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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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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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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Recommended Read: A Moveable Marriage

moveable marriage

We get so caught up in the logistics of moving that we either take for granted or simply ignore the fact that after all of those boxes are unpacked and you’ve figured out how to get to the grocery store, you will be living in a new country with your support system gone and identity in limbo.  And remember that your marriage (already hard without the added stress of an international move) is coming along for the ride…

I did a post all about researching prior to an expat assignment, so it should come as no surprise that I looked high and low for a book about expat marriages and the impact of international relocation. There were books about marriage in general and how to take your job abroad. I found books about moving your kids and how to take care of them. But, there was nothing dedicated to both relocation and marriage.

Once we’d been in Bogotá for several months I finally happened upon a book about expat marriages and had it waiting for me on my next visit to the U.S.

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Expat advice: How living abroad has changed me

I can’t adequately describe the fear that was quietly winding around my feet during the couple of years before our move.  It was this strange new awareness of myself in relation to everyone around me—I was worried about pleasing others, about fitting in, and that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t chomping at the bit to have children.  Well guess what everyone, moving to another country is like stepping into an empty auditorium…the outside chatter just disappears.  Not working and having an open forum such as this one has given me a special opportunity to get to know myself and stop being so preoccupied with what others think.

As I mentioned in last week’s post I just spent a couple of weeks in the U.S. and can’t deny that I was feeling a little reflective the whole time…seeing your high school hometown and life long friends will do that to a gal!  Ten months in, I am just now feeling like Bogotá is home; this past visit provided a fresh perspective to see how I’ve changed over these months.  In addition, Cody sent me this article, “Four Ways Living Abroad Changes You…Forever,” which has also been on my mind the past couple of weeks.  Although I think the author’s tone is a bit aggressive, I for the most part agree with his statements that living outside your native country changes you in fundamental ways: things that were important no longer hold the same value and that whether you intend it or not, your idea of yourself will evolve.  I can’t deny that I feel I’ve been changed by this experience—and I think for the better.  Below I’ve fleshed out some of the things that were lingering in the back of my mind during my visit…

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