I’ve always admired expats. There’s always been a small part of me that would like to be one. And now more so than ever, moving abroad so as to spend less in health insurance and cost of living is pretty appealing. Nevertheless, chucking it all in, leaving friends and family behind requires a certain amount of grit and a huge devil-may-care attitude! More importantly, an ability to see or at least dream of the amazing and wonderful possibilities that might come with the move is essential. After all, a dream is still a dream…until it becomes reality.
It’s one of the reasons why I love all the books and movies by and about those pioneering expats. I’ve read all of Peter Mayle’s books. He’s a witty Brit who moved to Provence, with little else than a great sense of humor and an innate ability to adapt and write.
Ted’s previous post a few months ago about the book Extra Virgin, about the two English women who bought a rundown villa in Liguria was also a delightful look at what moving abroad takes in a person’s attitude and personality.
More recently, Eat, Pray, Love explored one woman’s quest for identity abroad, and one of my favorite movies, Under the Tuscan Sun, based on a true story of a couple who moved to Tuscany, expressed the pitfalls and successes that likely come with a move overseas.
In the fictionalized movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes, an accomplished author and literary critic, finds herself the subject of a divorce, when her writer husband, the one she supported financially while he wrote his book, decides to marry his lover. Afraid that she will not recover from this devastating blow, her friend Patti sends her on a trip to Tuscany to get away from the mess her life has become, and to try to heal. While there, Frances spots a rundown villa and on an impulse, instantly, decides to buy it. The rest of the story focuses on renovating the villa, while doing the same for her life.
Part way through the movie in a discussion with her older and wiser realtor, she expresses her vision for her life as well as for the villa despite the fact that there is little prospect of any of it becoming a reality. The realtor responds with a story that’s quite poignant. While the movie is fictional, the story he tells is true. It goes like this:
The Semmering Railway
Between 1848-1854, civil engineers built a railway that included tunnels, viaducts, and sharp turns between Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag in Austria before there was even a train in existence that could make the difficult mountainous trek. The civil engineers had vision, but they also had hope that someone else would come along to make their vision a reality.
At the end of construction, they held a contest for locomotive builders to see who could build a train that would go the distance through the mountainous region. Four entered, four made the trek, and all succeeded, but none were declared safe enough for passengers. It was years later before one came along that passed muster.
Today, that railway, the Semmering, still carries passengers on its path. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Sight. Quite a feat for a group of people who built something not even knowing if it would ever be of use, trusting that someone else would complete the dream.
A Dream is Still a Dream…Until It Becomes Reality
And that was the realtor’s point in telling the story to Frances, and the same reason I’m telling you about it today. The greatest achievements are on the other side of fear, doubt, and setbacks. On impulse, Frances bought a rundown villa. Only in seeing it through, in holding tight to her vision, did she realize her dream and rebuild her life after utter turmoil and trauma. She had a dream and she held onto it until, over time, it became reality.
If you’re at a point in realizing your dream where it seems easiest to give up, consider the regrets you’ll carry with you if you do quit. Think how much sweeter the reward will be when you’ve endured so much to get there. Keep pressing forward, no matter how many obstacles come your way, even if it isn’t your dream to realize, but, instead, another’s. You will have contributed, and that has its own rewards. The fact remains, the hard work, those setbacks will sharpen your focus so that your vision not only becomes a reality, but will be even better than you imagined.
TIPS For Considering Living Abroad
Finally, if you’re interested in becoming expats: here are a few tips I’ve heard from my friends who’ve done it.
- Simplify your life. Understand what you need and what’s just going to hold you back. It’s okay to keep some things of sentimental value, just get rid of those things that are cluttering your life.
- Do your research. Don’t blindly move someplace because it sounds neat! Visit the place several times beforehand. Go during its worst time of year and its best time of year. Stay a while and see what it’s like having to open a bank account there, and do the other little daily routines you take for granted. That includes checking out the medical care and the ability to get the drugs you need, it means shopping for groceries and clothing, learning to cook with regional ingredients, getting around with public transit or driving a car there, figuring out what is fun to do as a pastime or hobby.
- Learn the language. It will not only help you, it’s simply the courteous thing to do.
- Learn the customs, and follow them. It’s only polite.
- Lower your expectations of how things are going to look in your new place, but don’t lower your dreams. Simply be realistic.
- Adaptability is key. Inevitably, nothing will work as you’re accustomed to. It shouldn’t. It’s a different culture and a different country. Embrace the differences.
If you, my expat friends, have anything to add, please feel free to comment. It’s a wonderful world out there, filled with dreams. Time to start checking a few things off the bucket list. I’ve never known anyone who regretted taking a chance, only those who passed up the chance. Even those who tried living overseas for a time to find it wasn’t for them, don’t typically regret the time away or the learning experience. So, live large. Give love, live loved. Have a great weekend.