Busting expat myths
When I talk to people about my life abroad, some drool with envy as they imagine days spent lounging on the beach or at outdoor cafes, sipping sangria and snacking on seafood until my heart and stomach are content. Although this is not entirely too far from the truth, it is not as common of an occurrence as one might surmise. In fact, as I have touted endlessly on this blog, life as an expatriate comes with countless headaches, never-ending questions, and an almost constant state of wondering, ¨What am I doing?!¨
I am here to contest these myths of a romantic expat experience with the harsh realities of true life. To avoid dissuading dreamers from moving abroad, I have included a silver lining for each disappointing truth.
Myth: Expats can escape the life they had back home.
Fact: I still have credit card bills, taxes to pay in my home country, responsibilities associated with a freelance job based in the States. Moving abroad does not mean you can leave all your problems behind. Case and point: my struggles with anxiety and depression. I knew I did not want to leave home until I felt mentally and emotionally ready, and I can safely say that when the time came, I was prepared. However, these chronic conditions did not and most likely will not ever disappear because of a change in my location. The only difference is that after years of learning how to manage these internal struggles, I feel equipped to handle them while in continuously changing environments.
Silver lining: The attitudes, dispositions, and relaxed nature of Spain´s people and culture have helped assuage my anxiety tremendously. I no longer feel the pressure of the American rat race and I am able to refocus on the simplicity of daily life.
Myth: Expats must have a lot of money to travel so much.
Fact: I like to travel as much as I can, including biannual trips back to the States for various family functions. I have received comments that I must have a lot of money to be able to do this, but this could not be further from the truth. Although my income is enough to sustain frequent trips, I live extremely frugally out of habit. The ability to travel is extremely important to me so I set aside money each month and try to plan at least one trip every two months, even if it´s just a weekend jaunt to a nearby town. The photos I post and the places I visit may make it seem like I live a jet-setting existence, but these ¨jet¨ rides are insanely inexpensive and I usually will end up sharing a dorm room with a handful of other people once I land.
Silver lining: Quick trips to Portugal, Morocco, and France are cheap and easy thanks to my geographical location.
Myth: People who move abroad are just going through a phase and will eventually return home.
Fact: This may be true for some expats who just need a taste of a different world, but I have met many people who have left their home countries, settled in a new place, and have even started families and purchased property in their new home. Some expats have no intention of returning home, whether it´s a few countries away or halfway around the world. People move abroad for all sorts of reasons, but if they find that their quality of life is markedly improved in a different location on the planet, they may find it preferable to stay for the rest of their lives.
I am not sure into which category I fall (the temporary expat or the permanent expat), but at almost three years into the experience, I have no plans to return home anytime soon.
Silver lining: Home may be far away, but it´s also an encouragement for loved ones to come and visit!
Among the myths surrounding life as an expatriate, there lies a smidgen of truth. There are moments when I realize how fortunate I am to be able to have this experience and immerse myself in cultures that are so foreign to me. Every day that I step outside is a new opportunity to challenge myself, and to me, that is the essence of life.