Online Forum Discussing Expatriate Life

I feel it is important to publish this dialogue in a ‘website’ format so if you have not used online forums you can consider using them….they can be very supportive environments. Unfortunately, there seems to be a very low take up rate here in Australia.

I have asked the group for permission to reproduce this dialogue….so happy reading!

26/2/04 Felicia Wong

Hi 🙂 Just thought I say hi to everyone on this forum. Fairly new to board. I will be moving from Sunny Singapore to Cold Winter Holland by end of this year. Is anyone living in Holland in this thread? Felicia

26/2/04 John O’Brien

Moved from Canada to Hong Kong in 2002. For me, the experience has been relatively smooth because I did a LOT of research before hand. Sites like Sue’s, expat sites in the area you are going to, your professional networks where others may have gone before, neighbours–everyone becomes a source of new learning. Research the five stages you will go through as an expat–take it seriously and be conscious as you go through them. That will help you when you second guess your decisions latter on.

While I did NOT do this, I recommend taking a serviced suite initially so you can get to know the place, various areas, and decide on where you would like to live based on fit with your social and work life. I felt I needed “a roof” before starting a position I new would be extremely challenging (probably true) so took a flat within 4 days of arrival.

As it happens, I made a good choice – but it took almost a year to decide the choice was probably good enough to stick with for a time. As you go through daily life…it is the background thinking invisible to all and sometime to you that has an influence on being happy where you are. Get involved. In your line, you may find people welcome you with open arms and you find a social set right away.

As top dawg in my org, physical removed from peers in the larger organization, there is no work.  So, the key has been following up on friends of friends and building some connections.

I have ensured that about 80% of my acquaintances are Chinese so that I have a balance to perspectives born of “stuff” encountered while bringing change to the workplace. This ensures I know that certain contacts do not characterize the whole population. Again, this is important in the second guessing one inevitably does.

I’ve joined a Bollywood dance class–a total departure from work. There is a local hiking group I join when time permits. Etc. Even the illusion of connections can be important.

A friend met a woman here for six months from Oz, new no one, very unhappy, living in an expat area where all her neighbours socialized with there established expat work colleagues. It can feel more isolating to be among expats and alone than among the locals and alone. Be active and connections begin to flow.

Find an international food source. Right away. It is amazing how seeing familiar food stuff grounds you! Plan to take some leave – maybe after three, certainly at 6 months in. Just a break for R&R. Relocating is draining in invisible ways – such a break is a restorative.

Use email, net-voice/cam, postcards, etc. to keep connection with home. The good intentions of those you leave behind often get swallowed up in life’s work. Do your bit first and the responses will flow–then the connections are maintained.

Hope some of these thoughts are helpful. Good luck – lucky you!

26/2/04 Julia Ferguson

Hi Felicia,

I lived in the Netherlands from April 1998 to April 2002. I started my expat/immigrant coaching business while living there and have helped quite a few people make a successful transition to the “clog and cheese land”.

Feel free to check out my websites and especially under the links sections specifically for expats in the Netherlands.

If you need any additional information, then you are welcome to contact me personally – and I will be glad to help.

There is just soooooooo much I could type that I would be here all day!


FAC Founder

27/2/04 Donald Tabbut Lee

I became an Ex Pat in 1985 before there were even public faxes in Central America. Communication with home was expensive and international bank transfers often took 2 weeks, I finally found that connections with natives were very important and true, staying only with other Ex Pats and speaking English was isolating.

I gave out and received back 10 times..several times (I had an auto) neighbours mother’s or wives or children would fall ill and I was called on late at night to drive the afflicted to the Hospital in the capital city, some distance away, and I politely refused their offers of “gas money” (one now owns a restaurant, I have probably eaten 100+ “free meals” there already), another one of these friends saved my life once in a dangerous situation.

To those planning to move to an expat colony isolated from the “real world” outside the “walls” good luck and good fortune. To those who wish to be learning language culture and customs (my “sideline” is Latin America) of the new host country my advice is take an exploratory journey to wherever you wish to emigrate for a least a month and get to “know before you finally GO” And after arrival, give a little to get a lot back.

27/2/04 Felicia Wong

Hi Donald, Julia and John, Thanks for the advice, a lot of what you mention makes sense, and yes I do believe that one has to mix and mingle with the locals to truly important .

