Monday, February 1, 2010

Expat Life: Are you addicted?

There was a great article by Andrea Martins, co-founder of ExpatWomen, in the Telegraph about a year and a half ago about how some expats become addicted to the overseas life. Her reasons in a nutshell:

Money and Lifestyle



Elevated Status

Great People

No Incentive to Repatriate

I can relate. Here’s how:

Money and Lifestyle: Money? Who are we kidding, I’m a writer. But the lifestyle Switzerland offers is amazing. Most families in Switzerland can and do survive on one income alone (thanks, husband!) and I’ve got hiking trails right outside my door, ice skating rinks and swimming pools ten minutes away, and a grocery store right across the street. Oh yeah, and the country is so clean that even the garbage cans shine. Plus there’s a medieval clock tower and castle ruin outside my window so I always feel like I’m in Disney World.

Excitement: I can’t say I’m jumping up and down, but living abroad and reinventing myself has been an amazing experience. Almost every day something happens that leaves me thinking, “huh?” (like the time my neighbor spent several hours cleaning out my gutters). So there’s never a shortage of things to write about.

Challenge: I live in a country with four official languages, not including English. Enough said.

Elevated Status: It depends. Some Swiss love Americans. Some just stare at you and say, “George Bush, huh?” But either way, the minute I open my mouth, people know I’m a foreigner. This can be both good and bad.

Great People: I can’t tell you how many “Blogger Blind Dates” I’ve had where I show up at a café after a reader emails me, “I read your blog, let’s meet.” I don't know that I'd go out and meet so many random people in "real life". But expat life isn't exactly normal, so a lot of these people turn into good friends. Expats make friends fast and they’re usually interesting and intelligent people who have lived many places around the world. Even more satisfying is making friends with the locals.

No Incentive to Repatriate: True. Because then I wouldn’t be Writer Abroad anymore. And I’m not in the mood for another identity crisis. At least not yet.

How about you? If you’re an expat are you addicted yet? Why or why not?


  1. I'm not an expat but an official nomad. One of the things that can be addicting is that your life is always new and exciting. It comes across as much more glamourous and I FEEL like I am leading this wild and exciting life even when the reality is a lot of packing and unpacking.

  2. Hi Rebecca, that's a good point. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish whether I live the glamourous expat life or I just like thinking I do.

  3. Hi Chantal - I wanted to get back to you and thank you for your comment about Ice Charades on Urban Muse. I was on vacation last week, so I'm catching up with emails today.

    I'm a trailing spouse too, so I could really relate to your Portable Jobs post before this one. But I also have to admit it is nice not to have the pressure of a job. That's why I'm glad I was able to channel some energy into writing (and learning to write) a book. As for the marekting abroad, I'm very fortunate to have my sister-in-law mail everything, keep track of what and where things are going and what they cost. That way I don't pay exhorbitant shipping costs from Mexico.

    What I'm finding I'm not good at is the marketing, which would be the same case even if I were in the States.

    So where do you live in Switzerland? Sounds like the German side. I hope you're having a great time.

    I really enjoy your blogs, count me in as a follower now.

    Oh, and as far as addicted goes - yes. One thing nice about Mexico is that many things are cheaper, so for the first time ever I have a maid and a gardener that came with apartment. How could I say no?

    Thanks again - Jenny Hall

  4. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for being a reader! I wish I could say things were cheaper in Switzerland. Alas, I now think $60 for a dinner is a "good deal."

    I live in a spa town just outside of Zurich. I am envious of your Mexican sunshine.

    Marketing is a component of writing that seems almost as (or more) important as the actual writing itself. I am learning and am ever grateful for my advertising background.

  5. I lived overseas for four years and there are moments that I am very tempted to do it again for all the reasons you mentioned above plus two others:

    1. friends: I made wonderful friends who came from all over the world. I miss that diversity.

    2. travel: the ease of travel was amazing, and I traveled extensively, often at the drop of a hat.

  6. Hi Suzanne, I agree with both of your points. The travel is amazing when you are living in the heart of Europe!

  7. Great post! I'm a former expat trying to settle back into Ireland; it's challenging!!! I miss the freedom of making new friends and how open expat society is the most!
    I love your blog too, now following!

