This week, I received emails from several readers of this blog. The authors shared similar views, which went something like this:
- they admired my life overseas and felt it was a near-perfect and carefree idyll
- they were either considering a similar move or were about to emigrate soon
- they were excited about the prospect of change and I’d helped reinforce their decisions along the way.
I was thrilled that they’d written to me and compelled to write back positively, encouraging and urging them on with their hopes and their dreams. But I also felt drawn to absolute honesty even though I sensed it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.
|Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Pauli Antero)|
Honesty is the best policy
Lately, I’ve had conversations with a number of fellow expats, ex-Brits, new Aussie citizens, call them what you will, but the same issues have cropped up in these conversations each time.
Whilst they wouldn’t change their lives, ever grateful for the opportunities to travel and establish a base someplace else, things aren’t always as rosy as they might appear. The folks I spoke to were happy and hopeful for the future, but certain issues kept niggling away at their day-to-day living. I wanted to share some of their experiences with you.
It’s not always easy to be entirely truthful in blogs about expat life when we have the kind of audiences that we’re fortunate to have and when we generally want to share the best bits with you. But sometimes it pays to be sincere, especially if you’re the one about to emigrate overseas or you’re daydreaming about a possible move, and a dose of full disclosure could be the most useful thing you’ve received all day.
What I think you want to hear
You read about my life – and the lives of others like me – and you want to learn more about what makes these lives seem so appealing.
You want to hear about the highs of living abroad, from the near perfect weather to the beachside living. You want to hear about the comparably low cost of living, the booming property market, the plentiful job opportunities, the endless outdoors activities, superior schooling and accessible health care, and the ease with setting up an international bank account or gaining a mortgage in the country of your choice.
You want to hear that life in another country, on another continent, is immeasurably better than the life you could be leaving behind. You want to know that the possibilities are boundless, that the idea of picking up and trying something out of the ordinary will improve your life, not make it worse.
Living in another country can be everything you want it to be and more. In the past nine years, my life has improved beyond measure and I owe a large part of this to my decision to pack up and try something different. But my life is far from perfect and I wouldn’t want you to think that it was.
A coin has two sides
A common theme that came up in the conversations with my fellow expats was the family issue. Quite simply, they miss them. They see each other once a week on Skype. They go for months without physical contact. They sometimes feel like they’re starting to drift apart.
They return home for a visit, excitedly sharing over Facebook how happy they are and how good it is to be with family, how they’ve missed everyone and how they intend to keep them close. Then, as the visit draws to a close, the mood changes. Tears are fought back and it’s goodbye, not knowing when they’ll see each other again. Jo Castro, a British expat living in Western Australia who writes at Zigazag, will be guest posting next week on the emotional roller coaster of living away from friends and family.
Another issue that came up in conversation is the feeling of isolation when they return to their new home. Often, the people around them feel like strangers, when only weeks before they were exciting new friends. One friend from the U.S. said he finds fault with the people he comes into contact with and he regularly mourns those well-known faces that he’s recently left behind.
For others, the news suddenly seems foreign and conversation at a social spot like the local coffee shop becomes stilted and uncomfortable. The ease with which they spoke with close friends in the motherland not two weeks before has gone, replaced by lingering doubt and unease.
Interestingly, everyone I’ve spoken to realised something else. While they might have been ‘living the dream’, they soon noticed that a large part of their day-to-day life was not the perfect idyll they expected. In fact, it wasn’t that different to the one they’d left behind. On the surface, their lives had fundamentally changed – they now spent weekends at the beach or sailing on the water, hiking in the bush or enjoying seafood near the harbour – but their weekly routine hadn’t.
They still went to work each day, sat in snarling traffic jams, and fought the daily stresses of workload and office politics. In a couple of cases, they’d settled for a career or role that was inferior to the one they’d resigned from back home in the desperate push to get out here. They’d expected everything to change but, in reality, some habits and routines would always stay the same. Some had found that they’d initially settled for less in their attempts to gain more and all of this was taking a bit of getting used to.
These are hard truths, they’re not necessarily my truths, but I feel that they need to be put out there all the same. What do you think?
Are there things you wish you’d known sooner about living away from home? Have you been guilty of not sharing the whole truth about life in another country? With hindsight, what are some of the things you should have told others about?