International life is a moving experience in every sense of the word. You are rewarded every day by moments of pure mind expansion. International life is also about constant logistical acrobatics and expertly playing the planning game. The perception of an ‘expat’ is very different from actually living the life. This post is about the difficult choices you often have to make when you live internationally. It is also about strength, conviction and real determination. To live international life well planning, networks and flexibility has to be part of your DNA. If you share this life, you will know what I mean — and if you do not maybe it can be an eye opener to what is often perceived as a ‘luxury kind of existence’.
International Life: A Game Of Plans
‘Expat’ has such a funny ring to many people. It is assumed that you gloss about in glamorous surroundings, with little worry or care. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To live well internationally, you need to consider what the complications are. Whatever your circumstances, you always need a plan B. For everything. You have experienced too much perhaps. Caution teaches you to never take anything for granted.
The sense of rootlessness can easily set in, if you are not careful. I am getting ahead of myself here — as Part 2 of this series is about how the concept of home is so very different when you have lived internationally for a long time…. (subscribe to The GOODista to get the updates in your inbox!)
International living is a topic that is close to my heart. I know no other life. As a third generation expat, I am born in a country that does not correspond with my nationality. My life thus far has taken me through 3 continents, and 9 countries. My husband has a different passport from mine. We currently live in a third county, while our jobs take us all over the world. Our friends are all over the globe, and we have lost count of how many nationalities they represent. It is complicated. Yet – so very simple for us.
This is the life we know, lead and enjoy. We have experiences, and stories that sound hair-raising to many. We are experts at domestic logistics, and regard problems as challenges. International life has taught us to cope with far more than one should. We thrive, and feel fulfilled within our kaleidoscope of cross-cultural existence. International living is also complicated, and not as easy as it is often described in media.
International Life: Networks, Logistics and Complications
International living is about understanding that you can never rely on anyone but yourself. This sounds harsh, but your everyday life is not always straightforward. Many times, work takes one partner away which leaves the stay-at-duty station spouse alone to take care of all domestic ups and downs. You become a planner, logistics marvel and networker. Without these safety valves you cannot survive, as the horizon is never clear. You have no idea in most cases what tomorrow, next week or year, will bring.
International Life: Networks
You quickly learn where to get information, and thrive on tidbits of tips given to you by locals, other expats, and internet sites. This way you build your network of ‘must-know’ contacts for Dentists, Doctors, Plumbers, Electricians, and go-to people. The idea that you can look in the phone book, or online, is not right as connectivity or access to an actual phonebook is not given. You can also easily get taken for a ride as you often represent money (that you don’t have!). Your network is what gets you through the challenges you encounter, and this rings true for the small domestic mishaps as well as for the larger issues.
International Life: Logistics, Flexibility and Planning
Logistics will become your expertise. Whatever you organise needs to be thought through vertically, horizontally and laterally, as life teaches you to have plans B, C, D and E (more sometimes). You cannot keep the same vacation schedule every year, nor can you promise to deliver a speech at a family birthday. Flexibility becomes part of your DNA.
Things tend to happen, and hence you operate on several plans at once so that you can fulfil expectations, wishes and wants and maybe even some ‘just-us’ time. When time comes to relocate again the logistics expert in you takes over, and you turn into a well-oiled machine. ‘The bat out of hell’ is perhaps a better expression, as you have done this too many times, and will not be out-smarted easily.
Relations ‘back home’ needs to be equally as understanding when it comes to availability and access to you. It is not given that all plans can come to fruition, and what sounds like a great idea in mid-winter can often not be realised come spring. You do after all have a life to lead in your current country, and as such visitors cannot always be fitted around their country’s school holidays, nor seasonal feelings of discontent. Flexibility and ‘grabbing a moment’ becomes part of life.
International Life: Deep Pockets
You need deep pockets. If you live in the same country as your relatives, you can normally hop on a train, take the car, or fly domestically to attend to a family get-together or emergency. Not so, for the international resident. We need to cross borders.
This in turn means having to find help with watering of plants, pets, and house sitting etc. Security is not the same everywhere either — thus to lock up and leave is not the best plan in most circumstances. The point is that you can’t just go for 24 hours and come back, unless you pay for it.
Deep pockets are also needed for insurance. Unless you work for a multi-national company or international organisation — insurances are up to you. In most case you are locked out of national health insurance. This includes medical visits in your country of nationality, as you are no longer on their lists of ‘approved patients’. In addition, your location does not often lend itself to optimal health or dental care, why international health insurance becomes a must. This costs quite a bit of money.
The fact that security may be an issue brings added costs in terms of prevention, guards and actual household insurance. These aspects are often talked about in international circles, whereas rarely understood by non-expats.
These deep pockets don’t mean that you are wealthy by any means. It often carries difficult choices within itself. It can mean not taking vacation, setting aside money for the future, or college funds. Planning actually stretches as far as the unforeseen, which is why you keep a careful eye on that reserve that might be needed for that torrential rainy day.
International Life: When ‘Life’ Happens
The most difficult thing is perhaps when ‘life’ happens. Sudden events, sad occurrences, loss of job and duty station scares.
You can feel far away in those moments, and have few to relate to. You build a strong bonds with your immediate family, and many international expats have rare and very observable ways of relating to one another. Like sign language you understand deeply what your loved ones feel, need and wish to do. You exchange looks without having to express in words. You just know.
Problem is perhaps that people ‘at home’ don’t share these silent conversations, and cannot follow how you reason. You can feel alone.
Were it not for those friends you have all across the globe this loneliness would be unbearable. These friends become like your second family in many ways, as they share this globetrotting nomadic life. They understand. The quirk is that there is no guarantee that they will be in the same place as you when something happens. Thanks goodness for Facebook, email and Skype. This has made moments easier to bear!
When all plans go asunder, and options run out the idea that you can simply ‘go home’ is as strange as the word ‘home’. The perception that your country of nationality also represents ‘home’ is not right. It has a very different meaning to you.
“Going Home” often means going to the most foreign place of all: A place where you don’t understand the do’s and don’ts. A place were you are assumed to understand everything by osmosis since you speak like a native. A place where you are a very rare bird, or a cat among pigeons?
International Life: A Game It Is Not
International life is not a game. It is the way we live every day. The choices are hard at times, and too many goodbyes to think of. Yet – it is a rich, fulfilling experience full of mind expanding, cross cultural boundless connections. Your life is richer by the depths and layers of encounters and belly laughs you share with so many amazing earth citizens. Your memories are full of bright colours, landscapes and mud-filled boots.
International life is no game, and is not for everyone. Planning, not over-thinking and big dollops of humour makes it easier. The concept of home might be different, and what the next life instalment is — who knows? Do you too remain ever curious to explore, see and live more?
If you want to read more about international living don’t miss our next post about the concept of what ‘home’ represents. What are you experiences while living internationally? Do you relate to this kind of life, too?
Recommended and Related:
- Living Abroad – Articles, Tips and Networking – Internations.org
- Expat Life: The Difference Between Travelling and Moving Abroad – Huffington Post
- TCKWorld: The Official Home of Third Culture Kids – tckworld.com
- International Career Finder – international jobs.com
- How Home is Nowhere and Everywhere – thegoodista.com
- How Hard Can Living Abroad Really Be? – Shelteroffshore.com
Do You Recognise This? Please Comment – Here or On Facebook:
Subscribe to Newsletter and More
Inspiration to Feel, Be and Do Good