Monday, May 23, 2016

What's it like to be an expatriate in Japan? Greece? Medellin?

The subtitle of At Home Abroad tells the story: "Today's Expats Tell Their Stories." Compiled and edited by Betsy and Mark Blondin, the 31 essays discuss the reasons for leaving home and the challenges and rewards of living in an unfamiliar culture. The authors range in age from 17 years to 75, and are American, Canadian, British, Spanish, Hungarian, and more.

They talk about life in Istanbul, Tokyo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Belfast, Shanghai, Medellin, Thailand,

Panama, Madrid, Brussels, Greece, Ecuador, Portugal, Morocco, Mexico, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Taiwan. Because the essays are relatively short—five to ten pages apiece—they are necessarily superficial, but virtually every one is followed with a link to the author's blog or book that provides more information.

The editors write in their introduction that "the US Department of State estimates that one million US citizens live in Mexico, and that eight million live and work around the globe. According to the Association of American Residents Overseas (AARO). those eight million (excluding military) live in 160-plus countries."

And while there are probably eight million reasons to leave one's home country, certain themes seem common: a desire to see the world, to expand one's horizons, to retire where the cost of living is less than at home. Young people look for adventure; older expats look for inexpensive housing.

Certain challenges are common to expat living: "Making it through the day in a country where you live and don't speak the language brings out the need to be creative in simply living life day to day." Best to pick up as much of the language as you can. It will help in renting an apartment, finding a job (the young expats tend to work), shopping, dealing with the local bureaucracy, doctors, neighbors, and more.

Being an expat also "does strange things to you. It's a real eye-opener and makes you look at your home country with totally different eyes. It teaches you a lot about yourself too." Another expat writes, ". . . there are moments and experiences that change us forever and inspire who we really are. These adventures do not occur at home. A life that is fully lived implies moving from your comfort zone and pushing the limits, exploring new places."

"Comfort zone" appears in a number of these essays. A couple in their 50s who "jumped at the chance to house-sit at several locations in Central America" write: "Two things that will help are preparation and a willingness to let go of your comfort zone. There's a mental as well as physical process to this 'letting go'—whether it's your possessions you're concerned about or not having control of the environment around you. . . ."

At Home Abroad is a well-edited introduction to the pitfalls and promises of pulling up stakes and living in another country. For readers who cannot imagine living any place but where they've always been, the book is a travelogue. For readers who have toyed with the idea of expat living, the book is filled with tips and suggestions. Now you'll have to excuse me, I've got to start packing.