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What does it mean to be an expat?

Article by Candy Emerson for expatfocus.com

What does it mean to be an ex-pat? To ex-communicate yourself from your own country or take the challenge of living abroad? It sounds rather negative at first but after much research on the internet there is quite a community to help those who take the challenge.
I suppose now I can officially call myself an expat. Three weeks ago, I moved to Ecuador to start a new life with my fiancé. It was a whirlwind romance from the start but as you get older and experience more opportunities in life I’ve come to the conclusion that you know when you know. We officially met last July, reconnected in November, and six months later (May) I moved abroad to start a new life with him. Crazy, right?!

Leading up to my move was rather stressful…selling a home, moving my sister, rearranging my life, and organizing the financial and emotional stability of my widowed mother. On top of that, I’m training for an Ironman triathlon which takes time and constant dedication. The good thing about my training is that it’s the only thing that is keeping me sane and focused away from my emotional distress that pops its nasty head from time to time.

I consider myself an emotionally strong individual. I’ve been through divorce, unemployment and unfortunately death in my family but nothing seems to compare to the uncertainty of what the future holds at this point. I know how to navigate and network in my home town/country, but living abroad is a completely different story. Especially with a language barrier, you can easily feel isolated, lost, depressed, and very insecure. All that seemed familiar is now confusing, irritating, and unreliable.

Where did my natural instincts for survival go? Why do I feel so insecure? And how can I get back on track to find a sense of peace and wholeness? The best place to start in understanding a new culture is to learn the language. I’ve enrolled in a Spanish tutorial class for the next month which I’m hoping will just start my process to feel more comfortable with my new life. So many times now I’ve realized how we take for granted the things we are so used to. Like ordering a cup of coffee can be an ordeal if you don’t have the basic skill set. Of course moving to a third world country where 80% of the population does not read or write let alone speak outside their native tongue is quite an obstacle. At least in Europe there is a higher level of education that you can rely on for more bilingual individuals. Thank goodness my fiancé and his family are educated and do speak English. The downside is that I’m relying on that too much that I’m not learning the language as efficiently as I would like. Where do I find the balance??

Perhaps identifying what I am feeling is important to my recovery and evolution. What are some common stresses that I’m feeling since I first moved abroad?

1) The loss of the ability to communicate
2) The loss of mastery
3) The loss of social support network
4) The stress of being misperceived

I hope to find answers to all my expat questions – the quest is just beginning.

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