On Becoming an Expat

The expat (expatriate) life is incredulous, filled with new wonders, experiences, cultures, and diverse people. I’m an advocate for slow travel, taking the time to get to experience these wonders. As with life anywhere, slow travel has its challenges, however.

Recently, I was asked to share my experiences of slow travel with an editor. Let me share them here with you.

*What is your favorite part of expatriate life?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” I love how the expat life has allowed me to open a new world of people, places, and things. I have found all people – locals and expats – to be both different and the same. The culture and language may be different, but all people have hopes and dreams and seek the best in life. The world is both big and small. I love the new experiences, having no agenda, and finding surprises each new day.

*What has been the hardest part?

I found getting to a new country and settling into the consequences of the move have been the hardest part of making the change. Initially, there was the paperwork, the disposition of belongings, and finally the traveling. I had to deal with airports and their QR codes, late plane arrivals, and overnights with time changes. Upon arrival, multiple problems had to be solved: getting a Visa, new phone numbers, new banks, and finding a place to live. With my last two moves, this has stretched into three months each time. All I could do was live one day at a time and attack each problem head on.

*What’s your sense of ‘home’?

Home to me is where I put down roots, even temporarily. A home will provide me with safety and comfort. It will provide me with resources, opportunities, and resolutions. Home is not a place of things but a concept to be enjoyed.

*What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?

I have found to keep an open mind and not buck the ideas and values of the people I see and meet have been the most helpful tool to fitting in. I try always to remember I am a guest in my new country, and I hope I will be welcomed. Realizing I can make a major transition is comfort enough.

*Where would you want to move to eventually?

Eventually, I will go where life leads me and leave no regrets behind. I am made up of where I’ve been, and I expect to change as I experience new challenges. My path is not predetermined. I will look for a favorable climate, a low cost of living, clean water, and a stable government. I have no handle on eventualities. I will take one thing at a time as it comes.

*What advice would you give to first-time expats?

Get your ducks in a row. Do your research, even if it takes a few years to learn everything you can about a new place. Compare countries and cities. Learn about the culture; learn the language; and come to know places as if you had been there for years. With this background, you will have a much smoother transition.

*Share anything else about your expat life you’d like us to hear

Months ago, if you had told me I would be living in a yurt at 5260’ feet up a tropical mountainside among coffee trees, I would have asked if you were insane. Later, if you had told me I’d be living with people from many different countries, I would have confessed this to be ideal. I have liked my comforts, a cabin in the woods with a nice kitchen, and friends nearby. I thought, there’s no way I would have given up all these things to live like a foreigner in some other part of the world. But, you guessed it. It all came true.

You, too, can accept change as it comes. Keep your chin up, put one foot in front of the other foot, stay calm, and be patient. Everything will work itself out in time, and you will have a glorious life ahead of you.

Fact: Cuenca is sometimes called Gringolandia for its 10,000 resident ex-pats
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Author: Warren R. Johnson

I am a US citizen living in Cuenca, Ecuador. I have retired from two long-lasting careers: an ordained minister with an exclusive ministry in sacred music (organist-choirmaster), and a book dealer (2 stores and Internet selling). Another shorter career was as a data manager in medical research. Today, I am pursuing a writing career.

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