In fact I have started learning the language too, so that I can at least say simple phrases and understand simple instructions hopefully. Will check out the sites mentioned. 🙂 Felicia (XiXi)

27/2/04 John O’Brien

Donald’s advice on connecting with the locals is important. For reference, one reason it took me a year to feel I had made the right choice in living where I do is that I am constantly experiencing surprise – from locals as well as expats – when they hear I am in Mongkok rather than Hong Kong island.

But–living in the heart of it all means I am experiencing the place in a way many expats never will. As an expat, you can have it both ways. By definition you’ll have entree into the expat community – by choice you can make connections with locals.

My feeble (really) attempts at speaking Cantonese are met with amazement, appreciation and lots of laughs (and a few puzzled frowns – what a hard language for the eastern ear). It is this side of the experience that makes up for some of the down-sides of being far from loved ones.

27/2/04 Alison Boston

Hang by yourself or hang with the locals…make friends with locals…locals…locals…
Expat community can get very claustrophobic. 🙂

27/2/04 Ryan Thompson

Maybe it depends on the country and/or area, but I find that locals here in Yokosuka are much more friendly than are the other expats. Many foreigners here are downright rude, ignoring a simple, “Hi” in the street.

I haven’t had more than a 2-minute conversation with a single one of my American neighbours. Has anybody else experienced this? On the other hand, “Konnichiwa” to a local gets a smile and sometimes a conversation.

Even a few words in the local language, and the local just open up–it’s been my experience in every country, that people are curious about outsiders and want to help. If I have a guest in my house, hometown or country, I want make them feel comfortable. People around the world feel the same way.

The most important thing I’ve learned is not to be discouraged: friendly and helpful as locals can be, it doesn’t come immediately and some people will never open up. You are transient, without roots in the community and shouldn’t expect everybody people to open up to you.

But, consistently saying “Hello” to your neighbours and showing your genuine interest in participating in a new community will win them over and work wonders for your experience.


31/1/04 Expat Macuser

Biggest recent life transition for me – becoming an expat in a developing country

My story:

I quit a good paying job that allowed a lot of personal autonomy than most other jobs back in early 2001 because of changes that I did not agree with/want to put up with; decided to finally take the plunge in living overseas (an internalized goal first made in 1995) even though I was short of my capitalization target for such a move; and I have somehow made it work w/o having a regular job for nearly three years.

The one thing I did not want to do was to move and leave one rat race to get caught up in another country’s rat race. I have thus far met that goal.

Am I happier, YES.

Things I learned:

-The first year and a half is the real testing stage. If you can last that long w/o bailing, you will probably make it.
-Flexibility and open mindedness is key as many things will probably not unfold exactly as you may have planned and originally conceived.
-You don’t have to obtain full fluency in the native tongue to get by.
-As stated before, I wanted more funds saved up before making the move but have found that I was able to get by fine with less.

Frugal living in the States easily translated into frugal living here especially when factoring in no longer valid expenses to my current way of life such as no car costs (payments, maintenance, parking, insurance), no full or part time job work expenses (clothing, eating out, transport costs) and being in a much lower US tax bracket (6,500 USD/year is an average middle class life here and the average doctor makes 12,000 USD – I have been able to meet such targets with my investments and speculations).

Things I recommend for the wannabe self sponsored expats (I should add that my advice and experience only applies to singles as a family would have a lot more issues to deal with):

-Get out of debt and accumulate capital to last up to three years w/o new income streams in your target country.
-Make solid personal contacts that can help you make the move and help you after the move.
-Research, research, research and plan things to the smallest detail (finances, storage, major med insurance w/worldwide coverage, mail address and forwarding, is it worth the trouble to become an official resident, how to call the States as cheaply as possible, etc.) before making the plunge.
-Develop the skills to generate viable income streams w/o “working.”
-Learn to speak and comprehend the local language or at least as much as you are personally capable of.
-And most of all, develop your internal self as it will take a huge amount of courage, conviction, perseverance, flexibility, creativity and intuition to make it work.

Unresolved issues:

-Family all in the States and will probably never fully understand my move and new way of life.
-Now that I have “made it” living in a foreign country, I really should get rid of my stuff in storage and stop paying storage fees but how to do it in a one week long trip back to the States?

