Expatriation: Myth vs reality

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Published 2020-07-13 09:45

For family and friends left behind, an expat’s life can seem glamorous and daring. The kind of life they wished they could enjoy if they weren’t stuck in the 9 to 5 routine. There are benefits to being an expat, but the reality does not always meet the perception. Jerry Nelson, an American expat in Buenos Aires tells us why.

Traveling is not the same as being an expat

Folks who never leave ‘home’, often equate the expat life with ‘traveling. The two are not interchangeable. There is a chasm of difference between visiting Spain and living there or vacationing in Japan for two weeks and having a home in the island nation.

Anyone could travel to most places and discover things to enjoy — for a short term. But it’s when the dust has settled where bravery begins.

Travelers don’t sweat about living in a strange country— they are just passing through. Tourists don’t worry where to send the kids to school, buying groceries or if they will ever see fried chicken again. 

When travelers visit expats in a foreign country, they often toss out sentences which include “it would be so easy to live here”. Keep that up and the expat host may throw you to the cartoneros.

A big adventure but...

Face it. Being an expat is not just a ‘big adventure’. Moving anywhere — even within your home country — can be challenging. But add an unfamiliar language, a new currency, new traditions, novel ways to buy groceries, well, it quickly becomes a gamble. It’s easy to dream about urban life back home and decide to get back to the familiar.

Staying put in your host country means you hold on to the struggle and challenges instead of just throwing in the towel and saying, “I quit”.

For every expat, there is a list of things that would’ve been nice to know before the move. But the fact is that once you leave ‘home’ you are on the precipice of starting life in a new home. So hang on. The fun’s just starting.

Expats have super powers

I left my wizard potency in America, and I don’t ride a Unicorn. As a long-term expat — 8-years and counting — I’m often told, “I couldn’t do what you do.”

The path I have chosen does not make for an uncomplicated life all the time. Moving half-way around the planet isn’t easy. Neither is learning an unfamiliar language, understanding a foreign culture or even starting a business. It’s no walk in the park.

But we each face our own daily challenges. A couple residing in America, for instance, often works 80-hours a week between them while raising kids and chasing adventures on the side.

For those of us who enjoy living on the edge, the rewards outweigh the risks.

Life is forever a mess!

Every twenty-four hours, for about 30-minutes, an expat MIGHT feel like they have their life together. The rest of the time we may sound like a crazy person. We have not mastered the language of new neighbors, and our home country accent often makes our attempts worse. If we are recovering perfectionists, we can be thankful though for the lessons our host country teaches us.

While we embrace a mixture of vulnerability and courage we wouldn’t trade it for any air-conditioning, English-speaking nation on earth.

Household help does not mean privilege

Think of the most recent expat movie you’ve seen. The protagonist, often a British or American, comes home, puts his hat on the chair and heads to the terrace for a Fernet and Coke handed to him by a devoted servidora.

Reality isn’t like that. People often think we live a grand life because we don’t clean our own bańo. That’s true, not having to clean toilets is a bonus, but it also means merging the household staff, and their families, with our families and being married to their medical expenses and family problems.

In some countries, it’s impossible to function without the group of people who run the house. If there are shortages of food, someone still has to spend 2-hours finding sugar. 

The next time you have the urge to tell an expat how ‘easy’ they have it, remember that often the expat has taken on the responsibility for a whole second family.