You May Not Need to Buy That Car

Posted on 04/11/2012

As I insinuated in my last entry, it’s relatively easy to approach a major geographical relocation with the wrong mindset and then end up being stressed out, as a result. So I’m here to tell you right now – relocating to a foreign country “ain’t easy”. That’s because of a peculiar mental trick that people like to pull on themselves, without ever being aware that they’re doing it. You see, when you first take a good look, at your new home of choice, subconsciously there’s a lot of fear and initial trepidation. So here is something that no one else will tell you. When you’re looking over your potential new surroundings, you will be looking for similarities to your original home without completely comprehending the differences. It’s only when you’re actually living in a new country that the real dissimilarities hit home and “wham”, you suddenly find yourself a stranger in a strange land. You can feel even more isolated when the locals, that surround you, don’t understand why you suddenly find everything so disorienting and bizarre. Case in point – the Philippines.

For anyone who is paying an initial visit to this country, everything will seem strikingly similar to the United States. Of course, there’s good reason for that. You can start off with World War 2, the American occupation and then observe how much the local population seems to want to emulate the current U.S. culture. I got a sense of that when I first made my way out into the “streets”, on my way to the marketplace (palengke). Immediately, a group of young people began waving and shouting “Hey, Joe!” (circa WWII) They were all wearing t-shirts with strangely inappropriate slogans in English. Seriously – “I Support Single Moms”, on a t-shirt, looks rather odd on a twelve year old boy. Anyway, I got the feeling that I was going to have to adapt – and fast. This promised to go way beyond the cold showers, regular power outages and being constantly stared at, as if I had suddenly spontaneously combusted in the sunlight (which, in retrospect, seemed a reasonable possibility). So, here’s my first suggestion for those who are seriously contemplating attaining the lofty title of “expat”.  

Determine the mindset nuances of the locals

Possibly the biggest mistake that you can make has nothing to do with neglecting to research the fact that swamp alligator hunting and seppuku are less hazardous than driving on the local roads. The biggest mistake that a newbie expat can make is to assume that people from other cultures think like they do. Knowing how folks think in other cultures will allow you to sidestep an infinite number of problems. That’s because, believe it or not, the “rules” are usually what the person (in power) standing in front of you want them to be. If you know how to correctly relate to the people/culture within your new home, it will be a different world – trust me on that. Before you do anything, read as much as you can about the experiences and observations of other expats in the country that you plan to move to.

What about you? Were you prepared for the "expat shock" when you moved abroad? What tips do you have for understanding the mindset of locals? Share your experience in the comments.