52 Comments

  1. Amanda
    May 31, 2012 @ 1:30 am

    Great post! I definitely think people should consider the logistics of the move and how it will differ from travel. A lot of people romanticize living abroad and don’t think of what it actually means. I’m over in Germany on military orders, which is a little different from being a regular expat since we have American support in place, work on an American post, etc. But even with that I see a LOT of people lose their love of the idea of living abroad pretty quickly. So many are ready to get home and counting down the days til they can get back to paying in dollars, having stores open 24 hrs including Sundays, drive on American roads, etc. I’m six months in, love it more all the time, and am sure I am going to be a little sad to return to the States when our time here is up.

    • Andrew
      June 1, 2012 @ 6:40 pm

      So glad you are enjoying your post here. It really is a neat place to live. I think in a lot of ways, it comes down to attitude of allowing things to be different. The more you expected it to be just like home, the more difficult it ends up being to live differently.

      • Amanda
        June 1, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

        Yeah I think that is probably the case. The people who are most miserable are those who are constantly comparing and not in a positive way.

        • Andrew
          June 7, 2012 @ 11:17 am

          There is a point of complaining. It lets off steam of the stress of life here, but it has to be positive to be useful.

  2. David
    April 1, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

    Well after all, aren’t we all just traveling through this life anyhow. :)

    The only difference is that some of us realize that, or rather, are comfortable admitting that regardless, we are all just passing through.

    Great piece Jessica!

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  4. Annie
    February 8, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

    You’ve done such a great job explaining the differences in what to expect as an expat, especially when it comes to Italy!

    I think that often people have romanticized the idea of Italy far too much and sometimes when they go on and on about all the great things I want to ask “have you ever been to Italy?” haha, okay I’m half joking. It’s true the food is beyond words and the sites and history never disappoint but there are absolutely things that don’t sit so well with expats and I’m sad to agree that too many people give up!

    Great explanations and I think you are one of the few lucky expats that accepted it as it came and loved it for what it was!

  5. Sara
    January 30, 2011 @ 6:32 am

    I get used to being asked constantly, “So, why do you want to live in Chile?” Chileans and Americans alike ask me. Also, I find I have to always explain to people the difference between traveling in Chile and living in Chile. I’m sure most vacationers don’t wake up at 6 AM and GO TO WORK. Just a thought.

    Nice post ;)

    • Andrew
      January 31, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

      Ouch 6am is harsh? Do they siesta or do you just get off work early?

  6. Peeing in Winter » Grounded Traveler
    January 26, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

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  7. Life Lessons of a Military Wife
    January 26, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    Loved all the posts and comments…funny, I only started reading this blog last summer, and I thought Grounded Traveler meant that he was “grounded” too:-) I didn’t realize there was an air component to it or maybe I had forgotten!

    You can always take the “safe route” of experiencing the world by joining the military…or marrying into it. We travel/live all over the world and still have our safety net of American shopping on post (not always everything available but a good amount), the support system on post and the job security.

    Obviously, there are negatives to any job and some can be very dangerous at times (like this one)…but for the most part, it has been and continues to be an awesome ride:-)

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

      Welcome. Actually the blog has only really been around since last spring, so you are not a latecomer at all. As I wrote to Jeremy, the Grounded used to be associated with airtravel, but I am working on shifting the meaning more toward having a life in a fixed place. This puts it opposite the travel part, so I can write about that balance.
      My dad was Air Force and I quite miss the ability to shop on base. There are a number of bases here, but I don’t have a military id. They are all a ways out anyway.

  8. Megan Fitzgerald
    January 26, 2011 @ 8:20 am

    Hi Jessica,
    Great post. As an expat career coach living in Rome, every week I get at least one inquiry from someone who wants to move to Italy. I have a similar conversation with them…giving them a sense of how vacationing and living somewhere is different. I ask about what they want to get from their experience to make sure that it maps to what living in Italy can actually provide. And given the unique economic climate here, what sort of choices are they willing to make professionally in order to support their life.

