It’s sufficient to say that there are going to be an awful lot of challenges when you leave your country and move to a new country. The biggest challenge for many is just getting around and trying to make new friends.
For many ex-pats, the number one challenge is adjusting to a different culture. If you’re moving from the United States to Canada, then there is little culture shock. But when you’re going from North America to Thailand or Central/South America (Nicaragua, Belize, Peru, etc), there’s a big shock. And for some, it’s not so easy to adjust to. Here are 10 things you need to know before you pack your bags and go.
Learn to Accept the Culture
I can’t tell you how many times I have to hold back pounding on the keyboard when I see an ex-pat in a Facebook group complaining about something they don’t like in whatever country they moved to. This is not your country. This is their country. They do things really different from what you are used to.
Not uncommon where I live are random fireworks, trucks driving by with huge speakers blaring some announcement, scary religious meetings that make you think they are sacrificing humans, ridiculously loud music coming off a party boat, and many more loud things you simply aren’t used to. This is their life—every day. If you don’t like it, you are free to go, but for the love of God, don’t complain about it. You chose to move there. No one forced you to. Try to accept and embrace their culture. Take it in, love it all, and add new experiences to your list.
Expect to Get Sick From the Food
The water is different, the fruits and meat are different, and street food is hard to resist. No matter how healthy you are and how you try to avoid anything that you fear will make you sick, you will get sick. It could be as little as diarrhea or as horrible as food poisoning.
Ask around to some of the other ex-pats to see what places to stay away from, if you can. Make sure you clean all your fruits and veggies with a disinfectant wash (made especially for these items).
Learn the Language
Though you will most likely find yourself hanging around many other ex-pats, there will come a time when you are alone and stuck and have no idea what a local is trying to tell you. Google Translate can’t help you there.
Take lessons before you move. Check Duolingo for the language you need. This app helped me considerably just in learning numbers and a few words, even some very important words. There were many times I got extremely frustrated because I didn’t know what a local was trying to tell me. Learn the language and save yourself some frustration.
You Will Miss Home a Lot
I feel this should go without saying, but I do need to say it. It’s not that you’ll miss all the things you used to have but just normal in-person conversations with your friends and family members. You’ll miss picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, let’s go to the movies.” It’s all those little things that eventually add up to really big things: your car, your couch, your favourite grocery store, or even your favourite lake. You are going to miss all of that. It gets better with time, though. I do have to admit every now and then, even after 8 years, I still sigh, “Oh, I wish they had red licorice here.”
Customer Service is Sometimes Non-Existent
The reason I bring this up is that, as someone coming from North America, we are definitely used to a certain level of customer service. Anyone even working in that industry just knows. In Guatemala, well, at least the little town I came from, it simply doesn’t exist (in most places anyway). They don’t care if your food sucks; they don’t care if there was a hair in your mashed potatoes. They just don’t care.
I’ve heard this about other countries around the world as well. So be prepared for really crappy customer service, and don’t bother asking for the manager. They won’t care, either. Suck it up and move on with your day.
Drive With Caution
I’m not really sure how anyone down here gets a driver’s license. It’s a mystery. Peru is even worse, and I heard Asia is ridiculous. If you are bringing your vehicle down to the country you are moving to, drive with caution. The road rules are very different (though I still haven’t figured out what they are in Guatemala).
The drivers are fast, reckless, and careless. I had about 5 heart attacks in Peru in a taxi. Totally out of control. Always be cautious driving no matter where you are, and if you know you are in a slightly dangerous zone, keep your windows rolled up at all times.
Be Street Smart
Just like you are at home but even more so. Don’t leave your purse unattended. Don’t get into cars with strangers (even if they say they are a taxi, some of them aren’t). You really need to use common sense and know that depending on where you are going to move, many of the locals are poor and resort to criminal measures to get money: pickpocketing, stealing purses, grabbing wallets, etc. Just be smart about your money and your valuable belongings.
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear or Read
I know when you start thinking about moving to a new country, you start doing some online research (unlike Iva) to learn about different places. Many will say, “Oh, this place is so dangerous, and people get robbed all the time.” This isn’t entirely true.
Guatemala has a bad reputation for being very dangerous and ranks 50th on the list, according to World Population Review. Though Guatemala City itself is quite dangerous, the rest of the country isn’t. They will say murders are high, but what they don’t tell you is that 90% of the murders are from domestic violence. There is danger no matter where you go. Heck, there may even be danger in the city you live in now.
Connect With Facebook Groups
This was one of the smartest and best things I ever could have done before moving to Guatemala. I found out what things I couldn’t get there, the cheapest areas to live in, things to do, and so much more. It was especially important for me to be able to buy migraine pills. Find out those kinds of very important things first! Here you can also make friends before you even get to the country you have chosen.
Facebook groups are a valuable resource and contain so much information. Find one or two good groups and ask questions. No question is a dumb question. Heck, I even asked where to find hummus in one group. When you ask a question, the answers help others who are probably wondering the same thing but are too shy to ask!
Stay Open Minded and Be Patient
You are going to go through periods where you get frustrated, homesick, have culture shock, or have other random feelings and things you’ve never experienced before in your life. Welcome to ex-pat life. This is how you grow and learn, and it’s beautiful.
Go easy on yourself. If you don’t meditate or journal, you may want to start doing that. It helps to calm you down and reconnect you with the reason you moved in the first place. There are going to be many things you don’t like. You can either get used to them or start looking for a new country to move to (or just go back home!).
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