19 Things I’ve Learned From Living as an Expat
For westerners, living as an expat is almost part of the norms, but not for most of Asian, especially for Filipinos.
One of the many tough decisions I’ve done recently is to be an expat. If you are from the Philippines, where there is a close-family tie, where you still get to live with your parents even until you surpassed adulting, and even when you already have your own family; there would be a huge adjustment as you decide to take a leap and live in a foreign country –alone.
Being born and raised in the Philippines, choosing to be an expat posted major pondering on myself, on my life, and on how am I going to pull my shits together to fit one into the other. This is the longest that I will be away from home and it is forcing me to adult a lot. I have always been a granny’s girl. I was raised by my dearest granny, and if you ever heard of what they say about kids who were brought up by their old folks, it’s true (at least for me). I was loved and pampered so much that I was not even taught how to cook. I know, I was such a lazy kid. I didn’t even want to do the household chores! Of so many life skills, these things were put into least of my priorities. But maybe you don’t really call moving out of your home country getting out of comfort zone for no reason. I’ve been living as an expat for six months now and so far, these are my take away:
1. Know your way around the city
In spite of all the travels I did, I am still bad at directions. When I first arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, I seriously had no idea what Bangkok would look like. I never thought that it is such a huge city. And at that time, all I could rely on was a taxi driver who could barely speak and understand English. I arrived at my destination safe and sound, but I was anxious the whole time. I had the address with me, but that was all. I wish I had a much better look on the map before I went. Then, there was this time when I went backpacking to Ayutthaya, I currently live at Rangsit which is just 30 minutes away to Ayutthaya, but I did not know that. So I traveled all the way to Bangkok, and took a train from Hualamphong Station. It took me 4 grueling hours to finally reach Ayutthaya. 3.5 hours were spent traveling. Lesson of these? Know your way around. This will be your home for some time. Do researches and ask, ask a lot. It will save you money, time, and energy.
2. It’s okay to get lost
It adds up spice to adventure. Try to tell me a traveler who was never lost even once in her entire traveling, and you won’t be able to mention any. Getting lost is part of the adventure. This is where some of the amazing things happen, and this is where you meet some amazing people as well. I got lost many times I actually lost count, but there will always be a person or two who were willing to help out. Get lost and find your way!
3. Adulting includes a cooking skill
I do not know how to cook. You know, that kind of cooking which needs slicing and preparations? I do not know that. In my first few days living solo, I was frying egg one time and I burnt it. You are probably laughing at me and I know. I could not help but to ask myself on how in the world I did not even learn how to cook. I was never interested to get my way around the kitchen, and my granny was not very keen to teach me. But I could not just eat burned fried egg for the rest of my stay here right? So I had to learn to cook a decent dish. And two months after, voila! I’m cooking! I never knew I would be invested this much in cooking that I’m actually bragging it. Lol. Nanay will be proud of me for sure!
4. House chores will be in your schedule
I hate doing the laundry. Don’t judge me. I seriously do. I don’t like washing the dishes, it may not be as worse as my hate for doing the laundry but I still do not like it. But I have no choice but to do all these chores all by myself. Saturday is my chores day! I would clean the house, the toilet (yes, I’d scrub the bowl and the floor and it has never been satisfying!), I would laundry my clothes, do some grocery shopping, and I would cook. Let me repeat that, I would cook. I have never felt like an adult until today! So yes, you will be literally on your own so you will learn all things you haven’t apparently learned at home.
5. Do some planning
I know that you are spontaneous and that you’re down for anything, but you also gotta do some planning. What planning? If you can’t do a week-long to-do list, then at least may a day plan. This is one of the most important things I have learned. Planning makes you foresee things. It’s like seeing a picture in a cube rather than in a square. And believe me, it works a lot, most especially in money matters. You wouldn’t want to splurge on unnecessary stuff every payday and be broke in the middle of the week after, so you need to be smart. I sort of live frugal here, I don’t need extravagant lifestyle as long as I am happy doing my thing. It’s how you live wisely!
6. Time matters and it matters a lot
Maybe it is just me and my routines but a week would go by really fast these days. This is also why I tell you that planning is really important. Nobody will tell you what to do and when to do it. If a week can pass that fast, what more a year can do? Choosing to be an expat entails life goals, that’s why you chose to leave your country in the first place, right? So you have to work your ass off for I’ve been trying to accomplish huge chunks in my life lately, and I am doing my best to use my time wisely.
7. You will miss your people more than you imagined
I was always away when I was still home. That may not sound right, but what I meant is I would always be out of the town or I would spent most of my time at the climbing gym and training. And to be honest, it is only now that I get to realize how much time I have actually missed to spend with people I value the most in this lifetime – my family and friends. I never thought that I would miss them a lot every single day that I would think of what if I just go home hundred times over? But no! Distance can really make the heart grow fonder!