  8. Hi Niamh, thanks for reading! I have heard that going home is much harder the going abroad and am interested to hear about your experiences. There is a great new Re-Expat blog, I'll try to post about that soon.

  9. Hi Chantal,

    I love your blog!

    Although I'm not an expat, I sometimes feel like one with the cultural differences here in Hawaii and because we moved here on a whim, leaving 95% of our stuff in storage.

    I've also spent time living over in England and am currently trying to convince the hubby to move there, although it will hard to pull him away from the weather of Hawaii.

    Needless to say, I don't have a desire to move back home and settle down, buy a house and have kids. I'm addicted to the adventure.

    Great post!

  10. Hi Nadine,

    Ooh, Hawaii sounds great in the middle of this crazy Swiss winter we're having. I can understand how different parts of the U.S. can feel like foreign countries. I went through culture shock when I moved from Chicago to Richmond, VA.

    Anyhow, here's to the adventure!

  11. Hello there!

    I agree with everything you said, although sometimes the money has been better than others. Although our standard of living has moved up and down a bit, I am still fortunate enough that we can live on one income.

    The other Big Bonus (at least I hope it is) is that my American kids now speak French fluently (amazing given that we have not yet lived in a French-speaking country . . . but will by the end of this month)and have a great sense of "the world outside." I hope every day that this is of some value.

  12. Hi Expatresse!

    Yes, if you are fortunate to get on an expat contract and have many expenses taken care of the money can be very nice. And many overseas workers are in well-paid positions because otherwise, many wouldn't come given the sacrifices.

    That is great that your American kids speak French! Wherever I live in the world when I have kids, even if it's the U.S., they will be starting a foreign language as young as possible. It's so important in this global world, even if you use English in most cases, because it shows you care and respect other cultures.

  13. Just directed over here from LinkedIn and will become a regular visitor. I'm an expat but I've been in the States for twenty years so definitely not a nomad. I have a lot of trailing spouse friends and can't believe how well they adapt when they move every five minutes. I know they get used to it, and a lot of them seem to meet up in Thailand, Nigeria etc so it'd be nice to re-connect with people. Obviously that becomes your way of life and it's much less unsettling than just one or two big moves.
    So nomads who move around all their lives would find it difficult to stay in one place? Is that right?

  14. Hi Expat mum,
    Thanks for stopping by. I don't know if moving ever gets easier no matter how many times you do it. But I think the thrill and challenge of new places helps keep the adventure exciting.

  15. I'm another blogging expatriate and it is always lovely to meet others.

    For my husband and me, it's not really the thrill of living in new places -- soon enough new places become familiar and lose some of their exotic allure -- it's the challenge of learning another language, another lifestyle, another way of thinking. There are a lot of headaches involved, but we have learned SO MUCH living in different countries, including how much we need to learn. We wouldn't have it any other way.

  16. Hi Mary,

    Welcome! I agree, it's great to meet others, hence this blog!

    I usually love the challenge of learning another language too, although I do have my "English moments". But yes, there is so much to learn about the world and it is exciting to discover some of it.

  17. Hi

    just want to say that I *love* your blog. I'm an American expat writer located in London and I've been perusing your posts all morning. They all ring true. I'll be linking to your blog later today. Nice to meet you!

    Delia Lloyd

  18. Yep, after 14+ years in NE England I am addicted. Americans aren't terribly common here in Geordieland and it's nice to be 'different'. I loved having 6 weeks instead of 2 for vacations and I've seen much more of the world than I would have had I stayed in Oklahoma. I retired at 51, thanks in part to not needing health insurance. Metros, busses and walking are all wonderful ways to get around. I love green markets, allotment gardens and historical landmarks going back to the Romans, all on my doorstep. I live a 5 minute walk from a major river and from the North Sea. We will return to the US (I landed me an Englishman) at some point, but I don't know how I'm going to survive it...

  19. Hi Shelley,

    Sounds like you're an addict like me :)

    European vacation time is definitely a plus for all Americans across the pond!

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