Bob Shacochis rants on the importance of living abroad

Back in November, Men’s Journal featured a list of the “60 Things A Man Must Do in His Lifetime”. By far my favorite was “Become an Expat” by Bob Shacochis, which I reprint here:

“When you teach grad students, those brainy, dreamy, slack-ass selves who have been squeezed through the educational intestine into the relatively expansive bowel of never-ending higher education, you have a recurring thought each time you enter a seminar room and scan the robust, nascently cynical faces of the whatever generation horseshoed around the table, receptive to the morsels of your wisdom: When are you guys ever going to get the fuck out of here?

And I don’t mean finish the degree, get a job, a life. I mean turn your life upside down, expose it, raw, to the muddle. ‘Put out,’ as the New Testament (Luke 5:4) would have it, ‘into deep water.’ A headline in the New York Times on gardening delivers the same marching orders: IF A PLANT’S ROOTS ARE TOO TIGHT, REPOT. Go among strangers in strange lands. Sniff, lick, and swallow the mysteries. Learn to say clearly in an unpronounceable language, ‘Please, I very much need a toilet. A doctor. Change for a 500,000 note. I very much need a friend.’

If you want to know a man, the proverb goes, travel with him. If you want to know yourself, travel alone. If you want to know your own home, your own country, go make a home in another country (not Canada, England, or most of Western Europe.) Stop at a crossroads where the light is surreal, nothing is familiar, the air smells like a nameless spice, and the vibes are just plain alien, and stay long enough to truly be there. Become an expatriate, a victim of self-inflicted exile for a year or two.

Sink into an otherness that reflects a reverse image of yourself, wherein lies your identity, or lack of one. Teach English in Japan, aquaculture in the South Pacific, accounting in Brazil. Join the Peace Corps, work in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, set up a fishing camp on the beach of Uruguay, become a foreign correspondent, study architecture in Istanbul, sell cigarettes in China.

And here’s the point: Amid the fun, the risk, the discomfort, the seduction and sex in a fog of miscommunication, the servants and thieves, the food, the disease, your new friends and enemies, the grand dance between romance and disillusionment, you’ll find out a few things you thought you knew but didn’t.

You’ll learn to engage the world, not fear it, or at least not to be paralyzed by your fear of it. You’ll find out, to your surprise, how American you are — 100-percent, and you can never be anything but — and that is worth knowing. You’ll discover that going native is self-deluding, a type of perversion. Whatever gender or race you are, you’ll find out how much you are eternally hated and conditionally loved and thoroughly envied, based on the evidence of your passport.

You’ll find out what you need to know to be an honest citizen of your own country, patriotic or not, partisan or nonpartisan, active or passive. And you’ll understand in your survivor’s heart that it’s best not to worry too much about making the world better. Worry about not making it worse.

When you come back home, it’s never quite all the way, and only your dog will recognize you.”

Posted by | Comments (8)  | January 18, 2003
Category: Travel News

8 Responses to “Bob Shacochis rants on the importance of living abroad”

  1. Andie Says:

    Beautiful… (girls too)

  2. Jen Says:

    Amen. Thanks for retyping that Rolf.

  3. Kevin Carroll Says:

    Trying to contact Bob Shacochis. We have a very close, old-time adventurer mutual friend that I’m trying to contact.
    Any help? My Best Kevin Carroll

    Excellent post!

  4. Rolf Says:

    Hi Kevin. I have no contact information for Shacochis. You might try contacting him through his publisher.

  5. Frank Norbury Says:

    As usual…Bob says it straight and gets it right…

    Surfs Up!
    Expat in Afghanistan

  6. Anja Eberhart Says:


    me (a german artist from stuttgart ) made the acquaintance with Bob in Wyoming 97, at Ucross Foundation. I lost the to contact to him and try to get it again. Any idea how i ever can get in touch with him, again?

  7. Capt. Joseph G. Berta, CMS Says:

    Thank you Rolf for putting this up. I never knew about this piece, but it really hit home just now. In 1989 my girlfriend and I took off in a 40 foot offshore powerboat (trawler) from Georgian Bay in Canada to the Bahamas, which turned into a ten year sabbatical around the Caribbean and Mexico.

    Around ’91 someone gave us a copy of Easy in the Islands and I just loved every printed word of it. It was so obvious that this guy (Shacochis) was there and it was all so real, as we ourselves of course were very much immersed into that kind of life that he wrote about.

    For the last couple of years we have been back in Toronto, and today, Wendy came across some of the books I used to read watching the Carib sun set, the boat at anchor off the beach of some tiny Out Island.

    I started reading it again, and then I put Mr. Shacochis’ name in a Google search box, and one of the things I found was your page. It caught my eyes because of the subject of going abroad. No one had told us in ’89 to go abroad to learn, we went because I buried my father shortly after he retired from working, and I wanted to do that dream cruise while I was still young, 36 to be exact, and not end up like him.

    But, boy I tell you Shacochis is so right. Your eyes do not see nothing until you have seen what life is like outside of your own fences. Even though I was born in Hungary, but I got Americanized at the age of 14… I do not want to get political here, but I can see the U.S. having a whole different foreign policies if her citizens took the advise of this great writer, and perhaps we would not be in the situation with Iraq as we are today. So many people in this country (U.S. / Canada) need to learn that there is life out there and we’re not the center of the Universe…

    Didn’t mean to go on, but I just found a good writer all over again….thanks Mon…

  8. Ab Salkin Says:

    My wife and I sailed the Bahamas back in the ’70s and I was fortunate to meet Bob S. at the Miami Book fest back in the day. I told Bob that Easy in the Islands was my litmus test when I met fellow sailors. I would loan them my copy and if they didn’t think it was great reading I wouldn’t pursue that friendship! I’ve enjoyed his other books as well. I’m the proud owner of Domesticity signed “to Bev and Abner, Pioneers on the Domestic Frontiers”.