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…
…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.