It’s Guaranteed You’ll Experience This When Moving Abroad

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on October 23, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

It was a sticky, humid evening, and there were 3 of us (my colleague Betsy, an intern, and me) sitting around a table at an outdoor El Salvadorian restaurant on Back Street in Belize. We had ordered a handful of pupusas and were there to shoot the breeze.  

It’s Guaranteed You’ll Experience This When Moving AbroadWaruguma, on the right-hand side!

The restaurant was Waruguma, an Ambergris Caye hot spot for delicious and inexpensive pupusas!

Our intern was just beginning his 90-day internship in Belize. This was his first time abroad and he was extremely excited, grinning ear to ear, talking about all of the neat experiences he wanted to have while in-country. Water activities and exploration of the mainland rainforests both made the top of his list. He then asked my colleague and me if there is anything he should know about living in Belize.

My colleague and I looked at each other and smirked. Besides the normal grocery store and island hot-spot suggestions, there was one topic we hadn’t yet addressed – the emotions that ensue during this journey abroad. While there are many highs, there are also a handful of low times that seasoned expats have learned to maneuver through. However, newbies may easily get bogged down.

The next thing Betsy did was pull out a pen from her bag and open up a fresh napkin on the table. She wanted to explain to our intern what the following few months may look like for him, based on her time in Belize. She began drawing, and the result looked something like the image below.

It’s Guaranteed You’ll Experience This When Moving AbroadAnd then she began to explain her experience:

  1. Honeymoon Phase
    • Everything is new and exciting! When you get to this new location, you’re a kid in a candy shop. The stores, restaurants, the people. It’s all charming and you cannot wait to explore it.
  2. Frustration Phase
    • This is when the honeymoon phase fades and the nuances prevail. Although you once thought the quirks were charming, they now frustrate you. All you want is for your residency to be processed by immigration without having to visit the capital again. Or maybe you didn’t realize how much you appreciated the convenience of Target. Or maybe all you want to do is eat dinner out at 6pm one night, but the restaurants don’t start serving until 8pm. Sounds familiar, Spain fans? As you test your ingrained habits, you’ll begin to segue into phase #3, the reconsideration phase.
  3. Reconsideration Phase
    • The frustrations have led your mind to race. You begin to wonder what the heck you are doing in this new location and maybe it would be easier if you just went back. You may recollect on your past, highlighting the good times and fearing what you may be missing back at your old home. At this point, it is not uncommon to become recluse.
      *At this point, a little getaway usually helps!*
  4. Acceptance Phase
    • Once you’re back from your getaway, you are hopefully recharged and seeing your reality with a fresh set of eyes. This is usually the time when people either leave or stick it out and find new and engaging ways to get involved. They have accepted their reality and are going to make the most out of their experience.
  5. Home Phase
    • Eventually, your destination will begin to feel like home. You have accepted the idiosyncrasies that once frustrated you. You know what to expect and you feel comfortable in your surroundings. Perhaps you have started to engage in local clubs and routine volunteer activities. And when you say “home,” your mind goes to your current community – which may consist of your current physical house, friends, work, etc. It is not easy work to get to this point, and it can take some time. But once you mentally get there, you’ll start to enjoy the little things and embrace your new lifestyle abroad.

At any point during this cycle, and very well thereafter, there will most likely be emotional gyrations. This is your life, not Disneyland. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but at the end of the day, it is about the community you build for yourself in this new location.

It’s Guaranteed You’ll Experience This When Moving Abroad3 years later, and Betsy is a prime example of someone who has taken her overseas experience by the horns. Originally from California, she lived in Denver for 10 years, made her to way to Austin, Texas, for a bit before making the leap down to Belize. Despite going through this emotional roller coaster during her first few months, she stuck it out and today continues to call Belize home. From the get-go, she regularly attended expat events and embraced social events on the island. She got to know the other expats and stayed engaged. Today, she is extremely active in the community – she’s a member of Rotaract, sits on the board for a local charity, adopted a rescue dog, and even went through the experience of buying a golf cart.

It’s Guaranteed You’ll Experience This When Moving AbroadZombie Murder Mystery event attended by many expats, including Betsy (right)!

One of the most thought-provoking and invigorating experiences in life is spending time in a new place. Whether Consumer Resource Guideit is a new town or a new country, this transition helps us discover more about ourselves in terms of adaptability, tolerance, and courage. And remember, you are not alone during the process. Connect with others who are also transplants, and perhaps join groups like InterNations. Because at the end of the day, other expats have, most likely, gone through a similar experience. Enjoy your experience.

Want to uncover more about the expat journey? Join a handful of other overseas expats and global gurus at Escape Artist’s Dallas Event this December 1 & 2.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on October 23, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

For more information check www.internations.org.