    Do not get me wrong – I LOVE my life here in Italy. I feel so fortunate to have the life and work that I do. My mission in life is to help others build their own career or business to support their life abroad. But I find that often times the dream that people have about living overseas does not necessarily sync with the reality of the expat experience…or rather it is not tempered by the common challenges that expats face which can significantly affect the quality of a person’s life.

    There are those of us for whom being an expat is in our blood. I can’t imagine living any other way. And I believe if you want to do it, you will find a way. However every choice has an impact. We must make our choices consciously and deliberately to insure both our personal and professional life provide us with the things that allow us to live our lives to the fullest.

    Viva Italia!
    Megan

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

      As I think back i don’t think I knew what I was in for either, but it has turned out to be the best decision of my life. Despite the hardships, I am better off and happier than I was. Moving has really helped show me what parts of my life where dependent on location and surroundings and which on myself. The nature/nurture split in reverse.
      I have changed myself through these experience enough that I don’t think I could go back.

  9. Nancy
    January 26, 2011 @ 7:50 am

    I have always wanted to visit Italy. I EVEN contemplating living there when I was in my 20’s. However, now I am contented with the idea of visiting/traveling. If opportunity arises and I get to live there for a few months, I would love to. :-)

    Pardon my ignorance, but I have to ask, what is expat? What does it mean?

    • Jessica
      January 26, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

      “Expat” is short for “expatriate.”

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

      As Jessica says expat is short for expatriate. I wrote a post here on Grounded Traveler on the dictionary definition of an expat that you might enjoy..

  10. Zablon Mukuba
    January 26, 2011 @ 6:53 am

    i would really consider living in another country for a couple of months so that i could really see the place and full experience of the place

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  12. Madeline
    January 25, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    love the line “there’s no better way, after all, to examine and understand your own culture than to live outside of it”. So true. It sounds like you’re ready to move, Jessica!

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

      Thanks for the comment.. You might enjoy my piece on Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. I always took them for granted at home and as a traveler and expat they get me noticed.

  13. Jeremy B
    January 25, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    This is a good post to really awaken people to the realities of living overseas. Andrew’s blog does a good job of that as he is honest about life as an expat. While is blog is Grounded Traveler because he hates flying I think there is a dual meaning to his blog because his posts keep us “grounded” in terms of how we look at traveling.

    I do think it is important to face the realities of living somewhere else and not gauge a place based on how we perceive it when traveling. The only thing I would disagree with Jessica about is the idea of not thinking when we travel. I think the opposite is true. If you just want to eat, drink, and be merry, you are on vacation – not traveling. I don’t think you can truly travel without engaging your mind and opening your mind to experiencing a new culture, to learn something new, or to have your outlook on life or how you view the world completely changed.

    When I travel, I am often tired when I get home because I am so busy and engaged with the world around me. When I am on vacation, I come back relaxed and refreshed. In both instances, I have lived in a fantasy world where I have thought about moving somewhere else. However, traveling and being engaged brings a little more of a realistic perspective to what it means to live overseas (although traveling can never come close to actually doing it).

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

      Yes, the name originally came because of my fear of flying. I have started to get past that and began flying again last year. The grounded part is what I mean as apart of the tagline “Putting down roots and still seeing the world.” I have roots in a community, but still am a traveler. It does also lend well to a “feet on the ground, head in the clouds” feeling that I get sometimes when I write the philosophical pieces.

  14. Kelsey
    January 25, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    This makes me feel better. I’ve never “lived” in a foreign local longer than a month. I’ve always dreamed of living away from exotic Muncie, Indiana, for a year or more, but it’s not in the cards for me. We’ve got kid #2 on the way and my wife doesn’t really have the same desire.

    Great piece. Especially love the Barbara Walters analogy.

    • Jessica
      January 25, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

      Thanks, Kelsey. :) And hey, when I finally make it over to Italy, you can come visit & pretend you’re a local for a little while.

