By Roger Ellis
In my 11 years’ experience as an expat, most of the things you don’t hear about in the glowing reports about life overseas turn out to be unpleasant. (“They didn’t tell me how hard it would be to learn Spanish … or how difficult it is to deal with a banana republic bureaucracy … or that hot water heaters are different down here … or that Grey Goose costs two times as much as it did back in Texas … or … fill in the blank).
But there are few very pleasant expat surprises they don’t tell you about either.
The one that stands out for me are the friendships. In Ajijic, Mexico, Boquete, Panama and now in Cuenca, my wife and I have developed some of the most amazing and satisfying friendships we’ve had in our lives.
Sure, we had good friends back in Arizona and California before we became expats and we continue to treasure many of them. But our lives were structured around work and a suburban lifestyle, which meant our friends were people from our work lives or neighbors from the subdivision. There was also a formality to our friendships; we almost never dropped in unexpectedly on a friends, or they on us. Get-togethers were almost always by appointment.
As expats, however, we’ve discovered that much of the formality of friendships vanish. The spontaneity we had when we were young returned. All of a sudden, it was okay to call up a buddy to see if wanted to go out for a beer or go to a soccer match. It was even okay to drop in on friends unannounced. It was almost as if we were back in college again.
We also discovered that our friends in expat communities represented an incredible range of diversity. In Cuenca, I have friends and close acquaintances who have been a policeman, a surgeon, an electrician, a stock broker, an airline pilot, a film maker, and a race horse trainer. My wife has one friend who is a retired state senator from New York and another who coached a women’s university golf team in Florida. Back in California, we would have never been exposed to such a range of backgrounds.
The geographic diversity among expats is equally amazing. At dinner last week with friends, the hometowns of those at the table included Buffalo, Toronto, Barcelona, Tallahassee, Boise, Loja, Las Vegas and Ashland, Oregon.
If you’re someone back in the U.S., Canada, or Great Britain, or wherever you’re reading this, and considering making the leap into expatriatism, let me suggest that the people you’ll meet overseas may be your most pleasant surprise.