Over the past 11 months that I have been living abroad, I have encountered a lot of difficulties. Lately, I have been encountering a few more, as life doesn’t seem to get any easier. I thought I would share with you what I believe to be the five most difficult things about being an expat.
1. Keeping up Old Friendships
As you grow older and more mature, sometime old friends separate and grow apart. If you want to speed up that process, I have found that moving out of the country works really well. I went to a small school with a graduating class of 82 people. We all knew each other for forever and a day. While I knew everyone, I only had a handful of people I truly considered my friends. Then, I went to college at a school without any off my high school classmates and some friends fell away at that point because we were busy doing our own things. I made a few new friends, and lost most of them during a grisly breakup. Then, I moved away and my handful of friends I had left dwindled further.
I was never a social butterfly by any means, but the people I hung out with I considered the people I would trust with my life. However, when I moved to Chile, many people just suddenly stopped talking to me. At first, it was weird. Then, it was concerning. It made me really sad, and I am still trying to cope with it a little bit. I still have little explanation as to why either. My theory is that moving leads to a sense of abandonment in the people who are left behind, and to be honest, there is little you can do about it. You can try as hard as you can to keep in contact and keep the relationship, but a good part has to come from their end. In the end, you find out who your true friends are, but there may be some hardships along the way.
2. Creating a new friend network
If losing old friends wasn’t bad enough, you have just placed yourself in a sea of the unknown. I have been lucky to have in-laws that I love and who support me, but not everyone is so lucky. Through Felipe and his family, I have met some wonderful people, but it is really hard to start from scratch. It is like the first day of Kindergarten all over again! (Not a pleasant experience for me, but I digress…)
People in other countries typically aren’t as immediately open right from the start as most Americans are. You have to really work at it to be included in anything. I have found that Chileans are very open caring people, but you have to put effort in and speak excellent Spanish for them to be truly inclusive. I have to break my antisocial bubble and really make sure I put forward a conscious effort to be part of the group. I tend to just sit back and listen in group settings, but it is not a good technique when meeting new people.
3. Finding a job
This is the one I have been battling lately. For the past two months, since I got the OK on my visa, I have been the head of my job search party. I have applied to 50+ jobs for which I qualify only to be rejected with no interview time and again. I read the emails, and it makes no sense! I was the checklist they put out in the job description! Point for point…why wouldn’t they at least bring me in for an interview?
Here in Chile and around the world, hiring foreigners is sketchy business. Most companies that are homegrown don’t trust foreigners at all. They believe that they are a flight risk and can’t be trusted to show up to a job. (Thanks a hell of a lot to whoever started that belief; you’re really helping the rest of us out!) Some employers in Chile won’t will even throw out the resume if it has a really “gringo-looking” name on it. It is difficult for them though: they can’t check references, past employers or education…for all they know, you are making it all up! So, why would they talk to you when there are other qualified Chileans. Ugh. It is a frustrating process.
This has been an interesting one. Ever since I got engaged to Felipe, the gossip mill has been cranking out some interesting theories as to why I would move abroad:
“Well, she must be pregnant.”
— Ehh, wrong. I would like to keep my figure looking trim for a couple more years, thanks.
“Oh, doesn’t she know he is just marrying her for a green card?”
— So, why did I move to Chile if he just wants to get into the US? Duh.
“Wow, she must really hate her family.”
–Excuse me? A married woman moving in with her husband does it because she hates her family? If I moved across the country, it wouldn’t be a big deal. This is just a little further. My family is awesome and supportive of my decision.
“She married him just for his money”
— Say what? I paid for my own ticket down here and worked my ass off to build a savings account before I moved. Give me a break.
“Oh, she must be one of those Peace Corp hippies living in the backwoods helping endangered tribes.”
— I live in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in a modern city of 7 million people. Just because it is not the US, does not mean it is not developed. Please, educate yourself.
At times, it is amusing. At times, it is annoying. I don’t know if other expats have had an issue with this one, but I have found that the rumors are many and inevitable.
5. Time Differences
This might be the simplest, yet hardest thing that there is. I have grown to hate daylight savings time. Chile and the West coast of the US are currently five hours apart. However, since their daylight savings time fall two months apart backwards and forwards, it changes throughout the year to four hours, three hours, and back again. Three hours isn’t so bad, but five hours…yeesh. I have already had half of my day or more by the time that my family is getting out of bed. I have to constantly be conscious of the time there to make sure that I don’t send my sister a Whatsapp picture of a llama at 5 am (yes, the above was one of those). It also leaves a smaller window where Skype dates can happen. Between the time they get out of work/school and I go to bed is only about three hours. I can’t imagine the difficulties that people with even larger time differences must face.
These are five difficulties that I have been struggling with lately. If you are an expat, or have been in the past, have you ever had to deal with these? Have you had other difficulties? I would love to hear about them.