A couple of years ago, my husband Amir’s company in Houston shut down. It was unexpected, but when it happened we did what most 20-somethings do when life throws a curve ball—we pulled on our big girl undies (and Amir his big boy boxers) and sat down to figure out our next move.
While we were working through the options that were available to us, one of the things we were interested in was the possibility of living abroad. Both of us had always said if we were given the chance to live somewhere overseas, that we would consider it. Well, the company pulled through and after a lot of discussions & figuring out how things would work going forward, we took the leap and moved—to the Philippines!
If you need a moment to absorb the shock, I’ll totally understand, because even we were surprised at our enthusiasm in moving to a third-world country where we knew no one and had never visited before.
Moving abroad has truly been one of the most exhilarating and amazing things we have ever done! We have traveled to places we didn’t even know were on a map, we have seen amazing scenery, made incredible friends & picked up hobbies that were never truly on our radar.
But even with all that being said, along with all the wonderful fun we’ve had living overseas, I realized that we weren’t prepared for some of the nuances and struggles that we were going to face! So here I am, sharing some of the funny & some of the not-so-funny struggles being an expat brought our way & things you should prepare for when you’re thinking of making the leap across the pond!
1. Going to the grocery store.
If you’re looking for an effective way to torture someone who is living abroad for the very first time, send them to the grocery store. Seriously. Here’s what will inevitably happen: (a) something you could easily find in the store back home will definitely not be available, (b) you will find said item you really want but it will cost you an arm & a leg, and/or (c) a 20 minute trip will absolutely turn into a 1 hour debacle where no one on the staff will be able to understand what you REALLY want and ultimately, your frustration will cause you to sulk out of the store in the worst of ways.
2. Being homesick.
Here’s the thing. At some point or another, you’re going to miss home. Not just a little bit where you can give your folks a FaceTime call and suddenly it’s all better, but honest-to-goodness, full-blown, could-cry-for-days kinda homesick that will smack you in the heart. It’s hard. It’s a really sucky feeling, but it’s something that can be overcome. Whether you need to put on some PJs and eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s because it reminds you of home, or you do what I do, and go to IHOP for pancakes, being homesick is a part of the territory when you move abroad. If you go into your adventures knowing that it will happen and you CAN get through it, you’re ahead of the curve, friend.
3. Finding clothes in your size.
I think this is one of those that happens depending on where you’re moving to. We left America and came to an Asian country where many people (i.e the women) are teeny-freakin’-tiny. I’m petite but I’ve got muscular legs and seriously, sometimes trying on pants would put me into depression. So I compromised on my shopping. I’ll buy my shirts & blouses from the shops here because I tend to gravitate towards the loose fitting tops anyways, but jeans/pants…yeah, I’ll wait until I’m back in Houston to get some of those.
4. Not calling family/friends because of time differences.
This one gets to me. A few times, Amir & I have missed out on talking to family—whether just to catch up or for an event—because the time difference is so odd. Normally, we are 13 hours ahead, which tends to work out alright since we are waking up right around the time our family is having dinner, but when Daylight Savings Time hits, it throws us off to a 14 hour difference which leads to way too early in the morning/or way too late in the evening calls!
And of course, now that we’ve finally figured out the right timings on when to call our folks & siblings, we’re packing up and moving to a whole different time zone. Insert confused emoji face here.
If you want to test your patience, get on the roads of wherever you’ve moved to. Manila has, without exaggeration, the worst traffic in the world (according to Waze). Coming from a country where road rules are observed, moving to Manila and seeing the insanity of the driving here made me lose my mind. People run red lights like it’s no big deal, the idea of acknowledging pedestrian walks is non-existent and there is some weird idea that driving in the middle of multiple lanes & blocking everyone else off is perfectly acceptable (oh and did I mention they randomly stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason!?).
In America, I drove every day and everywhere. Here though, no thanks. I’ve got a radius within which I will drive and anything outside that 5 km route just won’t happen for me. It is what it is.
When we came here for our first visit, Amir & I were so astounded with how well everyone spoke English. What we didn’t realize though is that just because they speak English, it doesn’t necessarily mean they understand English. And thus, we realized that some things are just better off left unsaid & undiscussed.
If you are expecting that people in a foreign country will understand you for the most part, you are mistaken. They will not. You’ll struggle to convey your message or get across the importance of something because your sense of urgency will never be taken the same way by another. I cannot tell you how many times I have needed some urgent answers only to have the person I’m talking to auto-repeat the same 5 lines they have learned as a blanket statement to all situations.
7. De-cluttering ALL the time.
I’ve never really been a pack-rat, but when I had my own house and there was no immediate future of us moving, I would sometimes hold onto things. That all changed when we made the decision to move abroad, because a small apartment vs our house also meant downsizing what we were bringing with us. We sold our furniture and other big items, we boxed up wedding gifts and clothes we wouldn’t need in tropical weather & put them in our parent’s attics and most importantly, we got rid of all the extra junk we had. After cleaning out our place, we crammed the clothes and belongings we WOULD want into two suitcases each and took off across the world.
Our apartment here is small, and knowing that we would probably move apartments after the first year, I felt like we were in a constant state of declutter. I’ve spent a good portion of two years keeping our closets/drawers as empty as possible. Yes, this is a good thing, because really, we don’t need to be hoarders, but the need to always think about clearing out our stuff can become time-consuming, frustrating and lead to your ultimate insanity.
8. Having to convert the local currency to the American dollar just so you can complain about how expensive something is.
Lol. I have perfected this little nuance, friends. It’s not even that I mean to, but when I first moved here, I started converting the Peso to the Dollar and then trying to decide why the hell said item was so expensive here when I could clearly get the same thing back in Houston for a fraction of the cost. And this little ditty just continued for the whole time I’ve lived here.
There’s a reason I’ve only really gone shopping a few times in Manila and it’s mainly because I can’t justify a $35 shirt from Forever 21, when I know that I saw the same shirt for $12 back home. Just ask me how many times I’ve worn the same outfits over 2 years and you’ll probably be appalled by the answer. Oh well. At least I boost the Houston economy with my shopping habits whenever I go home for a visit.
Even with all the ridiculous things that came our way over the last two years, as I said before, living abroad is one heck of a life changing experience—in a good way! You’ll learn more about a new culture, a new way of life and most importantly, yourself, which in my book are some serious wins. So use my struggle warnings, prepare yourself as best as you can, and go take on the world, okay?!