that every day is new, filled with fresh and exciting wonders. You get to have adventures, learn new things, and grow bigger and better. That’s how expats get to feel, too. Being a kid isn’t all so bad after all!

These expats have made the transition.
These expats have made the transition.

Con: You’ll be hit upside the head with things you really won’t like

Every country has its beauty, and also its pure ugliness. Things like poverty, shanty housing, and even filth can stare you down, making you feel downright uncomfortable. I can still recall crying endlessly at my first sight of the true poverty in Guatemala: at a loss as to why it still existed, and simultaneously feeling guilty for being so fortunate in my own life. There will be far more minor tribulations, too, but tribulations all the same. How can basic electrical and plumbing systems still be so shoddy, or even nonexistent, in this day and age, you may come to ask. In some countries, they truly are. It’s just the way it is.

The pro to know

The expat life is filled with renewed appreciation. It’s not long before you come to realize just how much more opportunity and choice we’ve been given — far beyond what too many in the world will never experience. Even the simple liberty of getting to move away or travel as we please can make one grateful for just how significant that freedom is.

Con: Get ready to do a lot of compromising

The truth is, daily life is different overseas. We’re so used to having access and variety to things like quality tools, kitchenwares, and foods, that we’re often stunned to find how much more limited those things can be in other countries. Unless we learn the arts of compromise and self-denial, we’re definitely apt to get frustrated and downright cranky sometimes.

The pro to know

The more you find yourself letting go of, you’ll be amazed at how much shorter your list of “must-haves” will become. In fact, it can be very freeing to leave much of that material world behind.

Heck, you just may even learn to cook or create things from scratch or with alternative tools!

Con: The challenge of clashing values

No matter where we come from, it’s a natural tendency to think that ‘our way’ is the best. Unfortunately that attitude can get in our way when trying to embrace our new homes. Little by little the less appealing things come out, and some can end up really getting under our skin. Are there things about Ecuador I don’t like? Guatemala? Costa Rica? Spain? Yep. But there are also certainly things I don’t like about my home country, either. I live here now, and despite it not being perfect, I, like many other expats, learn to accept things as they are and focus on the positive.

The pro to know

By learning to adapt to cultural differences, we learn a lot about ourselves and what matters most to us. While at first I grew immediately impatient when encountering slow service, I later learned to appreciate the beauty of slowing down and feeling life. Where at the beginning I saw only tragic poverty, I looked closer to see the incredibly rich cohesiveness of family lives. Even when I balked at the loud music, I needed only to stop to see all the fun those around me were having.

So as you can see, once you land, you’re destined to experience some not-so-wonderful things in your in everyday life as an expat. More than that, though, notice how you’ll likely come to fall right back in love with your new home for those very same reasons. How great is that?

The aspiring expat you

Alright, so here are a few things I want you to consider. Jot down your answers as you explore your own concerns about adjusting to life in a foreign country.

Assignment: Go back and revisit the Cons that I’ve listed. Think about each one, and write how you’d feel about them. Do you think you could deal with them? How?

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Trish LaPlaca can be reached at trish@aspiretoretireabroad.com

  • Betternow

    Trish, this is an excellent and timely article that I will share with my brother-in-law and his wife who are looking at Ecuador for their new home.
    Thank you!

    • Trish

      Thanks so much for your positive feedback, Betternow! Please let them know that they’re welcome to check out my website to see if it might be helpful to them as well. The address is http://www.aspiretoretireabroad.com. Have a great day!

  • Linda

    Great reminders. One thing you said caught my attention. Perhaps many Expats from the USA stayed in their suburban communities. You can find extreme poverty (usually on the outskirts of cities) in the USA…and, yes, equal to some foreign countries. Maybe one of the ‘pros’ in seeing these awful situations can move folks into reality.

    • Trish

      Absolutely, Linda. Thanks for the additional insight!