8. You will appreciate relationships more
You know those nights when you could invite that one great friend of yours over a cup of coffee? While talking about all your dreams and shits in life? There will be no more of that anymore! And you will definitely miss that! Although you can always keep up and catch up through Skype, Facebook, or Instagram, you’d still feel the need to exert extra effort on keeping up with whatever is happening in both of your lives. In times like this, you’d really appreciate the kind of relationship you were able to build back home. I am happy to have kept strong relationship with the most amazing people on earth.
9. Make friends
No man is an island. This is so cliché, but this is true in many ways. During my first few days here, there was a point where I went like shiz I absolutely have no friend here. I felt sort of doomed, and I started to create creepy scenarios in my head, such as what if I get sick or what if I need help and lots more of what ifs, which of course didn’t make the situation better. Well, apart from that was me over thinking, having no friend in a foreign country is just absurd. Eventually, I am lucky to find amazing people here who made it easier for me to adjust every single day. So make friends, they may not be with you for the rest of your travels, but they might be worth keeping in this lifetime. But of course no one compares your people back home!
10. Language barrier is a concrete barrier
I was not prepared for this. I left Philippines confident with my communication skills in English, but I overlooked the fact that not everyone can communicate using such. In Thailand, especially in my city, not everyone speaks and understands English. First few weeks were a total struggle and I felt like my brain was rejecting the new language. It cannot process even a simple Sawadee kha (Hello!/How are you?), and I kept on missing it. Language barrier can cause miscommunication, lead to many wrongs, and worst, conflict.
11. Therefore, learn the basic local language
You will need it to survive. You will have to communicate from time to time with the locals, so you need to consciously make an effort to learn the language. It is not a no brainer, so really, good luck.
12. Respect culture differences
Culture shock is real. Thais are widely Buddhists, and their culture and traditions are highly anchored on that. Although Thailand and Philippines are really close, there were many moments when I would still be surprised. There will be things that you’d find a bit weird, but you have to respect them. Remember you are not from here, you gotta to adapt!
13. Racism is freaking real
And it freaked me out many times. Okay, so do not get me wrong I know racism exists even before I left home, but I did not know that it’s still that prevalent even among my fellow Asians. I know how westernized we are in the Philippines and how we adore everything from the west, but it’s a lot worse here. To be fair, I don’t take it against anyone. I love my western friends, and I love Thailand and its people. I just can’t help but to raise my eyebrow whenever I’m with my American, British, or South African friends, and they would all get a special treatment. Locals adore them so much because of their colors; even my friends could not wrap that thought in their head.
14. Trust your instinct
You are alone in foreign country, you do not know like know anyone, and you can’t speak their language. There can be grey situations, and I had my fair share of it. In those cases, I always trusted my instinct, and so far it hasn’t failed me yet. Your instinct would tell you if things aren’t trustworthy or people aren’t trustworthy so you can save yourself!
15. You’ll doubt your decision thousand times over but never give in
You are outside of your comfort zone away from everyone and everything that is familiar to you, and there will be shitty days, and those can fuck up your feelings and emotions. Do not give in. It’s just your head talking and your body seeking for comfort. My first few nights were field with tears and doubts. There were many days when I would really want to book a one-way ticket back home. Then I would think of those days when I was only dreaming about all these, and then I would come to my senses. Lonely nights will pass.
16. There will be no place like home
It is true, and you won’t really get this unless you’ve been away. I love Philippines but I love it more now. Thailand has more efficient system than that of my country but I would still vouch for my land. Thai people are amazing, but I miss my people. I am having the time of my life now, but I am still looking forward to my vacation to my home country. Home will always be home.
17. Things will go shitty and that’s okay
No matter how organized you and no matter how you try to plan things out, there will still be glitches. And that is totally okay. There might be problems that will come in your way that you were not able to foresee, and that is okay. I learned that this entire experience is such an adventure that I sort of do not know what I am going to get. I probably know what exactly my goals are and what exactly my wants are but every single day is a surprise, and I just take it as it is.
18. You will get to know yourself more
I spend time with myself 100% of the time, 90% of it is literally alone with her. Back home, with all the activities that I had, I thought that I already knew myself. Only until I moved in here that I get to realized that there are still so many things to discover and learn about myself. Everyday is a new discover and I only get to love myself more.
19. You will get by no matter how hard it may seem
Living your comfort zone is where you will experience the most uncomfortable stuff, and it gets a lot worse when you have no one but yourself. But you will get by, yes you will. It may be hard and shitty at first, but this is part of the package I took when I decided to move. It only gets better everyday.
It really is worth taking a leap, and it is a bonus that I got stories to tell you now. Planning to live as an expat? Which country do you want to start?
About the writer:
She is a young teacher-writer-wanderess from the Philippines. She blends her passion to touch lives with her lust to wander and with her love for life. She’s consumed by all things pertaining to places, people, culture, and words. Follow her adventures on Instagram @pinaywanderess and on Facebook.