Becoming an Expat to Escape
There are lots of reasons that people choose to live abroad. Many are sent abroad by their job or the military. Some are following a loved one. Some go for a short time and kind of just get stuck. And some that choose to move abroad go to escape something at home. I’m not talking about refugees, I am talking about running away from a something at home and trying to rebuild a life abroad.
I will admit that I fall into the later category to some extent. I didn’t have a job or know really anyone on this end of the world when I came to Germany. I had traveled a lot as a young man and had some good experiences while traveling. A lot of the cares of the worldly existence seemed to be less cutting when I was out traveling or living in Europe. My panic attacks were less frequent as well. So as life started to get me down in the US, I built this plan to come live in Europe long term.
Not an Easy Road
I was definitely trying to escape both my life and myself by coming out here. It worked to an extent, but it wasn’t easy.
I say “to an extent” because although I am better in a lot of respects here, I still struggle with some issues from before. Being in a new place and changing everything does indeed give you a clean slate to rebuild yourself, but you still have You to deal with. I was my own biggest hindrance to change, and it is probably still true.
Everything is new with the same old habits
Moving abroad throws pretty much everything into doubt. Depending on where you end up and what kind of job you have it can be even more isolating and scary. The expat move is a great time for recreation and rebuilding, but you are doing it with yourself. Old habits will begin to resurface and must be reevaluated and you need to have the strength to, despite the chaos, fight a habit and forge a new one.
And think of doing this without much of what support structures you had at home. Even if you can convinced yourself that there is nothing there, there was still a support structure. Friends or family to talk to occasionally, a favorite cafe or even a familiar street to drive down. Moving anywhere, even within a culture, is difficult in some of these respects. Add a different culture and extra bureaucratic rules and perhaps a new language. It requires a lot of yourself to handle.
But I did it..
My life has been one influenced by both fear and avoidance. Given a choice of flight or fight as a child I would always pick run away. This is why the move to Germany was an easy decision for me. It felt natural and fell into my pattern of changing jobs and restarting bits of life every few years. I was used to running away and although this move abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made, it too was an aspect of running away.
Having a completely fresh start is good. Just realize how complete that fresh start is. Again if you have to learn a new language and a whole new culture, realize how much work that actually is. Think again is what you are running away from actually worth that work? It was for me, but it might not for everyone.
Facing down the fear
Definitely travel. Certainly live abroad. Those two things broaden horizons and open minds better than just about anything else. Realize that it will not fix all problems and will in fact raise different ones.
Facing down the fear is a central thing to having a better life. The fear to be alone, the fear of not doing enough, the fear of being stuck. Sometimes facing the fear means moving abroad, sometimes a move is more running away from fear. The expat move for me was both an escape and a way of forcing myself to face fears that I could easily avoid at home. So it cut both ways.
Is escape a reason to move abroad? Sure, it can be a good way to get some distance and shake up things, but you are shacking up a lot of things in doing it.
June 11, 2012 @ 1:50 pm
Good reflection, and thank you for sharing! This has gotten me thinking about my own reasons for making the switch to European life. I think that since I didn’t grow up in America, I was able to see the American lifestyle more objectively, and recognized that there was another way. I lived there for my whole adult life, but was able to do something like leaving a dysfunctional relationship– “Thanks, but no thanks America! I think I can do better!” Maybe someday it will be right for me and my family, but we have really thrived overseas, even in the midst of upheaval. It is hard to imagine going back.
June 13, 2012 @ 8:01 pm
Objectivity helps a lot. It is one of the things that living abroad gives us that did happen to grow up there. I definitely find it hard to imagine going back. Not sure what would drive me back.
June 10, 2012 @ 11:51 am
Really awesome post. I’ve lived in Japan and now I’m in Germany and I don’t think running away is the main reason why I live abroad, but it’s certainly shaped my desire to be away from certain things back home.
You have some really thoughtful posts, I’m really enjoying them.
