I was always critical of those that were visiting, or spending a longer time, in a country other than their own when they compared everything to ‘home’. There have been many occasions that I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from telling them to ‘GO HOME’ if it was so great and the current ‘here’ was not. Those that choose to travel are supposed to be on an adventure, not a comparison driven exercise in finding fault with everything that is not ‘as good’ as it is at home.
I say those that choose to travel because there are many that are sent to international locations not of their own choosing and that puts a different slant on being an ex-pat. Traveling, and living, in a new place is a very interesting experience. Sometimes it can be tough, and there can be times you wonder what the hell you are doing. But it can also be amazingly rewarding, eye opening, and humbling, and I highly recommend it as a way to live. I chose this path, I was not forced into it, and I have the luxury of being able to choose when and where I move, a 12 month contract being perhaps the only thing that determines the ‘when’ of a move.
Yes, it is a risky business, and not for the feint-hearted. You live your life in 12 month modules and you can be totally at the mercy of others in that your Visa is probably dependent on your job. If something goes wrong with the job, or the rules change for some reason (and this happens more than one might think), you may well have to also leave the location. I have met people that had 7 to 10 days to either find another job or leave. So job security is dependent on a) your boss/company, and b) how well you fit in and make an effort to get to know how things work. Not so different from home really, but if something does go pear shaped you may well not be able to rely on the protections in place to support those in challenging positions because those protections either do not exist or are not there to protect you because you are the foreigner.
Many of us that elect to live this way are fully aware that we are not contributing to the necessary ‘nest egg’ on which we may well have to survive on in our less productive years. Unless you are sent to live in a different location by a business, corporation, or government body the chances are that you are more about the experience than the income, which is not always that great. The incomes, I have found, have been more than adequate for living, and usually living quite well, and being able to travel, and take excursions locally, but not up to too much in the way of contributing to my retirement plan.
For me this life is a retirement of sorts and so perhaps the ‘nest egg for later’ will not need to be so big. I will at least be able to reflect on the adventures I am currently having and feel that my Bucket List has a good number of boxes ticked when I am a homeless and starving old lady …. I elect not think too hard about what I will do when I am really too old, or no longer in good enough health, to be able to do what I am now. I choose to live for, and in, the moment. I want to soak up the adventure, challenge my preconceived notions, and to push my own boundaries. Like most that have thought about this way of life I wanted to do it before I got too old to do it. Even now I am faced with the reality that in some locations I am already too old. Many countries have imposed age limits in all sorts of occupations open to a foreigner wanting to come to their country. So making the most of every opportunity is a necessity for me.
The reality is not always as good as the dream. You can spend weeks researching, reading, and investigating a new place to spend some time and when you get there you discover that it is not the paradise you thought it might be. That is not always such a bad thing though, you learn a lot, you get to say I tried it and didn’t like it, and you can walk away any time you want. Interestingly, you can learn a lot about yourself in the process, it makes you ask yourself questions that you might never have thought of if you had stayed in your ‘nice safe cage’ (those of you that know my love for Ogden Nash’s poem The Tale of Custard the Dragon will recognize the phrase).
The reality can be far better than your imagined paradise though. You can fall in love with a place, a people, a way of life so different from your own. There are many books written by those that have fallen in (or even out of) love and wanted to share that. You also meet other people on their own adventure and we love to sit and reminisce on some of the places we’ve been and people we’ve met. It’s a strange conversation to have because so often we all fall into the trap of comparing our current ‘here’ with the last place, or the place we liked best, and that is generally not home anymore. Instead of saying it’s ‘better at home’ we are saying ‘But in …. [Fill in the country] You could ….or you got ….’. Yes, we are still comparing, and we are still being critical, but now we are doing it on a global scale. Is that better or worse? That is a question only you can answer. I have raised this very topic with a few that I have met and they will say, as would I, that you often don’t see just how great things were ‘there, and then’ until you leave and go somewhere else. By comparing you suddenly see things you might not have while you were living it. You become conscious of it and it motivates you too try even harder in the next spot to not to return to making comparisons but just accepting it for what it is and enjoying it. This is a lesson I am still learning!
Every place has its own beauty and unique flavour and we need to learn to appreciate it. If you don’t then move on before you get ‘bitter and twisted’ about it. A cynical ex-pat is a drag to spend time with and will suck the life right out of you. There are thousands of ex-pats, some choose the life as an adventure and others find themselves in a position of not being able to go home for all sorts of reasons. Trust me, you will meet some real characters living this life and that is an eye opener all in itself. Hmmm …might make another good blog!