Now this third and last part of my series on living and working overseas is about the living part. The earlier articles have dealt with the issues involved with finding a job and actually working in a company in a different country. This last article is about actually living in the country outside the workplace.
When you live in your home country, you operate with on almost an automatic level about many things without having to think about it too much. You're very familiar with how to pay your rent, get utilities, pay for utilities, go grocery shopping, you know who to call if you need something repaired, you know where you take your car, you know where to buy petrol, you know where to go by clothes, things for your house, the list goes on. All of these things in your home country you pretty much know. You don't have to ask anybody, you just know where to go. You've learned it from your family, your friends, or on your own. You just don't really have to think about it. You know where to go and you know how to do what you need to do.
When you are in another country for the first time, none of that holds true. Dealing with the rental market in a foreign country can be a traumatic experience. In many countries market forces don't work quite as well as they do in other countries. I'll give you an example. In the Philippines landlords are wildly diverse, and I don't mean diverse in a good way. You can have two properties right next to each other on the same street, and they can have markedly differing rents and conditions for rental. And when you go to rent a property, you cannot just automatically assume that everything in the property works or that things that you take for granted like good water pressure, will be there. How will you deal with that? Do you understand that maybe you need to buy an auxiliary pump and a water tank in order to be able to get good water pressure inside your own home? What about the idea that there can be electricity outages? Quite common throughout Africa and Asia, and some places in South America. Now I've lived with black outs my whole life, but if you're not used to them, the first time your power goes out you're in for a shock. Especially if it happens on a regular basis. You need to have UPSes and / or AVR (Automatic Voltage Regulators) for your sensitive electronic equipment. And let’s not forget about voltage. Now this is becoming less critical for a lot of equipment. Most power adapters for things like laptops generally handle 100V – 240V. But kitchen appliances? Unlikely. So transformers will be a requirement if you have decided to bring a lot of things with you from a country that has a different voltage than the one you’re moving to. And as power can go out, so to can water. I personally find it harder to live without running water than electricity, but if you are aware, then you can prepare for this.
And what about clothes? In some countries in Asia it's not that easy to find clothes that are in a Western size. I can almost guarantee you that through the machinations of the dark god that governs the standardization of clothing sizes, that you will not find that the sizes in your country match the sizes in the country that you've been now moved to. You have to try these things and make sure that they actually fit correctly. For example is in Asia I usually wind up buying and wearing either XL, XXL or in some cases even XXXL clothing. If I bought those in North America I would be drowning in those garments. Here in Asia they may fit comfortably. And you'll go to a shoe store and find a lovely pair of shoes. And this can be a name brand like Ecco, Merrell, or Hushpuppy's. But when you ask for an 11 1/2 men size (think North American reference size here) they just look at you and go ah … we don't have that. And it's perfectly reasonable of course because 90% of the people that walk through their door have size 7 and 8 feet. So you have to be prepared for that. And don't get frustrated by it either. Remember. This was your choice.
So, these are a sample of some of the things that you need to be aware of when you are actually living in another country. Obviously there are more challenges if you move from a first world country to the third world, but regardless there will always be challenges. You have to have a list, and at the risk of stealing lines from a mythic figure, you have to check it twice. This is where even basic networking can come in and be a crucial lifesaver. You have to find and cultivate local contacts who can tell you where to get your car fixed or the best place to buy appliances.
I have gone through a long litany of things that are different. And, fair enough, I have looked at them from a slightly negative aspect. I.e., something can be hard to find, or not the same as it was before, or requires more care and due diligence in order to make it work out okay. So, ok. But that is why I wrote this article. Forewarned is, hopefully, forearmed. If you are prepared then the shock isn’t so bad.
But don't let that get you down. Here in Asia, for example, yes, many of those things are true. However there are lots of really good things as well. For example, you can generally afford staff to help you in the house. I have a housekeeper, I have a driver. I'm not a lazy guy, but I haven't cleaned my house on my own for years. I can easily afford somebody to do that. [However, hiring and keeping staff is yet another article for a different time. A discipline and art all on its own]
There are other things that I enjoy, such as living in a tropical climate, not having to worry about the cold, I happen to enjoy the rainy season (some people don't but after having worked a number of years in the Middle East I truly enjoy the rain and the green. It touches something in my soul that just makes me feel calm). I remember when I lived in Istanbul in a small residential neighborhood called Bebek that overlooked the Bosphorus. Yes there were frustrations, but it was so enjoyable to walk down the street and have an actual baker that I could buy great bread at, and I learned to know the shopkeepers by name and face, and as my Turkish improved I was able to feel like I was living in a small village. Which in fact I was. And I found it very enjoyable. I love the Turks actually. Just an incredibly nice friendly people. I won't say things like this very often, but I will make a political comment here … I am absolutely appalled by what Erdoğan is doing to that wonderful country. What an unmitigated jackass he has turned out to be.
Living in Thailand has been wonderful too. I love the street life and the politeness of the people. Great food, and as cosmopolitan of a place as you could hope to find.
There isn’t any place in the world that doesn’t have its aggravations and tradeoffs. Yes, North America and Europe are great places to live but the tradeoff is increasing paranoia and burdensome regulation. Sure, living in the 2nd or 3rd world may present some challenges, but they are still great places to live and there is a charming (for me anyway) chaos to daily living. And never has it been easier to do the research and discover what the pitfalls are BEFORE you arrive someplace. Take advantage of this and embrace the change.
You can either embrace the changes and be happy, or be the unhappy ugly foreigner who expects everything to be like it was at home (uh ... not going to happen). Your choice.
As a nomad, I rarely have expectations any more. I simply figure out how to be comfortable in the environment I am in. Period.