By Jason Holland, InternationalLiving.com – If you feel “stuck,” stressed out, or trapped in your current situation, I can’t say that simply moving abroad will help you. But when you make that commitment … when you make that leap … something does fundamentally change inside you. You’re forced, in a way, to change your way of life. Your day-to-day routine changes. You’re forced outside your comfort zone. You feel a deeper connection with loved ones and new friends, and with your community. And soon a “switch” goes off inside you.
And when you let it happen, you can change your whole world for the better.
Changes on the surface come first. The lower cost of living, top-notch healthcare, and great climate to be found in your new country can’t help but put you in a good mood. The worries that troubled you back home are lifted from your shoulders. Before we moved to Costa Rica, for instance, the lack of affordable healthcare in south Florida was a major source of stress for my family, as was the high cost of living.
You also have a chance to reinvent yourself. Nobody knows who you are in your new home. You don’t have to fall into old patterns or be the person people back home expected you to be. You’re free to take risks … to take chances. Have you always wanted to try yoga but just never felt comfortable? Never had the courage (or time) to take up painting … or writing … or whatever else? Now’s your chance.
Then there is what’s below the surface — the mental game. You get a new perspective. The world becomes a smaller place. You see things and people differently and have a new attitude. You discover that people are people, no matter what their nationality. We all have qualities that make us more alike than different. We face the same issues, no matter what our backgrounds.
As an expat, you slow down. You leave traffic, stress, and the North American consumer mentality behind. Things that used to matter — like having a late model car — don’t matter so much anymore.
So what’s on the agenda instead? It’s not as though you’re tuned out of life. You’re not “on vacation” all the time, although it can feel that way sometimes. You just notice what really matters.
You feel more connected to your immediate surroundings — to the natural world around you. You know weather patterns and seasons. In Costa Rica, the mating season of the national bird, the clay-colored thrush (called the yigüirro locally) signals the arrival of the rainy season. When I’m hiking in the rainforest, I always know to look for the wild almond tree, because its seeds are a delicious treat for sloths, monkeys, toucans, and other wildlife. You recognize (and crave) a perfectly ripe mango or pineapple (I can tell by the smell; when it’s just sweet enough, it’s ready to eat), perhaps grown in your own backyard.
When I lived on the beach, I came to appreciate the rhythm of the tides, the delights of buying fresh-caught tuna, snapper, and mahi-mahi from the local fisherman for bargain prices, and the beauty of sunset, and how it changes from multi-colored splendor during cloud-filled days to a steady orange during the dry season.
When you move overseas with your partner, kids, or extended family, you find that you spend more time with them, too … sometimes just puzzling out the unexpected joys and frustrations of adjusting to a new culture, language, and lifestyle. You learn a lot about yourself and your loved ones as an expat. You find strength, resilience, patience, and courage you didn’t know you had. You find that your relationships are the most important things in your life. In my family’s case, getting lost in the middle of the night, on winding mountain roads with no lights and no street signs, had us all working together, without panicking, to find our rental home. We made it, finally, together.
At barbecues, celebrations, and school events, you learn different cultures, different habits, and different modes of life. I count folks of all ages and countries as friends. We all automatically have something in common: We left our home countries for a new life abroad. And that experience unites us and gives us plenty to talk about…even when three or four different languages are spoken at a typical gathering.
We celebrate each other’s holidays, share foods and recipes, joke around, and listen to music. We talk about home, places we’ve been, and experiences we’ve had. And when some move away to new adventures, we stay in touch on Facebook. A global family of friends we never would have had if we’d stayed in the States. It’s only possible with traveling and living abroad.
From my Costa Rican friends and neighbors, I’ve learned about a culture that treasures time with family and community and embraces a laidback and patient attitude toward life.
This is known as Pura Vida. It literally means “Pure Life,” but it’s more accurate to say “life is good.” It’s a great attitude to have. It means a focus on family, friends, and community. You work hard but only enough to provide a good living — not to finance a bigger home and weekly shopping trips to the mall. You work to live, not live to work. It’s amazing how that alone can cut a huge amount of stress.
All in all, I feel more like a citizen of the world. I’m proud to be from the U.S. But since moving abroad, I have realized that there is a whole lot more out there. I’ve learned that people are helpful, kind, and generous … often when you need it most.