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Finding Your Place in the World

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By David Hammond,InternationalLiving.com

This article comes to us courtesy of InternationalLiving.com, the world's leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.

You've probably heard the saying, "If you want something you've never had before, you have to do something you've never done before."

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Photo from InternationalLiving.com

However, changing the course of one's life can be a challenging decision -- especially a decision like picking up your life and going abroad.

Going abroad sometimes comes as a response to a personal shakeup: the end of a relationship, a financial loss, or the passing of a loved one. Getting out of Dodge, at least for a while, can provide the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective and explore your options.

Other times the decision to move overseas comes with the realization that your life is no longer moving in a sustainable direction. Your living expenses may be increasing faster than your income.

Or the things you want may be moving further away instead of getting closer. You may find that this idea of moving overseas is met with voices of doubt and resistance. Some may view it as a form of giving up. Others may dismiss it with a quip like, "The grass just looks greener on the other side." However, while it is often wise and admirable to stick out a rough patch in life, there comes a point when doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result is just insane.

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Photo from InternationalLiving.com

The fact is: Different places in the world offer different conditions and benefits. You have a whole menu of choices, in fact. There are places where it doesn't snow, places where it costs less to live...where starting a business requires less capital.

There are cultures that are less litigious. And destinations where living a simple life is still possible. There are cultures that strongly support the family. There are places with quality health care at affordable prices. And there are places where your time and talents are more likely to be valued and appreciated.

Take my brother, Jonathan. In college, he developed an interest in Asia -- specifically, in Japan. He spent time there as an exchange student in 1983 and '84 and became fluent in Japanese.

After college, he got a job with a Japanese-owned company in California. But what he really wanted to do was teach. He started as an assistant teacher in a primary school. He liked teaching, but quieting class disruptions took too much time.

In 1988, he left California for Japan for an English-teaching job. This was before many others followed suit. At the time, it seemed like a daring move.

I visited him in Japan six years later. Seeing billboards and train-car advertisements in Tokyo with my brother's picture on them was a surprise! As one of very few Japanese-speaking Americans in Japan at that time, he got side jobs modeling and was a guest on television talk shows. The language school he worked for used his celebrity to promote the school.

I had pictured him teaching in a classroom, but when I visited the school, he was giving his lesson before an auditorium of attentive and appreciative students.

It was clear to me he had found his place in the world. He has been living in Japan and teaching for the last 25 years.

My own story of moving to Uruguay started in 2006. There were many things that impressed me about Uruguay: the warm and friendly people, the capital city of Montevideo, the beaches, and the beautiful countryside.

Punta del Este, the country's largest beach resort, is particularly beautiful and optimistic. It has a relaxed elegance that reminds me of Santa Barbara.

I found that many things were uncomplicated and straightforward in Uruguay. As an example, the quoted price of my rental car included everything. There were no additional airport fees, city taxes, or complicated insurance charges bumping up the price. Also, most Uruguayans own their homes and vehicles outright, without mortgage debt.

On my first trip to Uruguay, I envisioned a simpler life with less red tape and more free time to try some new things -- like writing.

So I made the decision to move to Uruguay.

Seven years later I can report that I have found my place in the world. I have a simpler life with more free time to do things I enjoy, like writing this article. More than ever, I appreciate the warmth of Uruguayans. I get around well without a car. My health care plan is affordable and comprehensive. I have very few bills, and my bank pays them for me automatically.

Like my brother, I've found the place that suits me. So have many others. Currently more than six million Americans live abroad.

Perhaps there's a spot overseas that's right for you, too. If you've had a shakeup or are unsure of your life's direction, consider options beyond your current borders. You may find that, in a different pond, you are no longer just another duckling, but a swan.

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