June 10, 2012 @ 5:02 pm
I’m glad you are enjoying the posts.
Perspective from being abroad that lets you know what things you want in your life and avoiding things that are harmful is more of a good trait than “running away”.
June 9, 2012 @ 6:29 pm
My wife and I were definitely escaping when we moved to China for the second time, in 2005. It was completely worth it! We needed some space to think about what would come next in our lives, and teaching English in a foreign country provided that.
June 10, 2012 @ 5:01 pm
Excellent, glad it worked out for you. When you mean “moved for a second time” I assume you mean you had been there already before. That really helps to knowing what you are getting into.
June 9, 2012 @ 8:44 am
Great post! I was literally just thinking and talking about this issue with my expat cousin yesterday. I was realizing that some of my old habits from home and some of the reasons I decided to take a year’s leave were all coming back now in Germany and so I have to make such an effort to break those habits. But the great things about being abroad is that it forces you to really focus on what is important without any kind of safety net. You can do whatever you want, reinvent yourself in any way that works best. But, as the old saying goes “Wherever you go, there you are.” 🙂
June 10, 2012 @ 4:59 pm
Right on. Being abroad changes enough about things around you that you can really see starkly which habits are your own and which are things imposed from outside somehow. We tend to adjust to situations overtime, and sometimes in not so good ways.
I like to think that the stark contrast that living abroad offers makes it easier to change. I don’t know this is true, but it certainly lets you see things more clearly.
fotoeins | Henry
June 9, 2012 @ 5:54 am
Apparently, I’ve been “running” since 1994 when I left Vancouver, Canada for good. 😉 On the other hand, I’ve always viewed my journeys as heading *to* somewhere, rather than away *from* something. Now that I’m half-way through my present year-long RTW, it’s been a valuable and entirely new experience.
Thanks for your candor, Andrew!
June 10, 2012 @ 4:57 pm
That is a good attitude. The to over the from.
There is a distinction between running away from something and freely choosing to leave. As I mentioned in another comment, running from something means you are moving based on something else instead of doing it on your own terms. The initiative is elsewhere. This is where it gets to be more a bad thing, than freely choosing to move as you see fit.
June 9, 2012 @ 5:26 am
I always bristle a bit when people imply that I’m “running away” from something by living overseas. Even though, if I’m going to be completely honest, I have done exactly that in the past.
When I was 25, I was living in DC and completely miserable. I was broke, suffering from regular anxiety attacks, severely overweight and felt like I didn’t fit in at all in DC even though I had tons of great friends there. I decided that if I just moved to Brazil, my life would be awesome. Because, hey, it was Brazil and how could my life NOT be awesome in Brazil?
Well, I moved and, honestly, when I first got there my life sucked even worse than it had in DC. I had the same problems, but I didn’t have any friends and I couldn’t speak the language. I think I cried every single night. The only thing that made me stay there was my sheer stubbornness. I wasn’t willing to admit to my friends and family back home that I had made the wrong choice.
It took 6 months, but I eventually made friends, joined the gym, learned the language and started to enjoy myself. I also realized that I really didn’t have it so bad — especially compared to the conditions that a lot of people lived in there.
I returned to the States a lot happier and about 70 pounds thinner. So, yeah, escapes can change you for the better… although it might not be the instantaneous change that you initially wanted.
June 10, 2012 @ 4:54 pm
Stubbornness can be a great thing. It can keep us in a situation long enough to learn what we need to learn out of it. Especially because no change is really instantaneous, at least not any that last.
I know the anxiety attacks thing better than I would have liked. Travel and overseas living has helped me. Hope it helped you too.
June 9, 2012 @ 3:19 am
Many years ago, I thought about moving overseas. However, I definitely would have been running. You are completely right that no matter where you go, “You” always turns up. You can’t run from yourself or your issues. So whether here or there, you need to understand who you are and confront whatever things have led to the life you have right now.
