Hitting the Expat Wall
Nearly three years into my time in Ecuador, my experiences running a real estate company that caters somewhat to foreigners, investing, living and doing business in a foreign country has given me a unique perspective on expats and expat life.
I, like most who decide to leave their homeland and relocate to a new place, with a new culture and new language did so with high hopes. I felt clear about my path, was ready for the challenges that lay ahead and excited to set out on this adventure.
For me all in all, it has been really successful. Both personally and professionally I am more or less where I would like to be. However, it has also been a long, hard road in certain respects.
Cultures really do vary. More so than I understood going in. And it goes way beyond language, food, clothing, etc. It gets into core beliefs, core values, peoples deep seeded perspectives. This has been an extensive learning process as I have assimilated into the culture here, the importance of which I underestimated out of the gate.
Then there’s language. Living and doing business in a place where you need to learn an entirely new language is challenging!
I am 3 years in and while I speak Spanish pretty well, I am still not truly fluent!
I share these experiences with you because I have seen many people set out to do more or less what I am doing. I have both experienced and seen the pitfalls. And I have seen many people come and go. Plenty of which left with their tales between their legs, thinking and saying something to effect of “this is not for me, I’m out of here”.
So what makes or breaks an expats experience?
I think two huge factors are attitude and perseverance. Now can you have a great attitude, be flexible, have perseverance and still realize that living in a foreign country is just not right for you? Absolutely! I would say for sure this is not for everyone.
All the things you are used to, all the simple things you take for granted, the ways of relating to people, transacting and doing business are significantly different. They may even be really hard to understand at first.
They may make no sense to you at all which can be frustrating – especially when it is all happening in a language you may not understand or be able to express yourself in.
Get ready for plenty of awkward moments, misunderstandings, miscommunications and times of feeling frustrated in the first year or so.
That’s where attitude comes in.
You have to be happy with yourself, with who you are and with your life no matter where you are in the world. There are no external fixes. If you are looking to fix your life by moving elsewhere, I promise you, your problems will follow you. In fact they may even be accentuated.
If you are an impatient person, and get exasperated easily, what is it going to be like now when you can’t even communicate properly with the person who may or may not be doing what you find desirable? Are you going to lose your temper and yell at them in your native tongue? If you do, how will it then be assimilating into the community – especially when you may not have been aware that this is a culture where raising your voice in public is deeply frowned upon?
I have seen this happen many times. And it generally leads to unfortunate and somewhat more widespread discord. After an interaction or two of this caliber what is going to happen? I’ve seen many people decide (even if they wouldn’t openly verbalize their conclusion) that they ‘don’t like Ecuadorians.’ And what will Ecuadorians think of a foreigner who behaves this way? This is a place where reputation is vital. The importance of reputation cannot be overstated. People talk. More so than I imagined possible. True or not, word gets around, and quickly.
So how do you go about enjoying your life when the people in the community where you are living start to have reservations about who you are? And what if you’ve decided that you’re not such a big fan of them either?
In most such cases I have seen, some matter of months later the expat who has experienced these types of interactions is packing up and heading home or to some new destination they feel will help cure what ails them.
So having the right attitude is key. You are in a place where you don’t know how things work. Smile. Talk. Try and figure it out. Accept that it’s different. Be friendly. Be genuine. Let people show you. Learn.
The next factor I want to touch on is perseverance. I don’t know of many expats, myself and business partner included that don’t hit the expat wall. At some point you are going to ask yourself, ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ I am away from my friends and family, perhaps away from the things that made you feel successful, in this place that may or may not make sense to you and just a flight away from being back home.
At this point many people leave. And for some I am sure that it is the right decision. For myself and Darnell who runs Abundant Living Ecuador with me, it was not. We had the holidays away from our families, the times when we couldn’t figure out how to accomplish the things we were trying to accomplish within this very different landscape and the times where we just wanted the food and familiarity of home.
And yet we pushed through that time and are realizing our goals as we had laid them out prior to our arriving.
So if you feel it’s right, stick with it. It takes time to build the life you want. To make the connections and relationships that help you to feel good about what you are doing. Stay flexible, stay open and allow the lessons to come. For whatever the lessons you need in your life will certainly be more obvious when you are trying to make it happen in a foreign land.
Three years in I am so happy with my decision. I love living here. I have learned to enjoy the process. I have accepted the things I am not a fan of and figured out how to take advantage of all the amazing benefits available in the differences that do exist.
Until next time,