Lessons From An Ex-Pat

October 5, 2016

I was 17 the first time I moved away from my home, my family and my country of Costa Rica.

Since then, I’ve had to pack my bags and make way to a new life around three times. Never knowing what to expect, I’ve developed a pragmatism about feelings and attachments (that’s not to say I don’t cry every time I hit the airport), packing essentials and developed a few tricks that have helped ease me through numerous do-overs.

Now, as a veteran ex-pat I will share with you some lil’ nuggets that I’ve found hold the key to a happy life, no matter the area code (using weird, but on-point agriculture analogies).

This has been the key to true happiness for me. Truly uprooting means really letting go of what is back home, cutting that sense or urgency that arises from a social need. Your friends and your family will always be an important part of who you are but you need to actively stop your brain from jumping back to what was important to you and make room for the new and amazing opportunities that will come your way.

Once you have mastered this art and throw your FOMO out the window you are ready to plant a new seed. It has been my experience that no matter how long or short your stay will be — I’ve had many periods of uncertainty — you should live the heck out it, as if this was going to be your zip code for life. Say yes to things you’ve never tried before, eat EVERYTHING, get involved with groups in your community, go WAY out of your way to experience the authentic life.

Word from the wise: look for common ground. Water-cooler conversation is hard when you come from a different culture. Make it your homework to watch football games (or soccer, depending on your post), politics, and comedy shows, anything that is trending and will give you a glimpse into pop culture. That way you are able to strike up casual conversations and start building relationships.

Gather your yield
Ultimately, having your own network of friends and acquaintances is what will turn this new place into home for you. This is why my previous point is so important; you need to put in the hours to get results. Depending on where you are, people will be more or less welcoming of foreigners into their already existing groups so you need to make an active effort. I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy. It’s not…at all. But once you’ve managed to break through it makes all the difference in the world. You need people in your life who understand your context, your day-to-day trivialities and your routine. Your friends back home will always stay with you but they will never understand this new part of your life, no matter how much you try to describe it to them. Having your own local support system is vital, trust me…go out and get yourself one!

Reminisce (I ran out of analogies for this one)
My whole post has been about looking forward, and in my experience that is the best way to go about it. However, you will ALWAYS have a special place in your heart for your home country, no matter how exotic your new post is. So my final advice is to allow some time to reminisce. Never forget your roots, where you come from and what made you the person you are today. Try your best to keep some of the traditions that are special to you and share with others around you what makes your culture so beautiful and unique. Never compare, but rather share what makes this place different from that other place.

I hope this short hack to ex-pat living will help some soul in need out there. If you need the long version feel free to hit me up!