Having confidence in your changing expat identity

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What do you do? has become the question I dread most when meeting people abroad. Because work and roles are, for the most part, how we first identify ourselves to others.

Unfortunately, we “trailing spouses” are all too familiar with the way that every aspect of our identities are put into a cup and shaken like Yahtzee dice with each move abroad. Everything settles down again but most likely things don’t go back together the same way. And whether by choice or by circumstance, work is often times a piece that no longer has a place.

I haven’t “worked” since I followed my husband to Colombia in 2014. While I may not have had the traditional 9 to 5, I did learn a second language, start blogging and freelance writing, and work with several NGOs on incredible projects. Finding a job isn’t the issue—I like things this way. But still, I can’t seem to let go of the money part.

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Expat advice: Keep those rose-colored glasses handy

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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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Four questions to ask before moving your pets abroad

moving abroad pets
Yep. I’m pretty sure this is how we all feel after fifteen hours of traveling.

For lots of people, pets are considered part of the family. It’s just assumed that they’re coming with you on your international adventure.

Not so fast.

No one wants to leave a four-legged family member behind, but moving to a new country is a bit different than loading boxes into the back of a U-Haul. From your pet’s breed to how he handles stress, there are lots of factors to consider.

Keep reading for a list of questions to mull over when you’re deciding whether or not to move abroad with your pets.

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Is expat life a shortcut to happiness?

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Does expat life really make you healthier, wealthier and happier? is the title of an article highlighting a study of 1,000 people, half of which have lived abroad and half of which haven’t. This particular study shows that those who’ve lived abroad were more satisfied with their lives than those who haven’t (albeit only slightly).

I agree in theory, but don’t think that living abroad is some kind of magic cure-all or ticket to enlightenment. Flip through some of the posts here and you’ll get a healthy serving of the downsides of expat life—loneliness, identity issues, struggling to find a new normal or to redefine your ideas of home. One way that expat life does point you in this direction, though, is by throwing a bucket of cold water on the cozy complacency that comes from living in the comfort of your native culture.

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Recommended Read: Knocked Up Abroad

Knocked up Abroad - Lisa Ferland

Mother’s Day is just a quick three months away and here just in time is Knocked Up Abroad—an anthology of 23 stories, each giving you a glimpse of all stages of gestation from the viewpoint of parents all over the world. The one thing tying them all together? Each story is from a family navigating pregnancy and birth outside their home culture.

Knocked up Abroad isn’t just for pregnant expats, it’s a book for anyone wading through life in a foreign country, with an intercultural marriage, or who loves travel. There is a thread of universal truth to be found in each of these personal stories.

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The lies you tell yourself before moving abroad

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When I tell people I live abroad, I know exactly what’s coming: a whimsical look in their eyes, a sigh, and something along the lines of oh that must be so nice…

I can’t deny that—our time living in Colombia has been incredible. But, it’s been a lot of other things too. Most people form their romanticized ideas of life abroad from pop culture and movies, where after you’re run off the road riding your bicycle in Ubud, Javier Bardem stops to rescue you and you tumble into mad, passionate, ’til-death-do-us-part love.

I drank the living abroad kool-aid too, thinking life in Bogotá would be an endless loop of idyllic experiences: days full of museums, coffee in quiet cafes, roaming outdoor markets. Even disasters—and they were always mild—would end up as quirky stories of how I made new friends or had some authentic (what does that even mean?) experience. I had no problem imagining us happy in our new life but, like all good daydreams, I skipped over the kinks to get right to the good part.

Read on for some of the lies I told myself before moving abroad.

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Expat resources—for Bogotá and beyond

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Last month No Longer Native was featured on two different websites, which is a huge deal for a lil blog like mine! Making the experience even better was the fact that both were incredibly helpful to me in my first months in Bogotá. So, I’d like to give them a shoutout and make sure that all you Bogotanos know where to get the good details.

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Keeping friendships after you move abroad

Believe it or not, it was almost ten years ago that fear of missing out (FOMO)—that yucky feeling of general discontentment now plaguing first worlders of all ages—was the buzzword du jour. After a quick stop in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to add another FOMO to the list: fear of moving on. I’m talking about friendships and more specifically, my friends moving on from me.

Friendship is strange, in the way that it’s the only relationship in our adult lives free of obligation (because you don’t have to be friends with someone) and that we move into and out of at will (ok marriages too, but there’s more paperwork). When a friendship is based on convenience or a similar life stage, you understand that when you move away that balance is shifted and you may no longer fit in each other’s lives. In the past, I’ve kind of celebrated this fact because it provides a natural petering off of friendships that were past their prime. But how do you stretch and change to carry your lifelong friendships through something major, like moving abroad?

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A conversation about class

Social class isn’t exactly polite dinner conversation, but living in Colombia I’ve come to learn that your last name and address say more about you than just where you live.

In my first months in Bogotá, I didn’t notice it quite so much—the way the way the porteros (doormen) in a friend’s building would let her expat friends in with no problem, but the Colombian ones would wait while he called to ensure that they were, in fact, guests. Another friend told me that when applying for membership at a country club, they wanted to know all about their parents—what kind of work they do, their religion, and whether or not they are divorced. Startlingly, I only just realized that there’s a chain link fence, topped with a curlicue of razor wire, that separates the low-tuition school where I volunteer from the most prestigious school in the city, attended by children who’s parents are senators and diplomats.

As we were discussing the social order of Bogotá in a Saturday Spanish class, my professor told Cody and me that there is a reason foreigners may not see the sometimes subtle—but many times direct—borders in class that are still prevalent in Colombian society today. She explained that foreigners are kind of exempted from the rules because firstly, they’re assumed to have money (and by default are put in a higher group) and secondly because we simply don’t fit in firmly rooted rubric of Colombian social structure.

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Cultural lessons…from the gym

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If you’ve traveled at all—even from one part of the U.S. to another—you probably have a funny story about a cultural difference or misunderstanding.  Moving abroad is no different, though when facing a new language and reconstructing your life from scratch, it’s easy to brush aside the idea that you’ll soon be navigating through a mire of cultural differences as well.  Sure, there are books and blog posts about avoiding big blunders, but it’s impossible to prepare for the little day-to-day differences that will catch you off guard.

A few weeks ago I was in a spin class sprinting to an EDM version of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On when I found myself surprised by one of these strange—but common—moments. As we started a 90-second sprint, the instructor dismounted and began weaving through the bikes to check our RPMs and shout out general encouragement to the class. He stopped at my bike—where I was furiously pedaling—and asked my name. He then took my hand and said, “Danielita (little Danielle), my heart, you must return to my class, you work so hard!” Hmm, that was different. The thing that stopped me from running for the hills is that he continued through the ranks of spinners, talking to the other ladies in the same manner. Later that day I was thinking of all the funny little differences with which I’ve been confronted at the gym, and how they trickle over into other parts of everyday life.

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