  15. pam
    January 25, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

    My former expat pal S. told me that he tells folks to go for three months, then extend to six, always having an escape route in place before making the jump for good. Expat life isn’t for everyone (says this failed expat) and it can never live up to the glam Hollywood expectations in our heads. Everyone smokes too much, or soy sauce is too expensive, or the utilities are inscrutable (Really? You’re replacing our heating system in the dead of winter?) or… and you simply do not know these things as a visitor, you have no idea.

    Folks who are pining to be expats should do the equivalent of not quitting the day job and doing a test run. It is easy to overlook things when you’re passing through, but when you’re living there? Not so much so.

    • Jessica
      January 25, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree, a test run is a must – and your friend’s method of 3 months, then six, etc. is a good one. It gives people an escape route that isn’t something like a year away, which could end up sounding like a prison sentence if it’s pretty clear after 3 months that it’s not working out.

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

      I am all for doing your research and doing test runs, but once you decide to become an Expat give it at least a year. There are frustrations in the life, if there is too easy an out, then the frustrations can get to you more. Remember that you can always go home, but also remember why you left.

  16. Foodie International
    January 25, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    I spend about 4 months a year in Italy. I own a house, pay taxes, etc. I have a full life there and enjoy my friends and neighbors. I participate in seasonal activities like harvests, slaughters, and festivals. When people ask me where I live, I answer, “New York and Italy.”

    My work is mostly done via computer, so it’s possible to set up shop for the summer in my Italy home. I live there alone but love to have travelers as guests. I think it is possible to have the best of both worlds. You can live in the States, AND in Italy. If you can find work that can be done in both places, I say go for it!

    • Sabrina
      January 25, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

      That sounds amazing! And it is inspiring to me because I am in the process of trying to build a business that I can run and work for from anywhere in the world in the long run.

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

      That sounds amazing. I would love a more free sort of job. Do you have an Italian visa? Or do you somehow not need one?

  17. Diane
    January 25, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    When I told people in my husband’s little village in Italy that we were going to move there–sell our home in America, quit my job, etc. their reaction was “How sad!”. That gave me pause, I’ll admit, but it’s generally been a positive experience (except for my inability to accept the very traditional local school system for our son and that after five years, my Italian is STILL not as good as my English). It’s true, however, that in the beginning even going to the supermarket was fun…post office much less so!

  18. Judy
    January 25, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    I agree with Rebecca- after 27 years here and counting. It is not “Under the Tuscan Sun”. That said, Italy is my home now. I gave up a lot to move here. You make much less money, if you look at the Italians that have studied, they are all leaving Italy to get jobs. It is a tough situtation. I created my own job. It makes life somewhat easier! Best wishes to those who follow their dreams- but dream with your eyes open and remember, if you don’t like it you can always go home!
    But the FOOD is FABULOUS–

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

      I feel that way after only a few years in Germany. It is my home and I am happy to have sacrificed what I did to get here. Less money, harder to get around in town, more bureaucracy; but there are so many good sides that I am quite happy to stay.

      Food isn’t so good as in Italy, but a far sight better than in the US. Things are fresher here.

  19. Rebecca
    January 25, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    This is something I’ve touched on repeatedly in my blog over the years. I have so many guests at Brigolante who come and see life in Italy as idyllic because they are on vacation. Vacation in Italy is idyllic; life in Italy is just as complicated, exhausting, overwhelming, and frustrating as it is anywhere else. But the food is better.

    • Jessica
      January 25, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

      Ha! Very good point, Rebecca. :)

  20. WanderingTrader
    January 25, 2011 @ 4:26 am

    I remember the first time I lived in italy, in the island of Sicily. I was so fascinated that I didn’t even make it to the North. Italy I find is the best combination of cultures you can go to the north and find the efficient German side or go to the south and meet the inefficient latin side. Great post!