I do love to travel and always will. But knowing who I am now, I don’t think I would ever want to be a nomad. Just don’t tell anyone I told you that though 🙂
June 10, 2012 @ 4:48 pm
The thing is you CAN run from your own issues. It works actually really well, but it just doesn’t last. If you ever stop running, they are still there and perhaps some new ones. So the point of running has to be to give yourself some space to think for a short time before facing whatever it was that followed.
Yeah I don’t want to be a nomad either, but I definitely want the freedom of being able to go as I see fit.
June 8, 2012 @ 10:25 pm
Randomly found your blog ((via twitter somehow…) and this particular thought has struck a chord with me… I’ve definitely “runaway” a couple of times! And since being back home this most recent time a year and a half…)) all I can think of is running away again…
The first time I got v.lucky and lived with a friend for 6months in Vancouver Canada (having totally fallen in love with Canada on previous holidays it was simply a dream to live there…) however one needs money… and a job…
The next time I “ran away” I had just discovered the website workaway.info and felt that I didn’t need really “that much” money if I could swap work for food / room… GENIUS!!! :))
And now. YES deffo looking through workaway to see what’s new out there., BUT… Agreed you are still YOU and you take whatever “home”-based-issues you originally had…
But i’m also quite a lot older now and as such somewhat fearful of what may be (if I “run away” again., how do I make it last…properly…for real…for the long-term…?) and so I’m curious how does one achieve the runway / versus sustainable work career type stuff…is there a legitimate way to do this..?
— and to be clear I have a little savings so that’s ok, but money runs out., and urgh visas don’t last very long, well as a tourist Canada is 6 months but grrrr! The USA is only 90days / for a one year period!!
So (a) what do you suggest re “problems” (b) do you have any advice re:seeking out a legitimate solution to wanting to live/work in USA/Canada
Any ideas muchly appreciated!!
June 10, 2012 @ 4:38 pm
Twitter is a wonderful tool. Glad you found the blog.
I had a several year cycle for a long time. I worked until I had saved the money to travel, then traveled or just lived abroad until I ran out, heading home to start the cycle again. I would love to say I planned how to use the working time at home to extend my travels, but it was a bit of luck and chance.
At my two year mark in Germany I had to make a decision. My apartment lease was up and it was to pull up stakes and move again or settle in more. I picked settle. It has been sometimes stressful as I still want to run away and be free as well as have my nice stable home. One thing of forcing myself to be stable has made me face some of the fears and issues that I was trying to run from before. What I am slowly learning, is that my fears kept me trapped from enjoying the freedom as well. So attempting to face them has been a good thing and helped relieve some of the burden that makes me want to run, which lets me be free on my own terms rather than running away and doing so on the fear’s terms.
Is there a way to balance moving and career? Surely. There are plenty of people with mobile online businesses that travel a lot. The travel blogging world is full of them, but it is not an easy road either. Businesses bring their own stresses and discipline requirements. You talk about the site that lets you trade work for food and housing. I have known people that just bounce around between friends and those arrangements taking whatever jobs are available, but it means always being on the move to avoid overstaying welcome or visa. Not a life that I would want, but it is possible (as with everything, it comes with it’s own ups and downs).
University programs can be a way to be in the US for longer, though they of course have money costs as well. I have no clue if student visas allow work, but that could be an option. Most countries the visa requirements seem to hinge around being able to support yourself with a job that is not “stolen” (however that is defined by the government) from a local. If you have special skills that becomes easier.
If this mobile life is what you truly want, then it is definitely possible. Though the point of my post is also to examine if/why you are running away. Sometimes it is worth it to get some space to think, but often it is best to hold onto the dream, face down the fears and issues and then go on your terms without them.
Hope this helps.
June 8, 2012 @ 5:43 pm
Good, honest look at the motivation behind becoming an expat. I’m good at running away too, so I can definitely relate. I’m glad I ran away to you though!
June 10, 2012 @ 4:23 pm
Thanks. I am happy you ran to me too, my love.