Tag Archives: Cultural

5 Considerations When Taking the Expat Plunge


Are you considering moving outside of the country and becoming an expat after you retire? You may be dreaming of new adventures, the excitement of living in and experiencing a new culture. Or maybe you are looking to find a place where you get more bang for your buck.  Whatever your reason, the world awaits. It is a big world and making the decision as to where to land is difficult at best.  You may decide to move to where every other expat is moving these days – the “latest” location touted by those expat retirement blogs – or you may do a personal search to find the location that works best for you.

In my search for the “right” location I have found a few cities that would offer me much of what I look for. I fell in love with Antigua, Guatemala years and hoped to live there someday. Then there is Cuenca, a beautiful, colonial city high in the Andes of Ecuador, that captured my heart as I wandered through el Centro on my very first visit. They are both viable options, but I am not yet convinced where I will hang my hat and I plan to continue my search… Guatemala, Chile, Spain, France, Sicily, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand…the list goes on and on.  So many locations to consider!

If you are thinking about becoming an expat here are five things to consider, besides location, before making your move:

Dig deep and ask the tough questions.

Why are you thinking about doing this? What is important to you? What do you need vs. what do you want?  Can you be happy with only the needs being fulfilled?  Are you willing to accept they way they do things in your new country or will  you expect they do it the way to which you are accustomed? Can you live without that red licorice or your favorite barbeque sauce?

Friends and family. How will you keep in touch? Will you be happy not seeing them in person on a weekly or monthly basis? Can you be such a long way from your grandkids?

Is this a forever move or will you only be going for a few years and returning or moving on?

All these questions and more need to honestly answered.  A trip to explore your potential expat city will help to answer some of these questions.  Digging deep and reflecting on your values, adaptability and flexibility will help clarify your reasons, expectations and likelihood of success.

Do your research.

Blogs abound about moving to and living other countries. The bloggers share their experiences and offer a myriad of suggestions for you to chew on.  Then there are sites like numbeo.com that provide costs and living expense comparisons, a very useful tool in seeing how far your resources will stretch.

Facebook has many groups for expats living in different locations around the world.  It’s a great place to interact with and ask questions of people who have already made their move. You will find those who have adapted well, some who are less than happy for numerous reasons, and still others who after a couple of years are heading back to their home country.  These pages generally give a pretty balanced perspective on living in that city or country and honest answers abound to any question you may ask.

Think about visas, residency requirement, and citizenship, if you are interested in going that route.

Healthcare. What are the options? Is there a government program with an option to purchase private insurance instead? What will it cost out of pocket and would that be within your budget?  Will you keep supplemental insurance for when you go back home to visit? Or will you just have travel insurance?

Then there is your best bud. Are you able to bring your beloved pet? What are the requirements to make that happen? Are there vets available and what does their practice look like? What is the culture of pets in the community?

Is the expat community active and welcoming? Starting by making some expat contacts and broadening your community to include the locals as well will only enhance your experience.

Make a plan.

A solid plan will take before, during and after the move into consideration.

Long before ever packing your bags, make a plan. How will all the “at home” requirements be handled? Will everything be handled by electronic mail?  Banking, credit cards, taxes, financial planning all need to be considered. How will those be handled? When will you move?  Do you need to sell a home before you leave? Or will you rent it…just in case?  What will your move look like? Will you only take a couple of suitcases and start fresh?  Or will you pack up your entire household and all your belongings and arrange for them to be shipped?  How will you stay in touch with family and friends?  Will emails and Facebook suffice or will you want to have more personal contact through Skype?

There is so much to consider and a written, detailed plan will only make things go so much smoother. The logistics related to the move need to be considered and fully understood. Stress mixed with excitement and anticipation will be high, so having all your ducks in a row before you hop on the plane will be critical to a smooth transition.

Set a few routines.

Set a few routines when you arrive to get you out into the community so you can begin to make connections with expats and locals alike.  Each morning after breakfast while living in Peru I would enjoy a leisurely cup off coffee in the house courtyard, and mid-morning I would stroll across town to the open air market to get exercise, enjoy the sights and sounds of the city and inevitably I would run into someone I was acquainted with.

While living in Guatemala City I had a routine on the weekends. Having taught school all week, I liked to take the bus to a nearby town, Antiqua, for the day and occasionally overnight on the weekends.  It became a favorite place to go to unwind, and I became familiar with the town and it with me.

If a weekend getaway isn’t an option, consider a Saturday morning walk along the river, ending with coffee and pastry at that quiet little bakery on the other side of town. Or maybe you will join a group with like interests, volunteer to read to children at the local school or help out at an animal shelter.

