Posts Tagged ‘expat life’

Why Did We Become Expats?

reasons for becoming expat

Why Did We Become Expats?

Expats become expats for lots of reasons. Some people are lured by the promise of adventure, travel, and an upgraded lifestyle. For others, it’s the money and the career bump that can come from gaining valuable international work experience.

For us, it was a combination of all of those reasons. And the decision to move overseas wasn’t as difficult as you might imagine. Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t a decision we made hastily, but we didn’t spend any sleepless nights trying to figure it out, either.

When we made the decision to make the move to Japan, we got lots of questions from people.

Why would you uproot your family and move to another country?

Won’t you miss your parents/extended family/friends?

Won’t it be difficult to be gone for two whole years? You’ll miss so much!

I got the impression that most people who asked me those questions didn’t actually care about the answer. In fact, it seemed as though they were just asking to have to opportunity to tell me that it’s something that they could never, ever do. In a way I understood. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever move abroad I probably would have laughed in your face. We’re not that different from anyone who asked us those questions. A little crazier, maybe. But different? Not really.

Making the Decision

The opportunity to move abroad came up in April 2014. At that point we had already been living in Texas for four years. We were more than 1,000 miles from our extended family. For four years we had been spending almost all of our vacation time and money traveling back and forth to see them, and we had gotten pretty used to saying our goodbyes a few times each year.

We were missing out on their daily lives, and they weren’t there for ours. We were pretty much on our own. It wasn’t ideal, but we had been making it work. So being away from them hasn’t changed with our move abroad. Sure, visiting now requires a passport and a flight across the ocean, but other than that it hasn’t changed things much. In fact, since moving to Japan, we’ve seen our families for more days per year than we ever did when we lived in Texas.

What has changed the most is our lifestyle. Not necessarily our financial lifestyle, although that has changed pretty drastically, but the way we were living before the move versus how we live now is the biggest change.

Expat life: Before

When we first started discussing a potential move abroad, my husband was spending more and more time traveling for work. At one point he clocked almost 100 days away in a period of six months. Yes, I counted.


This is where I interject to say that I know that I probably sound like a brat. I know that lots of people, including military families, make much more difficult sacrifices with spouses/parents away from home for longer stretches of time. And I realize that single parents are on their own 100% of the time. And I didn’t have little kids at home – I had it relatively “easy” because my one and only child was older and could pretty much take care of herself. I also didn’t work at the time, which made things a lot easier for sure.

But knowing all of those things didn’t help at the time, honestly. It was a pretty lonely time for me and a difficult time for us as a family. It’s not something I really talked about at the time, probably because of all of the reasons I just listed. But after being away from that lifestyle for a little while and looking back, I am able to clearly see how truly difficult it was. For all of us.

As if having my partner away from home so often wasn’t bad enough, contributing to my discontent was the fact that he was traveling to some amazing places…all while I was back at home, holding down the fort.

I was getting pictures from him like this…

Jason Work Sunset Jason Work 2

…while I was driving carpool, taking care of the house, the yard, the dog, and solo parenting while he was away. We were communicating through email and Skype every few days due to the various time zones he was in. Actually, barely communicating is perhaps a more accurate statement. I was jealous of the adventures he was having, and I am pretty sure he was sick of hearing me complain about it.

And it wasn’t just the travel, it was his job in general. He had a really cool job (seriously, ask him about it sometime!) that he loved, but it involved tons of stress and a lot of overtime. He was working so hard at the job he loved, but the stress of lifestyle we were living clouded the successes he was having at work. To say it wasn’t easy on us would be an understatement. It was rough.

Something Had to Change

We were all over it. I was over being a single parent. I was over being by myself most of the time. My daughter needed her dad, and I needed my husband. He was burned-out. Even though it looked and sounded glamorous to travel the world, it was actually just a lot of hard work. It was late nights, early mornings, long days, and a lot of time spent alone in a hotel room.

This lifestyle started out fine for all of us. We made it work for almost 5 years. But eventually it wasn’t worth it any more. To any of us. And – as with all things in life – it is easy to start out on board with something only to find the situation to be much different once you’ve actually spent some time doing it. We got to the point where things had to change.

So when the job in Japan became available, we were so ready for it. We needed to be together, period. And if it took moving overseas to do it, so be it. What would have been a difficult decision for many people was actually pretty easy for us in the end.

Expat life: During and After

So when people ask me why we made the decision to become expats, I can tell them all of that. That the lifestyle we live here, while exciting and scary, is actually kind of boring in the best way.

My husband has a job that is infinitely less stressful than his old one and he usually walks through the door by 5:00 PM each night. If he travels it’s because we’re on holiday.

We took the opportunity to get serious about our financial plan. In fact, we’ve been able to set up our lifestyle in such a way that each year we spend here shaves at least 5 years off of our retirement date.

