Expat advice: Keep those rose-colored glasses handy

happy expats

If you read blogs from other expats or belong to any of their million forums and Facebook groups, then you will inevitably find a rant followed by a string of comments praising the author for “pulling back the curtain” and giving the rest of us a taste of what the culture/service/whatever is really like in their host country.

This week I read a post on another expat blog about the dismal state of customer service in Colombia. It started off that way at least, then quickly deteriorated into a diatribe concluding that the average Colombian-owned business will leave a person lied to and cheated. The comments that followed were as expected, meaning there was lots of applause for the author for chucking those rose-colored glasses out the window.

Venting seems harmless and maybe even a positive thing. It feels so good to get your frustrations out and be validated by your peers. But not so fast. I’m here today to tell you why this is such a slippery slope for expats.

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Bad expat behavior: Three things to stop doing to start adjusting

Last week I mentioned a personal grievance I have with the word “do” in relation to travel because it turns places into things that are either done or not done. This got me thinking about how our thoughts have the power to completely change the way we see things.

This is a big deal for all the expats out there.

Because when you’re adjusting to a new culture and life gets hard, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t like or is different. This seems like an innocent way to vent, but those brick-like judgments will quickly stack into tidy little rows between you and your new neighbors.

Some degree of assimilation—i.e. adapting to your new environment—is necessary to really be happy and settled in your new home. That said, here are three “bad expat behaviors” you should stop asap to keep moving forward.

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Three reasons you need other expats

reasons you need other expats
Sometimes, you just need a friend with similar taste in footwear.

Last summer I wrote about how important it is to not get trapped inside the expat bubble. In our first months in Bogotá, I resisted getting too involved with other expats. I thought that making American friends meant I would not “experience” Colombia. Oh, the naiveté.

There is truth in that sentiment. You will short-change yourself if you spend all your time in Starbucks, never venturing past the main streets filled with familiar shops to try the mom-and-pop cafe. On the other hand, there are gaps that only someone on the “outside” can fill. Keep reading for three reasons every expat needs other expats.
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Expat advice: Breaking out of the ‘bubble’

We received all kinds of suggestions from well-wishing friends as we prepared to leave San Diego. The advice that remains clearest in my memory—and in hindsight has proven the most valuable—was when our friend Kyle put her hand on my arm and said, make sure you break out of the expat bubble.  

Expat bubble?

At the time I took this to mean don’t make any American friends, which now makes me laugh at my naiveté and how I shunned native English speakers during our first months in Bogotá.

Once I realized I wasn’t ruining my experience by having friends from my home culture, I branched out. One night I was invited to dinner with a group of American women, all co-workers from the international school where they all worked and initially met.  Besides my friend, none of the women could speak Spanish.  I was astounded because they had all lived in Bogotá for almost two years!  Taking in the conversation from the evening, the idea of the ‘expat bubble’ finally sunk in. If you can’t (and aren’t trying to) speak the local language, if you frequent places where you don’t need to utter a word of Spanish or if you find yourself more often than not surrounded by people of a similar cultural background, you’re probably in an expat bubble.

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