Setting a few routines at first to get out and about in a normal ‘I live in this town’ kind of way, not ‘I am here as a tourist’ kind of way can normalize your new life. It will provide you opportunity to meet people in those shops, restaurants, schools, clubs and overtime relationships will evolve and friendships will grow.

Create community.

For some this will be easy.  For others who may be a little more introverted or reserved this may feel like a daunting task.

Most cities where expats reside have welcome lunches or gatherings that are held weekly or monthly. Go to the expat hangouts to start the interaction.

Get to know the locals in your neighborhood. Understand that some cultures, though very friendly, may not invite you to their home for a long time. I lived in Peru for two years and I never made it past the parlor in friends homes where guests were welcomed to visit.

Walk softly, observe and learn. Local friendships will evolve naturally over time and more often than not, expats will welcome you with open arms.

Moving to another country can be a real adventure.  Having a well thought out plan and having fully considered your reasons for moving and expectations of the experience can make this new adventure fun and exciting.

What have you done or what are you doing to make your expat move smooth and successful?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Underwear


Last night I spent the evening with friends who are planning on retiring to Cuenca, Ecuador, high in the Andes of Ecuador, in the next few years.  They had just returned from an exploratory visit to that colonial city. We spent hours talking of our impressions of the city, the food, safety, and what retirement would be like living in a land faraway.

After they left, my thoughts wandered back to more than a decade past when I was living in the jungle of Peru.  Memories that had been tucked away returned; thoughts of living in Iquitos, the traditions, foods, friends, cultural memories and unusual experiences raced through my mind. As I stood in the kitchen putting away the leftover food and drink, I thought how different life is living in a foreign country, the challenges, the surprises, the curiosities. As I was remembering the good and bad times from living in the Amazon, a memory of yellow underwear jumped to mind that gave me chuckle.

It was the morning of December 31st and I had been invited to join friends at a street party that evening. I had readily accepted. This would be my first New Year’s Eve in Peru and from the celebrations I had attended since arriving to the Amazon, I could only imagine that New Year’s Eve in the jungle would be one wild ride.  One thing I was certain of was that there would be lots of “beverage”, endless dancing, and very loud music with scantily dressed young chicha dancers moving their hips in syncopation to the Latin beats. That New Year’s Eve celebration under the stars ended up being one of the most memorable nights I can remember, but that is a story for another day. This story is about yellow underwear.

As I sat in the courtyard of the house where I was staying when I first arrived to Iquitos, enjoying my morning cup of instant Folgers coffee with heated milk and sugar, Juanita, the owner of the hospetaje, explained the yearend tradition which included flowers, grapes and yellow underwear. She told me that I needed to acquire those items, in order to be ready for that night, and told Charo, the housekeeper and cook, to take me to the market to get what was needed.

In the heat of mid-morning sun, with sweat streaming down my body from head to toe, Charo headed out of the house to the market with me in tow.  “Let’s go to the market. I’ll help you get what you need,” Charo said.  I nodded in appreciation. “Gracias.”  My Spanish language skills were still limited, as I had been in Peru for only a short time, so Charo would be my market negotiator and guide, as we collect the necessary items for the evening tradition.  We needed to move fast, as the flower concoction needed hours of preparation.

Heading across town in the heat of the day, Charo and I arrived to the mercado. The hustle and bustle of the  market and the excitement of the impending festivities was palpable.  Market stalls were filled with people searching the merchandize, fruits, vegetables, and plastic products of all kinds. The smells of fish and platano being grilled filled the air. I noticed, unusual to the regular market items, stalls filled with the tallest stacks of yellow underwear that one could imagine.  Some were plain yellow and others had small embroidered little flowers off to the side. All were cotton. No problem getting what I need, I thought to myself.  We should be done and back to the house in no time flat.

We weaved our way through the crowds to the flower stalls. Charo, without hesitation, selected the appropriate flowers and in minutes we had five bunches of varying colors.  Flowers for flower shower.  Check.  Off to the fruit stands we went to find the grapes.  After careful examination of the produce, we purchased a little bundle of green grapes that were placed in a small plastic bag and tied at the top.  Grapes.  Check.

It was getting hotter in the mid-day sun and the market was so filled with locals that the air was still and thick.  Back to the entrance we maneuvered until we found the tables mounded with yellow underwear.  A slight breeze moved past and I felt a sense of relief that we would be done shortly and back in the house to cool down and rest before the evenings festivities. I let out a sigh.