We don’t have a house, a yard, cars, or stuff to take care of. And that means that our evenings and weekends are filled with whatever we want to do, not what we have to do. And those benefits outweigh any difficulties we face by being away from our families, our dog, and our home country.

This life certainly isn’t easy. But when I take a moment to look back, our life actually wasn’t that easy before we became expats, either.

It’s a little crazy that we have to move so far away to find the lifestyle change we needed. Moving abroad isn’t for everyone, and it wasn’t the only option available to us. But it was an opportunity that came up at the exact right time, and it just goes to show how taking big risks can lead to big rewards.



Reflecting on Expat Life: 6 Months

This week marks six months since we left the United States and moved to Japan. It is strange to realize that I have been an expat for 6 months already. 6 months feels like an eternity, but also like it went by in the blink of an eye.

expat life 6 months

Before moving here – during all of the planning, packing, and goodbye-ing – I spent very little time thinking about what it would mean for us to finally step onto that plane – to leave behind our life, our family, our dog, and everything we were familiar with. I spent approximately 0% of my time thinking about the fact that walking through that airplane door would actually change the trajectory of my life and the lives of my immediate family members.

Instead of thinking about the magnitude of stepping onto the airplane, I focused on the details: the passports, the tickets, the visas, the packing, the hotel reservations, etc. I distracted myself with those details so that I wouldn’t think about the rest.

The First Weeks as an Expat

Like any move, the first weeks were all about checking off the most necessary of tasks. We found a place to live, we enrolled our preteen daughter in school, we bought cell phones, we picked out furniture, and we navigated our new city’s transportation system. Those tasks acted as a nice little distraction from the big stuff. There’s no time to question whether or not you’ve made a huge mistake when there is an apartment to furnish!

We spent our first month living in a hotel, another distraction. Hotel living certainly wasn’t terrible; it was a most welcome distraction that came with English-speaking staff, executive lounge access, endless food and champagne, and laundry service. This wasn’t our new life, it was too comfortable. It was the in-between of our previous life and our new one. But when you uproot your life and transport your family to the opposite side of the globe you learn to cling to any comfort you can get. Especially in the form of laundry service. And champagne.

In reality, I needed the distractions in those early days. After those first few weeks – filled with travel, jet lag, and mini-tantrums – the magnitude of this change would start to creep in.

We are expats.

We are living in Japan.

Holy shit.

Expat Struggles

The distractions were fading away, and the discomfort came roaring in to fill the void. The struggles came in many forms…like not being able to read labels at the grocery store.

…and not understanding that the person at the checkout is asking you if you need a bag, so you just say in your terrible Japanese that you don’t understand (because you definitely do know how to say that) while trying to look repentant.

…and having to play a game of charades in order to buy tickets to a baseball game.

Embracing Discomfort

If I had to choose to share just one thing I have learned during my first six months as an expat it would be this: that discomfort is necessary. In fact, I would argue that it is actually good for you. It has been my experience that living life in a near-constant state of discomfort tends to cause a person to get used to it. And when you start to feel okay with feeling uncomfortable, you begin to take risks. When you spend your days doing things that scare you, you actually end up doing some pretty amazing things.

And perhaps the best part is that once you are so used to your life being uncomfortable, then you actually take notice when things start to become a little bit comfortable again. The day you don’t shed any tears in the grocery store is a momentous occasion. You notice the first time you are able to ask the train attendant if the train you’re about to get on is actually going where you need to go, and the first time you leave the house and return without getting lost is cause for celebration. I have found that spending my days being grateful for the things that seemed insignificant before is actually leading me to become a happier, more grateful person.

The First 6 Months Will Make or Break You

I have heard that how a person handles the first six months of an expat posting will make or break the overall experience for them, their spouse and/or their family members, and their coworkers.

Many companies, my husband’s included, will send their overseas employees home for visits each year…but not before that six month mark. The belief is that if you go back “home” before that six month mark there is a pretty good chance that you may not come back. I had read about it and knew that was the case, but I never really understood it until coming here.

It Hasn’t Always Been Easy (and it Still Isn’t)

I will admit that there have been a few times when, if someone had slipped a one-way ticket to the US under my door, I would have been on the next train to the airport. But I am extremely glad that that didn’t happen. Because getting on that Japan-bound plane a second time when I knew what was waiting for me on the other side would have been more than I could handle. I also wouldn’t have known that it would get better than those early days and weeks if I hadn’t gone through it and come out (mostly) unscathed. I wouldn’t have known that I could be okay with being uncomfortable. And I certainly wouldn’t have known how amazing it feels to be comfortable again.

So here we are. Six months in. Life is becoming more comfortable each day, and in turn, we are feeling more grateful than ever before. We’re feeling (mostly) settled in our Japanese apartment; eating our Japanese food from the neighborhood market; paying our Japanese bills with Japanese yen; learning this new language — some of us more quickly than others.

The homesickness comes and goes, and the culture shock is a real bitch sometimes. But I couldn’t be happier with where we are at this moment.

Here in Japan.