Misconceptions of expats

I think the biggest misconception of expats is that we are somehow escaping or delaying life. That real life only occurs when you are enjoying the pleasures of working 9-9, paying down that mortgage, birthing and raising children, sitting in traffic and shopping at your favorite retail store for rollback savings.

Let me tell you when you live in Thailand or Ecuador or where ever of a similar nature, you are not escaping life. If anything you are seeing it in its varied raw and twitching forms. You’re closer to watching poverty day by day, and I’m not saying poverty means you are experiencing life but you are seeing something closer to death.

The ironic thing is people who know nothing about the United States think it is a dangerous place because of the crime we showcase showdown on the news and in Hollywood movies. And since I’ve never lived in a sketchy part of town, unless you count Wahiawa and a trailer park in Durango, I can’t say if these outside notions are correct.

Although I’m leaning towards – not. Talen at Land of Smiles writes about the deaths he’s witness in Thailand since living here. And when I was living in Cuenca I heard story after story of muggings from people I met and knew and even watched one myself. When I returned to Alabama to change clothes and visit family I found pure delight in not having to watch my stuff like a mother eagle watches her chicks.

To say that “real life” begins only when you are doing what everyone else thinks is living is crazy talk. If anything expats are experiencing life with all 12 senses. Or can do so more easily. Because when you are pulled out of your own culture you can’t help but see life differently. New places smell different, look different, you eat different, feel different and all this is akin to falling down the rabbit hole.

Of course you can argue that over time you will be more comfortable and complacent with your new culture but you will most likely still carry that old identity. In some countries you will never fit in no matter how long you’ve been there and in some cultures still you might fit in but still stick out.An outsiders’ perspective gives a culture its writers, comedians and artists. And expats.

12 thoughts on “Misconceptions of expats

  1. People who say expats are escaping something are just envious. They figure that if they're having to “pay their dues” to get ahead, then so should every other American. They see it as a long-term vacation.I see it as a lifelong education. I'd do it, if I could. You learn MUCH more about the world by actually living in it. =)

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  2. When I lived abroad before, people thought it sounded so glamorous and I would be like, well, I go to work every day, have to clean up my apartment, buy toilet paper and eat food–I mean, it's living life in another country, not a vacation, as you guys have said! Although I am on vacation right now, so. Um. Yeah.

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  3. Hi Lani, of course I agree with you completely. I think that one of the most dangerous problems in the world is that a lot of humans view people who do things differently as a threat. It is like we see those living a different life as an insult to our own. There is only one way of life and that’s your own 🙂

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  4. @Megan: Your comment reminded me of SNL's cowbell skit: I put my pants on like everyone else, one leg at a time 😛 (except I make gold records)@Paul: OOoooo. Really think you nailed it. I think people do perceive a different lifestyle as a threat to their own. I'm gonna use that! (w/ your permission of course)

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  5. Lani, Great post. I'm on both sides of the fence on this though. On one hand I am escaping the rigid thought that in order to be an adult I have to have a 9-5 job, a mortgage, 2.5 kids and a life insurance policy. I'm escaping the slavery that most Americans call the American dream that's kept them all in debt for their entire lives.On the other hand I'm exploring what life has to offer me in a new country with a different culture and values. It's much nicer to wake up in the morning looking forward to what the day has to offer than to wake up to a life that is dull and taken for granted.While I have witnessed several deaths in Thailand it still pales in comparison to the nightly news in America.

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  6. @Talen: Good to hear from you. I was wondering where you've been. And good to see your site up and running.Never thought about comparing the US's nightly news to what is going on here. . .@Jen: Awww, thanks. I miss you both. Your smiles and wonderful food!!!

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  7. I don't normally comment on blog posts, and I had to create an account just to post this comment. I stumbled onto your blog because I am strongly considering moving to Thailand to teach English, and what you have to say about being an expat (or living abroad in general) is exactly how I have felt about it in the past. I studied Spanish and Latin American studies in college, have spent a lot of time in Latin America, and always saw myself becoming an expat at some point in my life. All my travel/living abroad experience has been in Latin America, and although I have always been fascinated with Asia I never saw myself moving there because I am fluent in Spanish and continue to be fascinated with Latin America. However, I have a dear friend who has been teaching English in Thailand for almost 6 years, and during one of his recent visits home he both offered me a job and convinced me to seriously consider Thailand. One thing I have learned in my travels is that you should always be flexible and willing to take chances, and embrace opportunities as they arise, even if they were not expected or take you out of your comfort zone. Anyways, sorry for the long rant, I just wanted to say that I appreciate your perspective of life abroad in Thailand and I will continue to read your blog as inspiration as I make my decision about moving to Thailand. Thanks!

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  8. @riley: thanks for logging in and commenting. i know what you mean, there are plenty of sites that i just don't comment on because i have to do that extra step.yeah i enjoyed my experience in ecuador but thailand suits me better. you'll find some interesting similarities if you do decide to come. one of the things i love about thailand is the wide range of people – there are spanish speaking expats here. you could just give it a go, if you have a job offer you're halfway up the hill!!! Good luck ~

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  9. How funny to run across a post where someone brings up Ecuador’s Gringolandia. And that Thailand has it’s corresponding Thailandia. I’ve needed a break from Ecuador and am heading towards Thailand for a respite. When I left the States an number of years ago and moved to Ecuador, my first reaction to the gringos was, “Who are these people and what are they doing here?” They were mostly non-travelers. I’ve gotten over it and accept with the baby boomers retiring, I’ll just have to expect more and more of the type that move elsewhere with the mentality of the retired couple who asked an Ecuadorian about a condo and when he couldn’t answer in English, the woman turned to her husband and said: “Why can’t these Mexican’s learn to speak English.” It will be interesting to see what Thailand and Chiang Mai have to offer. I enjoy your writing, Lani.

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    1. Thanks Graham. I always enjoy meeting folks who have the Ecuador and Thailand connection! When I taught in Cuenca, there were 2 teachers already there who had been to Thailand. Such a small world. Love it!

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