In our years abroad, my wife, Suzan, and I have met expats who told us clearly that it was their intention to live someplace where they never saw another expat again.
Although I admire the spirit and determination of this kind of total immersion, I can’t help but recall what an expat in the real estate trade in Mexico told us many years ago.
“I love the ones who never want to see another gringo again,” he said. “I get to sell them a place way out in the countryside, and in about six months after they go a little crazy I get to sell them another place right in the middle of Gringo Gulch.”
For most expats I know, there is comfort in having some like-minded folks around to talk to…even if you never talk to them. Just knowing you could reach out and chat with somebody about something familiar in a familiar language if you wanted to can be reassuring.
It’s a balancing act, certainly. There are some locations where there are so many expats that it actually takes some effort and determination to participate in the local language and culture at all. Again, nothing inherently wrong with that…if that’s what you’re looking for.
However, few expats—no matter where or how they choose to live—fail to take advantage of one of the most available and helpful sources of info around…the experience and advice of other expats.
The number of wrong turns and bumps in the road that experienced expats can help you avoid is hard to measure. An active expat communication network deals with almost anything a new or potential expat could imagine—from the phone number of the most reliable plumber to the location of the healthiest pet food…to the address of the best-trained dentist to the name of the most efficient attorney. Things that expats just starting out would never even have imagined they’d need or want have all been needed or wanted…and found (or not)…by other expats who are willing to share their experience.
And today, with the advent of the Internet, most expat destinations, including Ecuador where I live now, are developing online networks for just this purpose. In fact, online resources like this are just as valuable to potential expats as they are to folks who have already made the move.
Want to know if a particular brand of peanut butter or computer storage device is available in Cuenca or Quito or Manta before you arrive? It’s amazing how much advanced information you can get on any topic you can imagine—instantly and from a variety of first-hand sources—before you even board the plane.
The load of trial and error this can take off your individual back can be astounding…and the Internet has made it even easier to take advantage of this pool of expat experience. In the old days the only way to get this kind of advice was to hang out at the expat restaurants and watering holes getting to know as many people as possible until you found someone with a reasonable answer to your question. Certainly a great way to get to know your fellow expats in the community. But you could spend a lot of time (and a lot of beer money, and a lot of patience) before you got the answer you were looking for.
That’s why there are times I literally thank the stars for the Internet—and how it can be used to give all sorts of information instantly. It’s a resource that the vast majority of expats appreciate and wouldn’t give up under any circumstances—not even for the chance to leave everything about their old culture behind and completely immerse themselves in a new way of life…
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