So far we have lived in two countries as expats: China and Thailand, and we wouldn’t trade this experience abroad for anything.
Actually living in a new country is completely different from just visiting one. We believe everyone would benefit from life as an expat, whether it’s a six month stint, several years, or for the rest of their lives.
We met as expats living in China.
Why? Here’s what we believe you’ll gain from making another country your home:
An Open Mind
Okay, so there are a few things in life that can pop that bubble everyone lives in for awhile during their youth. Maybe you had some epiphany-type moments at university, or when you met someone living a very life than you’re used to, or when you read a certain book.
But there is really nothing that compares to how expat life can open your mind. You’ll notice things about your old habits, home, and culture that you’ve never even given a second thought before.
You realize that the word “normal” really means nothing, and we are all products of our culture to some degree.
In China we were shocked by how people behaved trying to get on the metro (literally shoving their way on, no lines, no rules). In Thailand we weren’t thrilled with the sights (or smells) of squid on a stick that seemed to be at every street food vendor.
But eventually the shock fades, you stop comparing everything to what you’re used to, and you adapt to your new normal. You’ll find yourself becoming a less judgmental person who understands that there is rarely just one “right” way to do things, and you don’t immediately get upset when someone does something you’d have previously perceived as rude or strange.
You’ll also be amazed by some differences that seem so obviously better when compared to back home – such as a drastically lower cost of living, less red tape and tiresome regulations, better living amenities (beautiful swimming pools, saunas, and gyms are the norm in Thailand), and a culture that actually welcomes foreigners and values global awareness.
Not the best sight and smell we’ve came across.
Amazing New Friends
Remember when you went to university and finding new friends was easy and natural? The expat community in most cities is kind of like that.
People worry about being lonely in a foreign country, but we’ve actually had the opposite experience. Nearly everyone we meet has a shared love for travel and adventure – even if we have nothing else in common, there is always that to fall back on. And everyone is looking for new friends because we’re all in the same boat when we arrive: unsettled and ready to find our new social circle.
Comfort with Your Style and Looks
You can forget about blending in – no matter how you dress, you will look out of place as a foreigner.
So if you used to make fashion choices based on just going along with the crowd, you’ll quickly lose that thought process. You’ll embrace a style that is more comfortable or genuine for you – whether it’s something a little wild, a little plain, or a little outdated. You’ll be happier with your look, and no one else will care – there is such a mixture of cultures and styles in the expat community, there is not one expected way to dress anymore.
Nobody cares what you look like.
A Break from Materialism
The more we move around, the fewer bags we need, and the emptier our remaining bags become. Material items become less important, or even burdensome. You’ll discover the freedom that comes with owning less stuff, and you’ll find you prefer spending money on new experiences rather than new things. Flights, food, events, and socializing – isn’t that what really makes us happy?
A Healthier Financial Life
If you are living in a country with a lower cost of living, saving your money is easy. We can easily tuck money away while also traveling every couple months and enjoying a comfortable day-to-day life.
Epic trips can happen often!
This could be seen as a negative, but the expat life is full of goodbyes. If you aren’t about to leave, one of your best friends is. You won’t go a year without a goodbye. The first couple will be tough. But then you’ll feel yourself getting stronger.
Is this because your heart is hardening? We don’t think so. Instead, we think we are learning that friendships can stay healthy and active regardless of location. We currently have friends all around the world, and we love it.
There is always someone to miss, but there is also always someone to catch up with, someone who is eager to hear the details of our lives and wants to share their own adventures. And we always have fun new places to visit on our holidays!
You get so many stares when you are obviously foreign. You’ll also embarrass yourself a million times doing things the wrong way in an unfamiliar culture. And if you’re trying to speak a new language or use body language to communicate? Even more opportunities to look ridiculous.
Eventually you stop caring. You accept that you’ll often be the center of attention, and that people are occasionally going to see you as stupid, crazy, or silly. Why does it matter? The peace and freedom that comes with this revelation is priceless.
We’re often seen as silly!
More Self Knowledge
When living abroad, you’re always trying new things. You discover you start liking things you’ve always claimed to hate. In Thailand, many expats will develop a taste for spicy food – or at least a tolerance for it. You’ll also find yourself turning away from things you used to love or depend on – like getting around by car.
For us, the biggest reason to live abroad is that it really forces you to grow up and take responsibility for yourself. You realize that you are more capable and more resilient than you ever thought. You become a lot more independent. You think more for yourself, and you realize that you are in charge of your own life. You have control over every decision about how you’ll spend the rest of your life. That alone makes it all worthwhile.
You might think being away for years means that when you return home it’s going to be like a foreign experience itself. It’s not.
We’ve never gone home for longer than a few weeks, but even during a short visit you’ll slip back in to your old life very easily. In a matter of days it’ll feel like you’ve never left.
Yes, people get on with their lives whether you are there or not, but nothing else changes that much – not the things that matter. You’ll see the same faces, pass by the same local stores, and eat the same meals. It will be familiar and comforting, and you won’t feel as if you’ve missed out on anything by going abroad.
Enjoy your new abode! You’re not missing anything back home!
Do you agree with these points? What do you think is the best thing you’ve gained by living as an expat? We’d love to hear.
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