The One Aspect of Expat Life that No One Talks About
I have a joke for you:
How do you know if someone has lived abroad? Don't worry, they'll tell you within the first 10 minutes of meeting them!
Expats are known for their stories of feeding elephants and waking up next to giraffes, hiking volcanos, and weekending in Paris. To the untrained ear, these stories are exotic at best, and outlandish at worst. But we're not here to debate the veracity of said escapades, but to talk about the other side of expat life. This is the side that even expats tuck away into the deepest, darkerst corners of our minds. Can you guess where I'm going with this?
Uncertainty, friends, I'm talking about uncertainty.
Somewhere along the way, it apears that people assume that since you've packed your life into 3 suitcases and a backpack and moved to Thailand that you somehow have it all figured out, or worse, that you know more.
There are many expat writers and bloggers who pride themselves on transparency, yet the topic of uncertainty still remains a bit taboo. What do I mean about uncertainty? Well, it can manifest in a variety of ways. You have the most common such as professional instability. Do you feel that your job is "safe" and reliable? Is that even what you want? Do you have a plan B? Then you have relationship instability too. How many young, and in-love couples have been torn apart because of bureaucracy and visa complications? On the other hand, you have the whole long-distance relationship thing, which is a whole other can of worms, am I right?
It's hard. Even the most expat-est of expats (you know the type. The, "I'll never move back home. I am about this nomad life" ones) have doubts and feel insecure at times. Perhaps not so much about professional development, but even the country where they currently reside. There have been moments while reading about Catalunya and Spain that I felt butterflies in my stomach and a bit uneasy.
One thing to keep in mind is that plans are just that: well-meaning intentions. That the fact is whether you're working in a cubicle in Michigan or chilling on a hammock in Bali, no plan is guaranteed to work out. This is also true whether you make plans, or are adamantly against them. Life will happen, regardless.
I try to remind myself that feeling iffy can happen anywhere, and to anyone. Although I am a self-proclaimed "lifer" I literally have no idea what will happen tomorrow let alone years from now. Later, after the cold sweats and nervous tick, I remind myself that it's (going to be) okay.
What do other expats have to say about it?
Job mobility/prospects limited by visa status. (English teaching seems to be the job type that is widely available to native English speakers, which is great, but what if you want to do something else?) And, in the case of Spain, difficulty in saving a lot of money. Reverse culture shock and not knowing how to re-adjust when/if I return home. - J.C.
Significantly reduced earning potential. Deep cultural differences that make forming connections difficult. - R.C.
High Cost of being an autonomo (freelancer). Compulsory social security. Shops closing in the afternoon. -J.C.
I'd also add that, as a parent, I'm worried about my child's exposure to my country and it's culture, my family, etc - C.G.
The pay in Spain for auxiliaries was too low, had the pay been higher I likely would have stayed another year, but it made the idea of being a long-term expat scary. Aside from that, family. Being that far away and seeing them less and less made the experience bittersweet. -V.M.
I miss my family like crazy. -C.J.
Lower salaries compared to the US when you're still paying off American-sized student loans... Job security, as many companies prefer to hire employees on short term contracts that simply get renewed every so often instead of an indefinite contract. Aging parents back home (and how I can take off for family leave if I don't have job security, same for maternity when my husband and I decide to have kids). Spain has good labour laws, except that companies are good at getting around the loop holes. Also in the case of American citizens, still being required to file taxes back in the US. I also struggle with the late hours Spain seems to operate on, having dinner at 10pm is a struggle but as I don't get home from work until around 8:30 (or later if I go to the gym) I don't really even have the option to eat earlier. Makes it hard when I have my American mom visiting because she is already wanting to go to bed by the time I am home. Leaving a bar at 1am to catch the last metro home also means offending Spanish friends and limiting my social life. -D.R.
The crippling student loan debt I had back home that was just accruing interest and under no way shape or form would I be able to make a small dent on my auxi salary.. -M.G.
Student loans, but if you think about it by going back only to pay back your student loans, you’re just going back to the thing you were maybe escaping in the first place: dull routine and living to work 9-5 just so you can pay back the loans and get a two weeks worth of vacation....wash rinse repeat - D.F.
I'm very worried about money! Have no way to pay off the large cost of moving here, and it is very difficult for me to save up money for the future. We don't get paid in the summer as teachers! It seems that the only job I can get here is teaching English, but I can't see myself doing this for more than two years. I've only been here a few months and have been struggling with the language and cultural barriers and worry that I won't be able to catch on to the language. - B.K.
Is it worth it? To have these experiences and live in a place I love, absolutely. If I'm going to have moments of apprehension and fear, may they at least take place in a country that prides itself on slow living, belly laughs, and naps.
I say all of this not to water those seeds of doubt, but to inspire you to do it anyway. When we're young, we're chastized for "making things up as we go", but as adults, we realize that that's literally the only option.
Danni, Community + Content Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful husband. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.