I recently wrote a post about going expat. I recently gave birth to my first child living here in Chile with my Chilean partner. It’s magical, and it’s hard. My post mostly focused on the positive side of things, the how-to’s, etc. Today, I took a little photo tour of my friends’ children’s Halloween costumes and the nostalgia for the States sent my mind into the land of expat doubt. So, I’ve set out to create a list to share with you of the pros and cons of going expat and starting or taking a family abroad.
The PROS of Going Expat
Bilingual Bones – I believe raising children in two languages will offer them big advantages in the world. Where we are, speaking fluent English is a big plus in most professional situations. Anywhere else in the world, their bilingual abilities will be a plus, too, especially in the way it can keep them open to different points of view. There are a lot of cultural beliefs inherent in language (in English we say “I am hungry” and in Spanish we say “I have hunger”, for example). Have a broader, more diverse collection of these beliefs in their bones may make them more compassionate, open-minded human beings *mommy crosses fingers*. Stretchy Dollars – Because I live in a country where the US dollar goes a bit further than it does in the US, and I’ve opted to work part-time freelance for US companies, I can do more with less. This means have more free time to spend with my family and can more easily afford a relaxed lifestyle I like (nothing extravagant, mind you). This is a very attractive PRO! Freedom to Be Odd – Because I’m a U.S. Citizen and wasn’t brought up here, people give me a little more leeway to be unique. My parenting style is a bit foreign here, an my beliefs, such as my belief in freedom-minded child-led education, is a bit more accepted. I’m also a little bit exempt from the class-ism that is pervasive in Chile. Being outside the culture (though markedly a CON in my status as an outsider, too) gives me a bit of an excuse to be the babywearing, gentle parenting, crunchy mom that I am and I can just say, “Well, that’s my culture.” (My previous 12 years in crunchy capital (People's Republic of) Boulder, Colorado justify this, of course.) Lastly, the feeling of being able to do anything can be with us anywhere, but for some reason can be more easily to access far away from home. Unusual Friends – If like attracts like and being abroad makes me a stranger in a strange land, it goes to reason that strange folk will flock to me, and I to them. True if by strange you mean other travel-hungry expats and locals who like things out-of-the-mold. I’ve encountered all sorts of kindness and made really beautiful connections with people the likes of which I may not otherwise spend time with in the States. A mutual love for this place or some simple commonality like a love of singing or such is enough to cement friendship with new, unusual people far away from all my other friends. It’s a nice PRO.
The CONS of Going Expat
Missing Familiar Holidays – Familiar as in “family”. If you’re nostalgic like me, the first year of missed family and friend holidays (yes, even Halloween) may not seem like a big deal. Year two has me regretting not being able to share things like the big extended family Thanksgiving I grew up with. And sure, some holidays are the same where I live, like Christmas and Easter, but they are celebrated a bit differently and no matter what, my brothers and sister and nieces and mom and all aren’t here to share them with anyway. Missing out on this and the prospect of missing out on it long-term is a major expat living CON. Strangerhood – I’m working on my Spanish every day in some way and have hope that over time a lot of Chilean cultural assumptions and idiosyncrasies will be made more clear to me. I’ll fit in a bit more over time, and will continue to do so. However, I’ll always be “the gringa”, will always talk with an accent and will never fully comprehend the rapid-fire Spanish of my in-laws, or the parents of my children’s friends. Let’s face it, I’ll always be a bit a bit of an outsider, a stranger and that’s a big expat CON, children or no. Expensive Family Reunions – Flying from where I live to visit my family stateside will cost our family thousands of dollars in transport alone. Via my lower cost of living PRO, having that kind of money is a challenge, so limited trips to see the gringo grandparents is a serious expat CON for me and for them. Paperwork – Like any foreign national living outside their country, there is a lot of red tape to deal with. I have to file for Visa’s, get my kids dual citizenship papers, maneuver the never-clear waters of Latin bureaucrat and I have to pay well for it all in time and money. This sort of never ends, though I hear that after a few years it does get easier. Unfulfilled Cravings – Though you’d think some foods would be universal and available everywhere, it is surprising how many little things I love to eat back home that I just can’t get here or are so expensive they’re a ridiculous splurge. Reese’s peanut butter cups, natural peanut butter, pecans, and real maple syrup top off my list. Most recently I watched an online thread for local expats blow up over an orange (Halloween) pumpkin sighting. Chile also does not have kale (but “someone” I know smuggled kale seeds into the country last year to fix that, so I’ll soon be taking this off my list!) Not Finding Pants – Or shoes. That fit. Well, this is different for all of us of course, but even the slender and petite among my “gringa” friends in Chile bemoan the clothing shopping options here. I imagine it is similar around the world; that clothing sizes and offerings vary greatly. Like the food issues, this is of course not a very important item to consider, I suppose, but a constant inability to easily update your wardrobe or replace a ripped pair of pants, etc. can takes its toll after a while as the cumulative effect of unfulfilled desires is a contributing factor in cases of expat depression.
More Family Expat Resources
If you are reading this with a real hankering for expat life, I’d also suggest you check out some of these expat blog resources for starters, to get a better feel for others’ experiences in general and specific to your desired local:
Expat Women Blog Directory
Matador Abroad’s Top 20 Expat Blogs
Blog Expat Portal
Five Considerations When Moving Abroad with Children
So, the short of it is that while answering the question of whether or not to go expat is no simple math equation, knowing what’s important to you in life will likely give you your clear yes or no (if it’s a maybe, it’s probably a no). Good luck and good traveling!