The life of an expat is a strange thing. You’re surrounded by people you don’t understand and who don’t understand you. It can easily become exasperating when trying to accomplish simple day-to-day activities. The problem is, getting angry or frustrated during just about any situation in a foreign land is never a good idea and only tends to make things worse.
Living as an expat I have learned numerous things about myself, other people, my native country, and my new homeland. Most of these are really life lessons and they will serve me well whether I continue on as an expat or move back to the U.S.A.
So what are some of the things being an expat has taught me? Take a look.
They Don’t Understand Why Your are Angry and They Never Will
There is no point getting all bent out of shape and hollering or yelling about things. You have to understand that things work differently in your new land. Just because 3:00pm meant 3:00pm back in America, that doesn’t mean it works that way here. Appointments and meeting times are mere suggestions. They don’t understand why you are angry because they blocked your motorcycle in when they parked their car, besides you’re supposed to know they probably left it in neutral so you could just roll it out of the way. Rather than getting enraged about little things and acting like a fool, learn to adapt to a new set of rules. You can’t change the country, either learn to like it and love it or get the hell outta there.
A Smile is Amazing
When living abroad, communication often becomes an issue. Most of us don’t have the luxury of speaking the local language and even with some pretty valiant attempts to learn, there will often be communication break downs. When this happens, the best thing you can do is smile. Smiling is a universal language. A smile can help you resolve a problem peacefully or get you a discounted price. A smile can even get you invited into a home for a meal or to a local wedding. When communication has broken down and frustrations are mounting, always remember something as a simple as a smile can save the day.
Life Can be Easier or Life Can be More Difficult. It’s Up To You
You can expect life in a foreign country to be wildly different from what you are used to in your native homeland. Whether this is good or bad is really up to you. Life as an expat is all about how you take it. I have two neighbors who are both roughly the same age and living quite similar lifestyles. They both have local wives, ride motorbikes, and are retired. One sits home all day drinking beer and complaining about the Khmer people, what they are doing wrong, how terrible the food is, and why the country is a dump. The other goes to the gym regularly, speaks some Khmer (the local language), eats the food, and generally loves his life and his time here. Both retired sixty something year olds, living as expats. The difference, one has adapted to his new homeland and the other wants his new country to adapt to him.
I’m Very Lucky and If You’re Reading This You Probably are Too
There is nothing than can illustrate just how lucky you truly are like traveling and living in developing countries. You realize all those little things you used to consider problems back home and spend all your time stressing out over, pale in comparison to what these people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to get upset because you can’t afford the latest iPhone or your internet is down for a day when people just across the street are showering in a bucket and trying to scrounge together enough money to eat today.
The World is More Beautiful than You Think
My oh my, what a wonderful world. This planet is full of breathtaking and just downright amazing this that you will never get to see if you spend your whole life living in a bubble. You need to get out and see the world. Go places and do things. You only have one life, don’t waste it.
Time Passes Very Quickly
Living as an expat it sometimes feels like I am in a time warp. Not a lot changes for me here, but back home I see my friends getting married and having kids, advancing in their careers, and buying new homes. We slowly drift apart and have less and less in common. Sometimes, it’s hard not to reevaluate my decision to become an expat and wonder where I would be if I stayed in America continuing on the corporate path. Who would I be now and how would my life be different? More importantly, would I be happier? Gauging from the stressed out appearances of my slowly balding friends with their ever increasing waistbands and silly complaints on Facebook, I don’t think so.
America is the Land of Variety
You don’t really appreciate how much variety America has to offer until you leave. I remember the days of going to the mall or Wal-Mart where anything you could possibly want is there to be purchased. Living here in Cambodia, there are just some things no amount of money can buy. If you are really dedicated to particular brands or items and you can’t imagine your life without them, I highly recommend you bring along a large supply when you move. Don’t expect your new homeland to have even half of the variety we are offered on a daily basis in America.
Developing Countries are Literally Developing
And they start every morning at 7am. Sometimes you may think it’s just on your street, or it’s because they are currently working on a building behind you, but no. It’s the whole damn country. And once they finish with that building behind you, they will start banging on the building in front of you at 7am. I guess the clue was in the name. I should have taken the words developing country more literally, but just every once in a while it would be nice to have a peaceful meal without the sounds of construction echoing in the background.
In truth, the list goes on and on. Living life as an expat is one big learning experience after another. Just when you begin to think you have a grasp on what’s happening around you, it seems like everything changes and you find yourself right back at the beginning. There are times when it feels like a maddening experience, but in the end, the rewards far outweigh any frustrations or hassles.