Most of the time living abroad is pretty great. We have a driver and a house cleaner. Eating out happens more regularly. We have the opportunity to travel and experience new things. Yes, it is an experience I would highly recommend. Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Live Abroad to see why.
However, there is a dark side to living abroad. Things you need to really think about before considering such a big move.
A few weeks ago my phone rang. It was my oldest son, Hunter on the other end. He is still in the U.S. While it is not unusual to get a phone call from him at 1am his time (he is 20 and never seems to sleep before 2am at the earliest), I detected an odd sound in his voice. “Hi, mom…so, I don’t want you to worry…”, Were his first words. Well, as any mother could relate, within 5 seconds I had thought through every possible scenario of what could have possibly happened, as well as 50 ways to get home as quickly as I could. He continued, “so, I’m on my way to the E.R.”, followed by a nervous laugh. “I, um, was at a concert and got slammed into a wall and hit my shoulder and my head really hard and now it hurts to lift my arm.” Oh goodness, more scenarios went whirring through my mind. Would he need surgery? What if the doctors wanted to operate right away? Should I go ahead and book a plane ticket? Wait it out? What should I do?!?! He assured me he was fine and sounded it, but my mothering instincts wanted me to be there hugging him tight and be his advocate at the hospital. The fact that he is away at college and I wouldn’t have been there even if we still lived at home made no difference. The point was that I couldn’t get there quickly even if I wanted to.
Thankfully Hunter was fine. He handled it like a man, and I was impressed by his maturity. The next weekend our daughter (also in the U.S.) cut her finger and raced off to the E.R. to get stitches. I joked we needed to rent a standing room for the two of them since they live in the same town. But really, the dark side of living abroad hit me hard, and I thought it would be a good idea to give you some food for thought in case you are considering becoming an ex-pat.
On a side note, don’t worry, I’m not depressed or hate life. It’s all good. Whenever you say anything negative, people start to fear that an intervention or something of the sort is in order. But it’s ok. I have been able to tuck my worry away again and will soldier on with lots of prayer for safety and fortitude.
On another side note, experiences living abroad are vastly different. I know some people move overseas without much to their name. We have come on a very generous package from my husband’s company so I can only speak from our experience.
The dreaded phone call
To be honest, phone calls like the one I received a few weeks ago are a consistent fear for ex-pats. We pray something drastic will not happen while we are thousands of miles away, but we know it could so we constantly live with a nagging fear in the back of our minds. Sure, most of the time we push the fear aside and go about our daily lives. I mean, we simply couldn’t live if we didn’t. But if most ex-pats are like me, that fear hovers right under the surface and can explode when even the smallest of issues occur. Possibly one of the biggest things to think about when considering a move abroad is that you are going to be far away from family and friends. You realize very quickly that you honestly have no control over significant life circumstances. I know, none of us have control over the big things no matter where we live, but it is easy to fall into a false sense of security living within close proximity of your loved-ones. When you think about moving thousands of miles away, you need to be ok with the fact that it will take you a long time to get back home. Possibly even days. Are you ok with this?
A temporary life
An ex-pat’s assignment almost always has an end date. That means not only will you be going home at some point, but the friends who become a huge part of your life will be too. Goodbyes are always painful, and they are constant when you live temporarily. We are continually adjusting to old friends leaving, new friends coming, different routines, trips, etc. We just never seem to feel settled. Are you ok with this?
Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable
Moving abroad means not only uprooting your family and leaving your home but moving to a foreign country where things are going to be very different. Many times this is great. You learn about different cultures and how they live. However, there are also times when it is pretty terrible. Here in China, we have to deal with squatty pottys in public restrooms, and people openly staring at us almost every time we leave the house. And darn it, we never found that ranch dressing we searched for during the first few months of our arrival. For more insight into our adjustment to a new life abroad, click here: The Good, the Bad, and the Hunt for Ranch Dressing. I know, first-world problems, right? So, while we have found our way, there have been many bumps in the road, and it hasn’t always been easy. Some days it can feel overwhelming. Ex-pats actually have a term for it that is widely used over here: Shang-lo days. Honestly, they can be pretty tough, and all you want to do is go home. Are you ok with this?
Living on a roller coaster
The above being said I would compare our emotional well-being to being on a roller coaster. Most of the time we are going up. Things are good, and we are excited about our lives here. But all of a sudden we get to the top and go careening down at break-neck speed. It could be the day. It could be the situation. I don’t know, but I have seen so many people here live on such emotional highs and lows. I mean, just running an errand can ultimately defeat you. For about the first 6 months after we moved here, I would set out and try to accomplish one thing a day. Just one thing. And you know what? Sometimes I couldn’t even do that. I would return home empty-handed and in tears because everything felt like it was just too difficult. It is much easier now after two years of navigating my way around, but there are still some days I return home empty-handed and utterly frustrated. Are you ok with this?
I continuously pray we will not have a life-threatening issue while living here. Ambulances are not available, we don’t have our own car, and we have to use specific hospitals, the most commonly used facility being 45 minutes away, without traffic. Any emergency would be very complicated to handle quickly. So yes, this is a real fear of mine. I rely heavily on prayer and faith that God will provide as needed. I have spoken to many people who live here with a child that has a food allergy and give them so much credit trying to feed their child safely while living in a foreign country where English is not the national language. Obtaining medications is another concern. Some are impossible to get here. We always buy our medications when we are home, especially those requiring a prescription. This involves a lot of preplanning and forethought. Are you ok with this?
I can’t even begin to tell you how skilled I have become with hand-gestures. Not in the profane sense…goodness people (insert eye-roll)! But as a useful tool in explaining what I want to someone who does not speak English. You may argue that we should learn the language of our host country and Lord knows I have tried. But it is just so hard! Terrible excuse, I know. That being said, many times communicating what you want besides asking how much something costs can become extremely difficult, if not impossible with a language barrier. So yes, hand gestures, pointing, I have even resorted to calling my driver and asking him to translate. But it is frustrating especially when it should be simple. Are you ok with this?
These are a few things to consider when contemplating moving abroad. Honestly, the list could be endless, but I have tried to hit the most significant issues we have faced, and continue to face on a regular basis. Most days are great, but some are not. A move abroad should not be taken lightly. You must weigh the pros and cons. Ultimately for us, the benefits of living a life abroad have vastly overshadowed the negatives. We love the opportunity we have been given and are very thankful. I wish you luck in your decision. It may not be an easy one to make, but in the end, you need to be comfortable with, and excited about your choice. Life can be an adventure no matter where you choose to live, whether moving overseas or choosing to stay put and live it out in your own backyard.