Escaping Domestic Suburbia by Living Abroad For Awhile
If you’ve ever considered living in a foreign country to see what it would be like, think the choice over carefully. Living abroad is both fascinating but also risky. There are positives and negatives to living away from the well-constructed laws of the United States. If you have the wanderlust that I once had, then here are some thoughts on what it’s like to live in a tropical climate, in a foreign country. After two years of living in a town called Playa del Carmen, an hour south of Cancun, Mexico, I am now back in the United States and glad to be home. But the experience of living abroad was worth doing, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Prepare for going abroad for awhile
Get the proper documentation for traveling, and guard your passport carefully. Passports are stolen when people aren’t careful with them and leave them lying around, so a good precaution is to keep it with you at all times, or in a hidden/safe place when at the beach. Your passport is your identification, and losing it means a trip to the American Embassy to get a new one if you lose yours abroad.
Find a place to live by going to the town or city you plan to live in and talking to people. Stop in the real estate offices and inquire about apartments or homes for rent, and go look at them. Don’t be shocked if some places don’t have phones when you’re in remote areas. Many people own cellular phones or use public phones, instead of owning their own home phones, especially in rural places. It pays to speak the language, if you don’t then make sure to take a trusted translator or friend with you when talking to potential landlords or real estate agents. Most professionals I met in Mexico spoke English, since tourism is a major industry in the Yucatan area. Choose a place that has good, locking and sturdy doors, running water and neighbors nearby. It isn’t a good idea to live too remotely in a foreign country, just out of common sense. A gated community is good if you can afford one, like Playacar in Playa del Carmen. It is patrolled by security and is a comfortable setting for ex-patriates, yet close to town.
Try to learn the language
A good way to learn a foreign language is to buy a set of self-paced learning tapes in advance, and learn on your own time. A good one is called Rosetta Stone, and it helps you to learn how to not only learn the language but to correctly pronounce it. For example, the dialect of Spanish spoken in Spain is different than that of the language spoken in Mexico. Make sure to choose the correct dialect and follow up your learning by reading Spanish newspapers and other websites online. I keep my Spanish by reading Novidades, a ladies’ fashion magazine, and listening to Mexican radio stations online. Don’t worry if you speak slowly, your conversational skills will speed up the more you use them. I found that the Mexican people were very kind about my language errors, and never pointed them out. They were glad to give me advice if I asked, so when in doubt about something, ask a native speaker for the best advice.
When you have an apartment
If you have time to go back to the United States before moving in, send yourself packages to your new address, from the US, with items that you won’t bring on the plane with you, like toaster ovens, microwaves, or whatever. If you have a large budget, you can everything shipped over together. I didn’t, and sent myself packages of things I noticed were in short supply in the area I planned to live in. Living in the humid tropics means making sure you bring items like pillows that are mildew resistant and breathable fabrics like cotton instead of manmade fibers like polyester. Air conditioning is a must, and if you don’t have it, then make sure to have some good circulator, heavy duty fans with you. Buying them abroad can be more expensive, so it pays to check prices of these items when you’re down looking at apartments. In the US, we are lucky to have a multitude of items at low prices that others don’t. So, make sure to get items that you want and need and ship them to your new place, so you will have a little bit of home with you in your new surroundings.
After moving in
Get out and meet people. It can be intimidating if you are new to an area and everyone around you speaks a foreign language but you. Allow yourself time to adjust, as it is a culture shock, but look at the positives of where you are, and know that you can always call back home to the US whenever you want. If you don’t have a phone, get phone cards, which are plentiful and sold just about everywhere. In Mexico, the ones I used to buy were called Ladatel, and pay phones were all over.
In some foreign countries, it is much more affordable to have a cleaning person or full time maid than it is in the United States. Ask people you trust who in the area does housecleaning. Some will even do your laundry and cook, too. It is wonderful to have someone there, taking care of home for you while you’re out exploring your new surroundings. It is a good idea to keep valuables locked away or hidden until you know and trust who is working for you. It’s just common sense, but worth mentioning. I lost a few things while having a maid, such as a new can opener, clothing and a hairbrush. No big deal. It’s a good idea to leave the sentimental things that you value back in the United States and bring only what you can afford to lose. I kept a storage unit in my hometown, with my furniture and valuables in it. The more comfortable you are with your surroundings, the more items you can bring. It just is a good idea to take a few things at first, until you know whether or not the experience is one you want to do long-term.
Living abroad is interesting, and helps you to appreciate other cultures. When returning to the United States, I again went into culture shock, as the fast pace of everyday life was a blur. Down in the Yucatan, life was easy and slower. To me, the experience gave me the love of two countries, both of my own and in Mexico, which is a most beautiful and wonderful place. The nature, culture and history of Central America are incredible and beyond compare. It has been ten years since my adventure there, but I think back with fondness and am happy to have experienced it. You only live once, if you want to explore, and think you can handle living far from the comforts of home, then think about it. Using common sense and being resourceful, you can live comfortably in places far away and helps you to appreciate your own nationality as well.