To your friends and family back home, it might seem like you’re living an endless vacation. Especially if you only share cool photos on Facebook (I’ve been guilty of that). But long-term expats know better. The challenges of residing in a foreign country are very real. There was a discussion thread on Quora titled, What is the hardest thing about living abroad?
Looking back on that made me reflect. Here are some things from my list:
Career/Personal Stagnation — There’s nothing wrong with drifting for a while; I have friends who are still happily directionless up to now. But for me, at around the 5-year mark I felt like I’d hit the limit of living in Asia. My biggest fear was that I’d end up still being an ESL English teacher in Taiwan at age 50. At a certain point, that kind of expat life felt like less of an escape and more like a trap.
Disconnect – Although I made loads of acquaintances among the locals in China and Taiwan, there were only a few I truly considered friends. I noticed that many locals would meet me separately from their same-race friends. This kind of segregation saddened me. Meanwhile, foreign friends I grew close to would leave, and it was hard to maintain the bond once they were gone. On the flip side, I felt disconnected from family and friends back home.
Immigration problems — There is not enough time or space for me to rant properly on how much I hated dealing with visas. Worrying about my legal status and getting deported was a humbling experience. Always the foreigner, never the citizen.
On a related note, there was an article in The Economist titled, Foreigners in China: To flee or not to flee? The burden is multiplied if you living in a country with murky legal environment and non-democratic government.
None of this should take away from the experience. Getting to live outside my own culture had an overall positive effect on my life.
What were your biggest obstacles when living abroad? Please share your thoughts in the comments.