Home expat life How To Survive Being An Expat

How To Survive Being An Expat

written by M.E. Evans November 8, 2013


1. Appreciate Your Life

Be thankful that you wake up alive each morning. Don’t take your situation for granted, most people never get the chance to live abroad and experience what you’re experiencing. Don’t sweat the small stuff like the fact that in Italy people have no concept of sidewalk space and they would rather throw you in front of a bus instead of stepping aside. So what! You stepped in dog shit and getting your residency is difficult, at least you’re not dying from terminal cancer.

2. Make Friends (It’s way better than sitting in front of FB all day crying)

Having good friends can make or break any experience. What do you love to do? Find a group of people who like the same thing and get to know them. Join a writer’s group, a painters group, a knitting circle. Friends will not come to your door magically. Leave. Your. Apartment. Surround yourself with people who have a great sense of humor. Friends that can help you accomplish what you set out abroad to do. They help you to feel good about yourself and they will totally understand all of your frustrations and complaints.

3. Be Considerate

Accept others for who they are as well as where they are in life. You did not move abroad to bring your motherland with you. This is how people are. Find their quirky things endearing, tease them, but don’t judge them. For example, try to see the incessant stares from the locals as adorable. Or pretend that you’re a movie star. This is what fame feels like. Roll with it.

4. Learn All The Stuff!

Keep up to date with the latest news regarding your career and hobbies. Go to events, and festivals. Try new and daring things that has sparked your interest – such as dancing, cooking, skiing, gardening, how to taste wine or find truffles. Being abroad doesn’t mean you should put “you” on pause. Learn about the country you’re in. Stay up to date on the one you came from. Take on an internship. Take an online class. Learn everything you can about what’s going on around you. Document it. Keep a daily journal with photos like the PROJECT LIFE project. See the place like you’re studying a new planet. Keep notes on the weird shit the locals do.

5. Whine Less, Take Action More.

Instead of being depressed over your situation, try to find a solution to your problems. Try to see each new obstacle you face as an opportunity to write a funny blog post, journal entry, funny youtube clip, or put it in that life book you’re making about your travels. Turn everything terrible into comedic relief. It’s the only way to avoid becoming the “insane and bitter” expat. Nobody likes those dudes. They’re scary.

6. Do What You Love Even If You’re Abroad

Most people hate their jobs! Being abroad might give you a once in the lifetime chance to do something new. Try it! Go big! When I arrived I wanted to write. Competition for English speaking things is lower here so getting published was less of a challenge than at home. BAM! Instant awesome and my resume is pimped. What can you do abroad that you couldn’t do at home? Go for the dream! If you fail, you’re abroad and nobody will even know. WINNING!

7. Enjoy Your New Life (Even When It Makes You Crazy)

Go for long walks with your camera. Sit and watch people interact and talk. Do a random act of kindness. Sometimes I walk around with change and give it to the street vendors and my husband follows me screaming, “STOP DOING THAT!” Sit at the park with a bottle of wine, get wasted, embarrass yourself. Go to the theatre. Every single day try to ignore all of the irritating bullshit and remember at least ONE REASON why you fell in love with the place to begin with.

8. Laugh At Yourself And Everyone Around You

Don’t take yourself seriously. You can find humor in just about any situation. Honestly, this is the best advice for living abroad, living in general, working or being married in general. If you can’t laugh at things, you’ll struggle. SO LAUGH. Everything about being alive is ridiculous. For example, last night I told my husband (after we had church sanctioned relations), “You know, sex is kind of insane when you think about it. You’re always trying to put your mini leg into my guts. I mean, literally, it’s in there right near my intestines, nestled between the bladder and colon. That’s not sexy. That’s fucking ridiculous.” He stared at me for a second, said, “wow,” then rolled over and had nightmares. Try to unlearn that, my friends.

9. Forgive

It’s exhausting walking around with pent up anger and frustration. Take responsibility for the times when you’re being close-minded and ethnocentric, and forgive others for being the same. Like when people say, “But you don’t look American, you’re not fat!” take that as the perfect time to take a deep breathe, forgive them, and then launch into detail about how you underwent 200,000 dollars of corrective surgery to make you more “european.” Or, forgive temporarily until you can hire someone to kill them. That works too.

