I didn’t imagine I’d be living abroad or that I’d become an expat mom. Yet, here we are living our life abroad as an expat family. Before I became an expat, there were things I was certain were true about expat life. I thought I’d move to Mexico, meet my new best friend right away, become conversational in Spanish in 3 months, and go skipping off into the sunset of a perfect life.
Yes, I seriously believed I’d be conversational in three months.
Little did I know that language learning is difficult even when you’re immersed and not knowing the language limits your friend making skills a bit. Here are some other misconceptions that need to be cleared up.
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Number 1: immediate cultural immersion
Of course, you ARE immersed in a different culture, but if you don’t already speak the language or have a chance meeting with someone who clicks with you, the cultural immersion is not immediate. Of course, depending on how different your new country is from your old country, the culture shock may arrive more quickly for you.
number 2: sticking with other expats and expat families is wrong
It’s definitely a misconception that sticking with other expats isn’t a true or authentic experience. In the beginning, having other expats to rely on is a necessity. Trying to navigate in a new culture and language is difficult. It is very helpful in the beginning to get advice from multiple expats in order to avoid making a faux pas or avoid potentially dangerous situations. Plus, they can introduce you to their non-expat friends!
Finding another expat family or two to hang out with is also beneficial.
Number 3: Being an Expat Is all awesome, all the time
Okay, it isn’t a misconception that being an expat is pretty great. But you are still the same person. You will still experience up and down emotions. Some will be magnified while you are getting comfortable in your new locale. If you are prone to loneliness or depression, those things will follow you. You can’t run away from the fundamental truths about yourself.
Number 4: Children Adapt Easily
All humans have the ability to adapt to their surroundings. It doesn’t mean it will be easy. Children also respond to our emotions and if we are distressed, they will pick up on it. Our last month in Ohio and first 6-8 weeks in Mexico were very difficult. My big feelings often escalated with the slightest provocation. My children followed my lead. It wasn’t until I calmed the heck down and acted in a peaceful manner that they were also able to calm down and return to a happier state.
Children will also grieve the life they left behind, including friends and family members. Do your best to acknowledge their emotions and listen to their concerns. It’s a huge change for kids, too, and the younger they are, the more difficult it will be for them to verbalize their problems.
Number 5: Living abroad is dangerous
This will definitely vary by location, but it isn’t a universal truth that all countries, other than the one you call home, are dangerous. Mexico does have a bad rep in the USA, except the resort locations. While there are dangerous areas to avoid, the same is true of the USA. In fact, I feel safer living here than in some US cities. I’m a little jumpy at times, knowing that I could possibly become a target. I don’t sound like a local and that may make me look like an easy “job”. I also have two young children and being in a permanent distracted state could also identify me as “easy money.” Yet, I’m far more worried about being pick-pocketed in busy areas than about violent crime.
What are misconceptions you have about expat life? If you are or have been an expat, what misconceptions did you have before moving abroad?