Many bloggers spend time talking about the differences between short-term and long-term travel, but many skirt over the longest and most challenging type of travel – expat life. “What is an expat?” you may ask. Well, the word expat is a contraction of expatriate, which derives from the Latin word expatriatus. In medieval times, an expatriatus was someone who had left his or her home country to live somewhere else. In today’s culture an, expatriate has the same meaning; someone who lives in a different location than that which they were born and brought up.
While expat life comes with its challenges, some countries may be easier to adjust to than others. I’ve been living in San Luis Potosí, Mexico for a year now and will share a few things I have learned about expat life. Remember that all of the following statements are based solely off of my experiences and it is okay to have different experiences than me.
Since you are essentially starting your life over when you choose to move to a different country you often have to relearn how to do many things. This could include setting up a bank account, getting a driver’s license, buying a car, purchasing car insurance, along with other life tasks. You not only have complete these tasks but have to figure out how to do them in a country with a complex and long bureaucracy process.
Relearning how to do daily tasks and errands means every day will feel like an adventure. Regular activities like paying a bill, taking a yoga class, driving home, or going to the grocery store suddenly feel much more exciting because you have never done them in your new country before.
While your attitude will make or break your time as an expat, you cannot always avoid the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with expat life. One day I will find myself incandescently happy with life, as I drink my fresh green juice and soak up the sun in the park. The next I will be wallowing in self-pity as I work to get my car fixed and find that it takes 6 phone calls over the course of 6 hours to get my car looked at. Acknowledge your feelings, pick yourself up and keep moving!
I have 0 scientific evidence of this, but doing life in a different country requires you to always be on your toes. I often find myself thinking about what I’m going to say in Spanish, or how I am going to get where I’m going. You learn so much as you figure out to navigate the culture and country you are living in.
I never used to struggle with anxiety when I lived in the US. Yet, when I first moved here even the smallest things seemed to stress me out. Tasks dealing with immigration appointments or driving to work would make me anxious. Shortly after purchasing my car I remember sitting in the driver’s seat and having to give myself a pep talk to drive to the grocery store. YOU CAN DO IT EEMMA! It seems silly now, as I drive daily and have become used to the unwritten rules of the road.
Things often don’t go as planned so learning to let things roll off your back is easier than allowing yourself to become upset. You probably won’t ever be able to completely understand why things are a certain way. It is good to remember that different cultures place a higher value on different things. Accept that it is not wrong just different.
Living thousands of miles away can put stress on your relationships. It can be difficult for families, friendships, and your marriage. What’s more difficult than moving to another country you ask… moving to another country with your significant other!
When my husband and I moved to Mexico together we were quickly hit with the difficulties of being away from everything familiar. We both changed jobs and had to adjust to new roles. We had to grow accustomed to the change of work hours and often didn’t see each other for more than an hour every night – which is difficult for any relationship. However, having to deal with such a big change has only made our marriage stronger. In regards to family and friends, your absence and lack of accessibility will show you who is truly important.
We are creatures of habit which likely means you will miss doing things a way that is easy and comfortable. You will miss the small comforts of home like the wide variation of Oreos or being able to hop in your car for only an hour to see your family. It is okay to miss these things! But don’t spend too much time focusing on the things you miss when there are so many NEW things to discover.
After a while, your new country will begin to feel like home. You will look forward to coming home to your couch and a cold Victoria. You will find a new favorite restaurant, a great hiking spot and make new friends. Before you know it will be time to move home or to your next country of residence and you will be wondering how you are going to make it through the week without immediate access to elote or tacos from the stand down the street.
You get used to having friends from all over the world
As an expat, you quickly make friends with locals and expats alike. There are many things better than sharing life with people that have so many diverse experiences and perspectives. Plus, you will have friends you can visit all over the world!