  21. Michael
    January 25, 2011 @ 1:25 am

    I would imagine that the length of time you live in a certain country and your means will dictate whether or not the experience feels like a very long vacation or an attempt to set up a new life as an expat. Will you be attempting to gain employment in your new country because you plan to stay for years or are you visiting for 3-6 months and planning to live off savings?
    I only wish the “gnat” in my ear was that quiet. My interest in living outside of the US has been more of a siren blaring into my skull for the last five years. I’ve let, what I think are the “usual” things, stop me from making the leap. I have a career here, my family and friends, and other than high school level Spanish, I don’t speak anything other than English. But, after visiting country after country over the last seven years and enjoying two to three weeks of living city life in each and every European or South or Central American country (my vacations never revolve around a hotel that I refuse to leave or lying around on a beach), I can’t help but feel incredibly compelled to experience living life in a different way than I have for the last 36 years. And while I agree that living in another country would involve many of the mundane tasks that I push through every week of my life, there’s something about doing them in a different country that at the beginning, would be interesting and refreshing (even if frustrating).
    But, the most compelling reason for me as an American to live abroad, is to experience what appears to me a more relaxed approach to life. Most I think would agree that American’s are described as living to work opposed to working to live. I would like the opportunity to test that line of thinking.

    • Jessica
      January 25, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

      You’re younger than me, Michael, & I’m still “in the process,” so it’s never too late to start. :)

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

      Michael, there is a honeymoon type period when all of the new and wonderful stuff is great and before it becomes annoying. I guess it depends on personality how long that period lasts and how easy it is to transition into more of a routine.

      When I first got here I actually liked that things were difficult. It gave me a rush of accomplishment for even the smallest things (buying bread for example.) I was unhappy in the ease of the US somehow and having to work for most everything here meant I had no more energy to be unhappy. It is hard to bitch about not having good cable reception when you have to get a visa applicatoin filled out.
      After a while when I got a routine the little things no longer give such a rush. I still have days when I really enjoy doing the “German-y” things, but mostly I just have a life that happens to be here.

      I would say, definitely try it out.

  22. MaryAnne
    January 25, 2011 @ 1:00 am

    I’ve been both an expat and a traveller my entire adult life (um, 16 years and counting now) and agree whole heartedly that living somewhere is nothing like travelling there. However, strangely enough, I’ve found that living in China is so much easier than travelling here (at least independently). I’ve been here 2 years now, speak some Mandarin, have a lovely flat and job and know my way around Shanghai and know all the quiet, restful places to go when the city gets too crazy. I’ve travelled a lot in China and the crowds and the huge cities get over whelming at times. This is a country that becomes much easier with familiarity and routine!

    It wasn’t the same for Turkey, where I lived for 6 years before this. I definitely think travelling there is much easier (deceptively easier) than living there, mainly because a lot of the cultural ‘rules’ can be glossed over and much of the insane bureaucracy doesn’t apply to the average holiday maker. When you settle down there and try to deal with residence permits, renting a flat, furnishing a flat, applying for electricity, gas, water, a phone, opening a bank account, trying to deal with neighbours, or with men who have the wrong idea about western women etc, it’s hair-pullingly exhausting. I loved Turkey but it often didn’t love me. It never really got easier but I did learn how to breathe my way through it.

    • Jessica
      January 25, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

      That’s so interesting, that a place would get easier as an expat rather than a tourist – but it makes sense. I’m so focused on Italy (where it’s the opposite) that I hadn’t even thought about that. Thanks for the comment!

      • Andrew
        January 26, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

        I would say that Germany tends more toward China than Italy in that respect. While it is pretty easy to travel here, the first few months of life are painful. Once you get beyond that the German society rewards planning and routine heavily.
        Maybe the more relaxed the culture the more chaotic it is?

  23. Sabrina
    January 24, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

    By the way, I love Italy and I hope you’ll only have the bext of expat experiences there!!

  24. Sabrina
    January 24, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

    So true! I love being an expat… most of the time. But there are plenty of times when it’s just plain hard.

