When my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I moved overseas in 2001, we had no idea how much we didn’t know about living abroad. But we learned quickly.
I still remember trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of Spanish hardware…literally. I needed nuts and bolts for a grill I was fixing in our new home in Quito, Ecuador, but I had no idea where to find them. I didn’t even know the Spanish words for “nuts” or “bolts”. And I never would have imagined that you’d have to visit TWO stores to get them… one specializing in nuts, and another specializing in bolts!
Now, of course, it all makes perfect sense… I know the difference between tuercas and tornillos and where to find them. I know that I need to settle a price with the taxi driver before I get in the cab, and that I don’t need to tip him, but I should tip the waiter…but not like a gringo.
I know what paperwork I should bring with me when I go to the bank to avoid wasting an hour in line for nothing. And I know that, if my phone or water or electricity bill doesn’t actually make it to my house, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to know exactly when my bill is due and pay it on time. (It took a few trips to the electricity office to ransom back my meter to figure out that one!)
It’s amazing what can happen in 11 years. All those mysterious tips, tricks, and secrets that Suzan and I had to figure out just to get ourselves fed, keep the lights on, and make it from one end of town to the other are now standard operating procedures. We take them for granted as we go about our everyday lives…if you can have an “everyday” life in places like San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua or Cotacachi, Ecuador or Merida, Mexico.
We take that hard-won knowledge for granted…that is, until we see a couple who looks a lot like us 11 years ago wandering the zocalo of some Spanish Colonial town with a hint of panic in their eyes. Then we remember what it was like not knowing how to find the immigration office or how to make an international phone call or how to get some much-needed cash in a hurry.
We remember what it felt like to be just starting out when we get an e-mail from someone asking if they should bring their stove and refrigerator down with them when they move to Mexico. It sounds incredible to us now that people would haul things like appliances and dining room sets around the world with them.
But then we remember how we ourselves shipped down an entire container full of furniture when we first moved to Mexico…only to find that most of it had been made in Mexico in the first place and cost a third what we paid in the States!
As Suzan and I are constantly reminded, when you live overseas, the learning process never really stops. It’s one of the best things about moving abroad…that, and the opportunity to share that knowledge with like-minded folks who are just starting out on their own incredible journeys.
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