Charo dug through the pile.  Pulling them out and holding them up, she looked at me and shook her head.  Nope.  That won’t fit.  Over and over again came the look and the head shake.  We moved on to the next table.  Again, more looks and more shaking of the head.  Charo dug and pulled and tossed yellow underwear.  Each was paired with the same shake of the head.  The lady vendor, sitting in the shade under a tarp, watched Charo’s determination to find a pair that would fit me and would glance over at me occasionally with a pleasant smile mixed with a “none of these will fit you” look.  “Gracias, Senora,” we said as we headed off for yet another mound of yellow.  Oh, please, let us find some soon.

After every yellow underwear vendor in the market was aware that I couldn’t fit in the underwear on their tables, we headed just around the corner and down the street to the underwear tiendas.  Yellow cotton underwear was not the norm for the these stores.  The merchandise they sold would put Victoria Secret to shame.  Inside of the open store front was a special table of yellow underwear, very out of place in the midst of sensual, sexual merchandise.  A middle-aged woman asked if she could help.  Charo looked at me and back at the woman saying, “Grande por la mujer, por favor.”  She’s asking for a large.  Ugh.  I had lost so much weight from living in the heat of the jungle that I would have easily been a small back home, but here I was a large.

The woman dug through the endless pile, shaking her head.  Grande. More digging. Grande. Looking at me and mumbling grande, the sales lady turned to Charo shaking her head.  “Ella no es grande.” I am not a grande? A large won’t fit me? The woman walked to the front of the open air store and yelled to the people in the street in Spanish, “I need GRANDE, GRANDE for the gringa! Anyone have GRANDE, GRANDE?  Everyone in the street stopped to look. I was horrified as I retreated into the shadows, hidden by lacey bras and underwear that hung everywhere. How in the world would I go back out into the street again?

Now, just let me say right here and now that I was thin, having lost weight from the unrelenting heat of the jungle. And I was considerably smaller in size from walking all over the city on a daily basis. So a grande was a surprise and a grande, grande was completely unexpected.  What was even more unexpected was everyone on the entire market street knowing it.

I turned to Charo and said, “The grande will be just fine.”  Charo looked a me in disagreement and I responded with, “Let’s just buy it and get out of here.”  Reluctantly, Charo made the purchase and handed me a small plastic bag with the “grande” yellow underwear and we slipped out of the store quickly, quietly, and I thought stealthily, as everyone on the street turned to stare.

Bundles of flowers, a bunch of grapes, and grande yellow underwear in hand, we headed back to the house with all the necessary items to bring in the new year.  Charo gathered the flowers and took them to the kitchen for preparation. The grapes were plucked, and twelve plump ones were counted and put in a bowl for later.  I returned to my room, unwrapped my purchase, sat on the bed and looked at the yellow underwear, wondering just how in the world I would ever get them on.  Note to self: next visit back to the States buy yellow underwear that I can actually fit in to.

The continued saga of the yellow underwear will be shared in a later post.  For the time being, think tingling legs and a tumble to the floor in the darkness of the night.

As my mind returned to the task of cleaning up after entertaining my friends, I thought how wonderful other cultures are, how much can be learned, what lovely memories are created, and how much humor needs to be ever present in every little thing you do.  And, yes, it’s always an adventure, even when going to the market to buy a pair of yellow underwear.

What wonderful memories do you have from living in or visiting other cultures?

Expats – 5 Questions Before You Pack Your Bags


Are you considering moving overseas when you retire?  Have you asked yourself some of the key questions that can make or break your expat experience?   Moving to another culture, far away from family and friends, can pose some interesting challenges that many people never consider before making the decision to move.

When I moved to Peru, back in 2000, I had done some international travel.  I wasn’t a world wanderer by any means, but I did have a few developing countries under my belt.  Did I ask myself all the right questions before I left?  No. Did I make mistakes.  Yes. Did I wish that I spoke the language better?  You bet.  Was the experience something I regret?  Absolutely not.  Even with those questions and answers, I still wish I had asked myself these key questions.

Adapting and enjoying the expat life really is dependent on your personality, whether you are flexible, adaptable and can laugh at yourself.  These are key characteristics that will help you more easily adjust to and enjoy this great, new adventure that you have embarked upon.  Looking back on some of my experiences, living in both Peru and Guatemala, I identified 5 questions that would be useful for anyone considering the expat life.

