A couple of things about moving abroad. First, it’s always a unique experience. Second, even after relocation, there are all kinds of ties with the homeland that need attention from time to time. The most important one these days, it seems, is taxation. But, that’s for another day. Right now, I just want to gab a bit about sustainable relocation. You know, going there, making it work, and getting it to turn out right. In short, how to have more satisfaction than dissatisfaction living abroad.
From Temporary to Permanent
Like many of my fellow Americans abroad, I first went overseas for a temporary period, to serve two years with the Peace Corps. I had applied for a Spanish-speaking country back then in 1964 because I had an inkling Spanish would be important. Over half a century later, I still don’t know Spanish that well but am fluent in Thai! For many of us, things have a way of working out differently from what we had imagined in the beginning of our lives abroad.
Toward the end of 1967 when my volunteer service was up, I was in Bangkok for debriefing when a Peace Corps nurse happened to ask me what my plans were. That led to an interview and there I was, working for an American company on a military contract: the Vietnam War was hot and heavy then.
That job led to another which led to some unemployment that led to another interview and then we found ourselves (my Thai wife, our son, and I) going to Iran. From Iran, off we went to Saudi Arabia for another nineteen years. Then it was back to Thailand for retirement at the age of fifty-two.
Today, I am still here in northeast Thailand, retired at the age of nearly seventy-five. We have children and grandchildren living in Bangkok and northeast Connecticut.
Where did the time go, and how did we make it work for us?
‘Us’ is the operative word, I guess. There has to be an ‘us’ where life partners are working together toward the same ends: sacrificing, planning, laughing, and crying off the same sheet. Do this and I believe you can make it anywhere.
Most families probably do not maintain a budget. Not a real one, where income and expenses are laid out ahead of time and everyone works to stick within it. You will be surprised when you do, because you will have more money available and a growing accumulation of resources from which to enrich yourselves down the road.
Too many Americans who go abroad for extended periods do not take advantage of the obligation, if I may call it that, to learn the local language and culture. Sometimes it’s for a good reason, but more often it’s because of isolation, insulation, or thinking that it’s temporary and why waste the time.
Why is this important? Because you get insight into the local culture, the national psyche, and in the process build up personal skills, cultural awareness, and better judgment informed by experience.
While you are learning and earning, make life work for you. Use your personal time to develop a hobby through interaction with the locals. Cooking, acting, writing, translation, woodworking, speaking skills... The list is endless. With today’s global communications, you can also take online courses in almost any subject with minimal or no on-campus time required. I completed my MBA via distance-study after I retired. You can earn important certification or a degree in any field you choose.
Keep physically fit where you live. Even in the desert back in Saudi and Iran, we took walks and jogged daily, had a small weight room in the house (we still do), and I regularly went to the company exercise center where despite the 110°F heat outside could work out in air-conditioned comfort. If you rent an apartment, condo, or detached home in some countries, you are also likely to have a pool. In others there are public pools available. Swimming is great exercise.
As the years go on, you will possibly choose schools locally for your maturing kids or send them on to Europe or the US, as we did, when they get old enough.
Here’s where contemporary smarts are important. Not only is it vital to choose a school with quality curriculum and teaching staff but also consider the environmental, social, and political environment. Some places are conservative, others liberal. Some places are cold, others are hot, humid, rainy, or foggy. Look at the demographics of areas you are considering to send your kids to for schooling, and ask yourself whether those places are best for them. Expense will, of course, be a primary consideration.
The Empty Nest
Weighing how to best become empty-nesters is very important. Do you want to move back home when the kids are older? Or do you want to stay abroad and trust your parenting skills sufficiently to let them fully out of the nest?
Last word: As the years go on, from time to time assess where you are in life and whether you are prepared for the next stage – financially, physically, mentally. Regular assessments help maintain focus and reassurance.