10. Try To Remember That Everyone Doesn’t Get To Be An Expat

Be grateful that you get to have the experience that 99% of people in the world wish they could have. Yes, it’s annoying that your friends and family misunderstand the frustration and struggles of being an expat but at least you get to experience those struggles while they are at home eating mac n cheese and being lame. So, just smile when they tell you that you’re lucky, and then write a journal entry later about how annoying they are.

11. Invest in Real Relationships

Always make sure your loved ones know you love them even in times of conflict. Nurture and grow your relationships with your family and friends by making the time to spend with them. This can be hard if you’re dating cross-culturally because your partner will DRIVE YOU CRAZY, but try anyways. In regards to family, this one is hard to do abroad but you CAN do it. Write at least two friends a lengthy email every week. Include pictures. OR, at this is a great one, sign up to MailChimp. Create a newsletter, send it to your friends and family every week so they can see what you’re up to and you can stay connected. Creating a new life doesn’t mean severing the old one.

12. Be Honest With Yourself And Others

Being honest is the easiest route every time. I don’t lie simply because I’m lazy. I don’t have the energy to keep up with my own bullshit. Tell people how you feel and let them get mad. Tell them the truth and let them get mad. It’s not the end of the world but losing someones trust is. If someone loses that, it’s over.  Also, being out of your native land does not mean you can regress as a person. In fact, take this chance to be the most honest you’ve ever been. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Be the YOU that expectations at home made impossible.

13. Work Out, Do Yoga, Or Meditate

Meditate and do Yoga every morning. Even for 15 minutes with a YouTube video will totally change the level of frustration boiling over inside of you. When I feel homicidal rage I do this and it melts away and the population in Italy gets to live another day. Everyone wins!

14. Who Gives A Shit About What Others Are Doing

Concentrate on being the best you that you can be and stop worrying about what everyone is doing, thinking, or saying.

15. Try To Be Optimistic (With or Without Multiple Glasses Of Wine In Hand)

You get to choose how you feel about things. Try to find positive things even on the worst days (like the days you have to deal with international bureaucracy.)

16. Love Unconditionally. This is the hardest one for me. We can do it together (with Wine!)

Love everyone in spite of themselves. That opera singer upstairs that never shuts up! How charming, free music! Your mother-in-law who wants to iron your panties, no, hell no, but I love you for trying. Now give me back my undergarments.

17. Tenacity!

Don’t give up. Closing yourself inside of your house is giving up. Get out, make an ass of yourself, and more than anything stop caring about everything so much. If you keep trying things will turn out as planned but living abroad means you have to try three times harder than you’re used to.

18. Get Er Done!

Accept that you can’t change things. Don’t spend hours complaining about things that are out of your control. Change the things you can. You can’t make your new home like your old one. Accept that (but still make fun of it regularly).

19. Be The Best You That You Can Be

Eat healthy, workout (YouTube has ten billion free videos), drink water, take your vitamins, DO SO MANY PUSH-UPS!

20. Self Confidence

Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to blend in with your new surroundings. For a long time I thought that everyone wanted me to be Italian (and some did) but it turns out that people like my “weird” and “different” way of thinking, acting and being. The more you like yourself and keep being you the more others will get on the “you” train. But you’ll never impress anyone by trying to fit in. You can’t. Don’t bother.

21. Take Responsibility

In every irritating scenario try to ask yourself, “how much of this could be me?” Own what part you played in the situation, learn from it, grow from it. Being alive isn’t about being right, it’s about being a better person at the end of the day. If you keep blaming your unhappiness on everyone else 100% you’ll never grow into anything but a delusional “ren fair.” A ren fair is a term coined by my friend Josh, which means, renaissance fair expat, the completely antisocial, bitter expats who suck the happiness and life from any room they walk into. Even if things are really bad because of someone else, take it as a chance to grow up. Is your in-laws calling you fat? Take it as an opportunity to learn how to fire back witty remarks, stand up for yourself, or calmly problem solve in a positive way. It’s a chance to do something besides crying yourself to sleep. You’ll come out tougher in the end. When my in-laws were being total fuckfaces, I cried, a lot. Then I realized that I was being weird around them too because I was scared of them. I started being me, completely, openly and honestly, and when they irritated me I would say, “Let me be dudes, I got this.” And eventually they backed off. Also, making fun of them helps.

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