Have you traveled outside of the United States – to a developing country?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMost expats move to developing countries where they will get more bang for their buck, allowing them to live a good life on less money. If you haven’t traveled to a developing country, you may find that living in one is a very different life. Values are different. The clock runs at a different speed. Food will be different. Guinea pig, anyone? English will not be the language of the land. You won’t find your favorite brands of clothing, foods and electronics and, if you do, they will most likely be quite pricey. On the other side of things, you will find beautiful people, a culture calling to you to be experienced, wonderful new friends and endless surprises.  You will be the one adapting to a country and culture, not the culture and country adapting to you.   If you haven’t traveled to the country you are thinking of retiring to, do so a few times before you make the big move.  Spend enough time to get a taste of daily life.  Rather than being a tourist and staying in a fancy hotel and eating at the best restaurants, instead stay in a typical hotel and eat the local menu in someone’s home.  Get to know the country and the people and think to yourself the whole time, “Can I live here?”

Are you patient?   Or at the very least, can you learn patience?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESPart of life in another country, especially a developing country, is that life is lived at a different pace. What might take an hour in the United States may take a few hours or all day in another country.  If you live in a larger, more cosmopolitan city within a developing country, you may find the pace faster somewhat faster, but live outside the city, life moves much slower.  One challenge I had that I never quite became accustomed to was time.  “I am on my way over” could mean I am on my way over, but if something comes up or I run across someone on the way, then I am still on my way over.  I remember I made plans for New Year’s Eve with friends when I lived in Iquitos, Peru.  They said they would come by at midnight to head to the street party.  At 2 a.m. they arrived with big smiles, ready to head out to the celebration.  I said, “I thought you were going to be here at midnight.”  They looked confused that I had expected they actually be there at that time.  They said, “We stopped on the way,” as if this was the norm, and, of course, it was the norm.  I smiled and said, “Well, I’m ready.”  Off we went to enjoy the most amazing New Year’s Eve celebration I have ever experienced.  I could have been upset.  I could have caused a fuss.  Or I could have said to myself, “This is part of the culture, let it go.”  Patience.  Understanding that what you expect may not be what the culture will offer you.  Take a deep breathe and go with the flow.  If you can’t let go of your expectations of life, then you may have challenges living in another country, let alone a developing country.

Are you interested in meeting locals or are you just going to insulate yourself by spending all your time with other expats?

There is nothing at all wrong with finding other expats to connect with when you move to another country.  They can add a bit of normalcy to your life and keep you connected to home.  That being said, my best experiences living outside of the country were with local families and friends. Through my relationships with them, I learned about the culture, family, traditional holidays, funerals, protests and celebrations. If you plan on searching out only other expats to the exclusion of locals, then you may be find disappointment in your expat experience and you certainly will be limiting the full experience of being in another country and another culture.

Can you be respectful of this new culture you have chosen?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen you arrive in a country that you have to chosen to move to, you have arrived in someone else’s home.  You are living in their culture, in their land, in their community.  I remember there were a number of expats in Iquitos who had lived in the jungle for a number of years. Sitting amongst them one evening, enjoying a cold beer, I remember the conversation turned to everything that was wrong with the life and people in the city.  It was harsh.  It was unkind.  And I was embarrassed for the waiter who had to serve these people who were bashing his city, his home, the city they had chosen to live. This was an “Ugly American” moment.  It was a sad example of expats who expected the culture to adapt and cater to them.

Are you ready for an adventure?

Everyday will be an adventure. This is a guarantee. You will learn something new about yourself, about the people of the land, and about this new wonderful culture.  Are you ready for it?

My life in Peru was one big adventure.  Day after day, I was always amazed at what I learned or the surprises that availed themselves that day. One late afternoon, I got lost in the jungle as it was growing dark, in a downpour, wondering where exactly that big cat was that just let out a growl.  I got stuck in the mud on the shore of the Amazon, knee deep in the mid-day sun, as 3 young Amazon guides did their best to pull me out. Sitting on a crooked and rusty metal chair into the wee morning hours, I shared a beer with locals bypassing a community glass, as we talked about life in a language that I was still learning.  I danced in the rain on New Year’s Eve, until the sun came up the next morning, surrounded by thousands of locals.  The most beautiful Christmas I have ever had was in the home of a local family that I had become close with, sharing their holiday meal, just a simple meal. There were no wrapped gifts to exchange, only the gift of friendship and love.

Adventure. Adventure means different things to different people. The new, the different, the challenging and the unknown are all waiting for you if you become an expat, but most of all guaranteed adventure.

Are you ready for an adventure?  Post your thoughts below in comments.

 

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