    If a situation would be hard in my home country, it almost always is harder in a foreign country. It’s that way (1) because you don’t have that safety net of family and friends, (2) you don’t know the language as well as your native language (even if you speak it really, really well), and (3) even if you’ve been there for a while, you don’t know all the little cultural difference that make you seem ignorant/stupid/silly if you don’t follow them. There are probably more than three points :)

    Anyways, that’s why I used to get so mad when my friends from Germany told me how envious they were when I moved to Egypt, when I moved to Paris, when I moved to Texas. They thought it was just one long vacation. Yes, a lot of times being an expat is great. It’s fun. You get to see different places and meet people you would have otherwise never met. You get to take pretty pictures and you get to say that you’re going for a drink on the Champs Elysees on a Tuesday night. You get to (somewhat) master a new language. You get to eat different food and learn to cook different kinds of meals. There are so many positives to it and I wish everybody would experience it.

    But you also get to deal with bad situations all by yourself sometimes… like when the Paris SWAT team stormed my apartment because the owner which I didn’t know because I rented through an agency (!) had a cousin who was a drug dealer and I couldn’t explain to the police station what happened and that I wanted my door replaced. Like when I went to the doctor and had no idea what the medical terms meant. Like when I felt lonely and couldn’t visit my family because they’re far away, … Aaaaah, the glamorous moments of being an expat. Not really a vacation after all :)

    • Jessica
      January 25, 2011 @ 12:02 am

      Holy crap, if a SWAT team came barreling into my apartment I’m not sure I’d be very coherent in my native tongue, let alone another language!

      • Sabrina
        January 25, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

        Yeah, that was one of the more extreme experiences in my life… My heart still races when I hear a loud sound in the middle of the night. Oh well! Makes for a good travel story I guess. One day I’ll sit down and actually write it all up.

    • Andrew
      January 26, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

      Sabrina, wow what a story with the SWAT team. Yeah, definitely write that up at some point. I am so happy I have not had any problems like that in Germany. The most annoying part so far has been dealing with opening hours of bureaucracy. Though dealing with Handwerker is climbing the list.

      Yes, there are way more than 3 points. I have gotten into building a whole blog around stuff like that. #1 is the easiest to deal with by making friends. Languages can be learned and with patience that barrier drops somewhat too. It is the cultural idiosyncrasies that seem to take forever. I still get hit when them almost daily.

      • Sabrina
        January 28, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

        Yes, the SWAT incidence was definitely extreme. But it did show me how much easier at home things would have been. Intuitively, you know what’s legal, what questions to ask, where to go, who to talk to, etc. But yes, the cultural idiosyncrasies are what gets you daily. Now that I’ve been here for so long, it doesn’t happen as often. Actually, more often than not I probably am aware of what’s right/expected, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. That’s when I sometimes go with the German response and pull my “foreigner card” :)

        • Andrew
          January 31, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

          Those cultural idiosyncrasies are what get me now too. I have been here 3 years and I still have only a surface grasp of things. It is amazing what they are not allowed to do here according to some of my friends. The laws don’t jut restrict people but the government too. Which I don’t really remember trusting so much in the US.
          I like playing the “foreigner card.”

  25. Tammy
    January 24, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

    Ever since visiting Iceland two years ago, I have had dreams of living the expat life in Reykjavik. It was the first time any place has struck me so forecefully with the “I could live here” thought, and now the idea is very much, like you said, a gnat hovering at my ear. My boyfriend and I actually began to consider it (we said it was all in jest, just for fun really, but both of us were a bit serious). We looked up apartments online, searched job boards, and contemplated how quickly we could learn Icelandic. It became an obsession, but in the end, there were too many obstacles and we never made the move. At least, not yet.

    Best of luck in Italy; by the sounds of it, I think it will go very well for you.

    • Katie Hammel
      January 25, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

      My husband and I had the exact same thought in Iceland. It’s still a dream, but for now we content ourselves with visiting as much as possible. Plus…I’m just not sure I could handle only four hours of daylight in the depths of winter!