Saludos from way way down south,

-Expat Macuser

31/1/04 Ernie Martin

> Ernie Martin
> Hi Expat,
>Thanks for sharing your life’s journey in S. America. Can you get by speaking tourist Spanish? I have been to Mexico 6 times and it seems everyone in border cities speaks English. the only area people with very limited English that I have visited is in Mexico City and Chihuahua.
—–Because Chile is so far removed from the US and Canada and most other parts of the Western world, English is not widely spoken. I have not obtained fluency in Spanish but do get by with what I do know (this is the only negative I see in not working a job here as much of my time is spent on my high speed Internet connection dealing with matters entirely in English).
>There is an article this month in AARP magazine about Mexico saying on the front cover: “Living in Mexico No Money? No Problem!”

>Do you miss English speakers, especially Americans? Do you miss hamburger and french fries?-))).
—–Actually, one of the great pleasures I have is sitting at an outdoor cafe and listening in to some English speaking tourists who are unaware that I understand everything they are saying amongst themselves!

As I described in my original message, the first year is the test for an expat and I do recall a great degree of alienation in not being able to shoot the breeze with another English speaker for long periods of time but those feelings eventually went away and vanished.

I remember the party put on by other expats from my language class sometime after my first six months which at the time felt like heaven on earth. I also checked out some of the local expat groups and did not “click” with any of them.

Most of the US and English speaking expats in Chile seem to go off and do their own thing unlike the clubbishness that may prevail in Pananma, Costa Rica and other countries.

—–As for hamburgers, fries and such (fries are actually a Chilean staple), they’ve got Fridays, Bennigans, Hooters and yes, KFC, Burger King, MickyDees but I’d much rather have a good Chilean empanada or two if given the choice.

>Looks like your transition in Chile is smooth. Do you plan living there rest of your life?

—–Maybe. I might be marrying my Chilena before this year is over and I am in the process of possibly becoming a part owner of an import business (gotta develop diversified cash flow ya know).
>I am curious as to why you chose Chile instead of say Mexico.

—–Let’s just say I feel that close country relations (via a shared border) wether wanted or not may someday cause more problems for the expat than a situation where that is not the case.

I am not comfortable with the love/hate relationship between the US and Mexico and how the economics and politics of either one directly affect the other. Chile is pretty much indifferent to US persons, usually put Americans on an elevated social standing and it is not uncommon to see the image of the US flag displayed on a young persons clothing (though more as a style statement) and even within the yellow and white public transport, driver personalized, “micro” city busses.

And I almost forgot, my longtime personal contacts, Chile’s economic and political stability, lack of corruption (same level as US believe or not), modern and well maintained infrastructure and direct and diversified trade status with the US, EU and Korea are also big plusses.

>What does your family feel about your transition to Chile?

—–They have come to accept it like any good parents and family members should if no obvious harm is being done to anyone but as inferred in my first message, they are quite provincial in their attitudes and will never understand why someone would want to move and live outside the US.

But in reality, the inalienable right to choose one’s life, liberty and happiness even if it leads to short or long periods of time overseas is quite American IMO (Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson come to mind).

—–Thanks so much Ernie for putting together a great community. You’ve certainly created a winner in my book.

—–Expat Macuser—–
Best regards,

-Expat Macuser

28/2/04 Donald Tabbut Lee

Alison is right. Many years ago I was invited by some “ex pats” I met in Mexico City (I am a “city boy” and not a “return to the land greenie”) to visit with them in San Miguel de Allende, a charming colonial city with a huge ex pat resident population, mainly retirees.

After 4 days I fled back to Mexico City, I got along fine with the locals, even doing some great crafts business, but found among the “ex pats”, especially those who did not speak Spanish well, were aloof, claustrophobic and had a tendency to “know it all”, the next year I became a tour guide in Central America and found the travelers to be curious and eager to mix with natives.

One takes one’s “baggage” wherever they go and watch out for those ex pats on a “geographical cure” in some cultures takes years to assimilate. Donald T. Lee.

28/2/04 Donald Tabbut Lee

Same here in El Salvador and Guatemala, as you know many travelers and short term Ex Pats are very defensive and self concious and this unfriendliness is often motivated by fear.

I can go to any “Tourist Town” in the region and pick out the newbies at once by their body language, and down here, “Way Down South” we have the “bad and ugly” ex pats (especially on the Caribbean Side) as well as the “good” “between the skeeters (mosquitos) and the skaters (those on the run)”.

Also remember, birds of a feather tend to flock together. I have formed both lasting and wonderful relationships with both natives and long term ex pats in this region…everything takes time. Be patient.

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