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Not every aspiring expatriate is cut out for a life abroad. Four old hands reveal the virtues all winning expats share.
The idea of living the expatriate life exists in the culture as some kind of cross-pollination between romanticism and adventure. There’s a primal energy attached to it, a feeling of reawakening.
Whether your new international locale choice exists for career purposes or personal development, the experience can be transformative. Conversely, it can also bewilder even the most levelheaded person. Going overseas exacerbates stress, loneliness, and all of the usual concerns with moving to a new city.
To assist those interested in a life overseas, we talked to a few expats who shared pointers on what they deem important in order to make a successful transition.
Wrestling with an unbalanced budget is a tried-and-true way to push your blood pressure into overdrive. Regardless of where you land in the world, you’ll need to keep your finances in order. That’s the biggest lesson that journalist and war correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh has learned in his 23-year expat career. After stints in places like Egypt, the Philippines, and the Ivory Coast (where he’s currently based), he’s learned the value of monetary discipline.
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“Always have money set aside in case you’re in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, and always have enough to avoid worrying about food—and especially health insurance,” he says. “You might think you’re invulnerable, and street food tastes really good, and then a few days later you’re hospitalized. Or you went on that safari and spent all your money and didn’t get travel insurance and then a hippopotamus hits the raft and you need to be medevaced. I remember a few years ago, I was with a group of about 15 friends and two of my friends were gored by a boar in Morocco and they didn’t have insurance.” Be smart, and be prepared.
“Being diligent is a given requirement in the workplace, but it is also helpful in your personal life,” says April B, a project coordinator now living in Australia. “If an expat is like me, who had absolutely no connections before moving here when it comes to building a support community, you have to reap what you sow. This meant putting myself out there, starting or joining a meet-up group, and just taking action.”
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“You have to be curious about your new home and the people living there so that you’re motivated to get out and explore,” says Mollie Amkruat who has spent the past three and a half years in the United Kingdom working for design firm IDEO. “When I moved to London, I spent a lot of time wandering through different neighborhoods just to get a feel for the place. In fact, I still do this. It’s through exploring, getting to know locals, and reflecting on what you’re learning that you start to understand your new country,” she says. “A relaxed and flexible attitude comes in handy when, inevitably, some things don’t work as well as they did back home. I first experienced this when we moved into our new flat and had to wait three weeks for Internet installation. It was frustrating, but that’s just how it works here, and the sooner you roll with it the better you’ll feel.”
“One of the things in Europe is that they work to live here,” says Tino Pasquier, who came back to the United States in the fall after three years in London’s financial sector.
“They value work/life balance and for me, coming from the corporate world and the U.S. corporate grinding culture, it’s different. Here people are like ‘OK well, I’m going home’ and I’m going to have my social life,” he notes. “It doesn’t mean they don’t get the work done, but as an American, you have to adapt quickly. That’s a big trait to have when you live overseas.”
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