"Being an expat isn't always easy," she said. "It's kind of like having children. If someone had told us beforehand what it was really going to be like, we might not have done it."
But at the end, she said, "When it's all over, it's so rewarding and so worth it."
Courtesy of Ann Kuffner, InternationalLiving.com
This expat is right. There's some planning...and a whole lot of commitment...and yes, some panic...involved in expatriation, that's certain. But certainly, not as much as parenthood involves.
When it's all said and done, the feeling of accomplishment you have as a successful expat is a badge to wear with honor. (And just like your childbirth stories, the tales you will have to tell!)
Much like the first stages of pregnancy, as you begin your expat journey -- especially if it's the first time you are moving to a foreign country--you won't know quite what to expect. You're sure to be a little nervous, but excited and happy, too.
And just as awaiting the birth of your first child, there will be many similar questions you will have: What will it be like? What will it look like? Will you love it? Will it love you? Will it be painful? How many years will you have together? Is there any way to make the unknowns a bit more certain? How much work and preparation will need to (or can) be done beforehand? And how much work and commitment will be required long term?
(Oh, dear first-time parents, if you only knew the answer to that last one...)
Parenthood is the great unknown. And no matter how much you prepare, your expat life will be the same. There will be ups and downs and ins and outs, but at the end, you'll be better for it. You will have something uniquely your own, but in the case of living overseas, instead of making a mark on someone else's life, the mark you make will be on your own.
Is there a way to prepare for expat life... a way to be as sure as you can be that you'll love it and that, in return, it will love you back?
Most importantly, include yourself in that research. You are, after all, the most critical element in all of this. Your success or failure is in your hands. So think deeply about you and what makes you happy.
Once you've identified where it is you want to go on your expat journey, you need to figure out how to make it happen; how to get there and how to stay there, what you'll take with you and what you'll leave behind. Not to mention all those nuts and bolts issues you'll need to address...like health care and mail and finances and taxes and... well, you get the picture. Those are the labor pains. And thankfully, you'll quickly get through them.
Importantly, you'll need a plan for what you'll do once you get where you're going. This is a crucial step that too many would-be expats overlook. There is only so much snorkeling, sunbathing and hammocking you can do...
To go back to the parenting analogy, you usually have big plans for your children... plans you begin to formulate long before they are born. So do the same for your expat life. Think about the kind of community you want...not necessarily the scenery or the physical structures, but the people who live there.
Make sure the community you are considering is a place that will contribute to your quality of life. Likeminded people, a safe environment, plenty of activities you enjoy and a pleasant climate in which to do them: these should top your list.
Come to think of it: aren't these the things we want for our children? A stimulating environment and a safe place to play.
It occurs to us that the analogies and similarities between impending parenthood and a move overseas are strong, indeed.
So here's some final food for thought: Those who fear parenthood don't understand that it's not something perfect people do, but something that perfects you. The end product isn't the child but the parent.
Likewise, those who fear living in a different culture will never experience the personal transformation that will result from that experience.
And here's one more: As a parent, it's said that if you can give your child only one gift, let it be enthusiasm.
The same is true about expatriation. Approach it with eyes wide open. With wonder and enthusiasm and affection. You will be rewarded.