It is only natural for friends and family to worry about you living abroad because you will be far away and in a situation that they might not be able to wrap their heads around. Their worries are mixed with sadness that you will probably not be able to attend family occasions or friendly get-togethers. They will miss you.
Your family and friends may not openly express their fears they have about you upping sticks and heading off for a new life but they will have them just the same. The editor and regular writers for Escape From America Magazine share their tips on how to address their concerns and help them come to terms with your decision to live overseas.
I had a very mixed reaction when I announced to friends and family that I had finally chosen my expat destination – Argentina! It’s so far away, they kidnap children there, they can’t manage their debts, we were at war with them, it’s cold in winter, to name but a few. All comments from people who had traveled very little and certainly none of them had first-hand knowledge of the country I had chosen. I appreciated their concern but told them firmly my mind was made up. Their impressions were formed on (old) sensational news headlines for the most part and bore nothing to the reality I had experienced on my trip a few months previously.
To allay their fears I described what I had found, a family orientated society, great food, good schools and more than adequate health care. I reassured them that I was more than happy to take my children and raise them there.
Keeping in touch is the key to making your loved ones feel more comfortable with the idea that you are so far away in a strange (to them) land. Regular emails, phone calls and skype chats will go a long way to giving them peace of mind that you are not fending off wild bandits and succumbing to weird and wonderful tropical diseases. Once I had been here a while and got to know a few people I passed on contact information for them to my family, so that they felt that they had another point of contact if they had not heard from me in a while. That helped them tremendously.
It seemed to be important for friends and family to be reassured that I was not leaving the country to get away from them but that I had a need to experience the world and other cultures and ways of life.
Six years on and they now accept that I have made a life for myself here and that I am very happy, very healthy and not likely to return to the UK anytime soon.
Julie R Butler
Fortunately, the Internet does an amazing job of connecting people. Back when I began traveling, long distance phone calls from south of the US border were difficult to come by and expensive, so keeping in touch was not much of an option. I know that my family worried horribly about me when I was out of contact for very long periods at a time. But when I was able to connect, my reassurances were based on the fact that living in Los Angeles during the days of Crips and Bloods and race riots was just as dangerous (if not more so) as facing Mexican banditos, and my companion was very capable of taking care of any situation, from keeping our Ford Econoline running and running like the Energizer bunny (you would be amazed at how versatile a roll of sturdy duct tape can be) to dealing with transitos asking for bribes on the highway, to always being aware of our surroundings. In truth, it was probably best that they not know what we were up to most of the time, because we both had an adventurous streak that made us do crazy things like drive to Chiapas in January 1994, only days after the Zapatista Army of National Liberation instigated their revolution. (¡Viva Zapata!)
These days we are perhaps no less crazy, but at least more risk-averse, and we very much appreciate being able to communicate with family and friends. And this really is the key to allaying their fears. Anyone who is living in Mexico or Central America right now probably understands how important it is to explain to those who only know these places through fantastic headlines about drug war violence that there is so much more going on in these societies than the drug war, and it is possible to feel safe and secure in many places.
Being aware of danger is important, but does not have to be crippling. And choosing your battles is part of finding your own path through life. For example, I am happy to trade the danger of contracting Industrial Disease, which is brought on by de-natured foods that have been stripped of the Vital Force, overuse of plastics and chemicals, hidden toxins, etc, for a danger that I might have some material possession stolen from me by someone who has less than I do. Maybe this is not so much allaying fear as putting life into perspective.
Trying to keep things in perspective is very constructive, though, as is helping those you are leaving behind to learn about the wonderful details of culture that they may fear only because they are unfamiliar with it. And if you show enthusiasm for the culture or for learning about it, this will put into focus what is most important: that we have passion in our lives. More than happiness, more than safety, more than comfort, knowing that a friend or loved one has something positive to be passionate about should put aside any worries or sadness due to missing them. Because I believe that passion for living life conquers space and time and affects the world and those who come into contact with it – even from afar.
Convincing your friends and relatives that leaving the country and taking on a completely different cultural lifestyle is not always easy, but is it really necessary? After all you are leaving because you want to get away from your familiar surroundings, and perhaps your friends and family have been bugging you for a while.
Assuming that you are not completely anti-social, you probably want to have some explanations of why you want to leave your aboriginal hunting grounds behind, and for that, the brutal truth sometimes is what you need to come up with to get through to you loved ones. Here are some of the explanations which might work for you:
- I want to go experience different cultures and lifestyles, before everything becomes so Americanized, that there will be Wal-Marts and Starbucks on every corner of the world.
- I am doing this to further my education, so that when I come back I can get a better job.
- Ever since I lost my job, I have been thinking of going abroad to live a different lifestyle.
- That mail order bride thing is not working out for me. I want to go overseas myself to find a lovely girl (or boy) without paying a commission to an agency.
- I need to have a tropical climate where people speak an unfamiliar language to hide my Turrets syndrome amongst the natives.
- The grass is always greener and more pungent on the other side.
- I hear that there is no formaldehyde in the beer brewed abroad.
- I am not going to spend another winter in this dreary place.
- The tax people are after me.
- I need to get away from it all for a while.
- I need to get away from you all for a while.
- You are right, I have lost my mind.
- Don’t worry, I can always SKYPE you.
- I will come back a little older, but much wiser than I am now.
Before the final goodbyes are said, be sure to leave some treasured personal belongings with your loved ones, as that will assure them that you WILL come back, someday. If necessary, fill a couple of containers with old newspapers to put in storage with your most attached friends, and assure them you will be back for your valuables soon. Be sure to lock them to keep up the illusion.
Show everybody that you have a roundtrip ticket with a return date on it. That is a requirement for getting a tourist visa in most countries anyways, but more importantly, a one way ticket will cost you 2-3 times what a good economy round trip ticket will cost you.
Tell your parents that, with the economy being what it is, they might want to consider renting out your room for some extra income.
Most of all, let everyone know how much you love them and will miss them. Be sure to bring a notebook computer with a built in camera, so that you can actually see and be seen when communicating on your computer and showing off your new digs in Parador, with that cute little chica looking over your shoulder at your parents, saying “Hola Mami, Hola Papi!”
Do you disagree with our answers? Do you have other options or opinions to share with our readers? What has been your experience? Please leave a comment.
Every week, we receive numerous inquiries covering a variety of subjects that are important to you. Now, we would like to invite all of you to participate in our new feature by submitting questions that are relevant to expat living, whether you are planning to retire, work abroad, study, wander, or are just curious about life as an expat.
We encourage you to submit your questions to us, and our answers will be published on Expat Daily News on Fridays. This is an effort by your editors, all experienced travelers and expats, to serve you better, and have you share your curiosities with your fellow readers.
We are looking forward to hearing from you.
About the authors: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home. [ send her an email ]
Jamie Douglas is an Adventurer, Writer and Photographer with an amazing array of Nikon equipment, and a lifetime of experience traveling and documenting. To contact him for assignments and new adventures, email: jamie.douglas [at] yahoo.com
Julie R Butler is a traveler, blogger, freelance writer, and editor who has authored several books, self-published as eBooks, including Nine Months In Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info).
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