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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Being Abroad: What Are the Drawbacks?

I find that in virtual life, it can be very easy to put lipstick on the pig and pretend that everything is perfect. We see it on Facebook in all the perfect pictures with smiling faces and well edited travel photos. We see in in the tweets about achievements and through snap-chat. Perfect happiness seems to be all around us, and really, we're all pretty guilty of it. Who really wants to show a rain soddened photo of what might possibly be the Eiffel Tower? Or a quick snap of the huge pile of poop that you stepped in, barefoot, because you weren't paying attention? No one. No one wants to show pictures of their kids' meltdowns in restaurants or on the train back from Machu Picchu, either. You probably get my drift.
Complex issues with hidden surprises
So it's hard. Hard to put down the realities and sacrifices of packing up our lives and heading out into the wide world. It's hard to explain how sometimes you just really want to go home, because you know it's likely easier. But it happens.
Unexpected moment of surprise and pleasure
So what's hard about living abroad? I've said it before: it's a whole different world out there. What seems normal and logical to one person (because of what they're used to) maybe be ridiculous to another. Cultural practices can vary wildly, personal space and what qualifies as rude or not are not set in stone. Not everyone adheres to our sense of 'rightness'.
Rough and unyielding circumstances
Not being fluent in the language is really hard, because I really want to understand and be understood. I'm no slouch when it comes to Spanish, but I'm no where near fluent. We both do passingly well, we can hold down a conversation for the most part and can usually get what we need from stores etc, but I miss a lot of nuance and occasionally miss out an entire section because my vocabulary is lacking. When things go wrong it can be doubly hard, because I'm already stressed, so trying to get help in a foreign language throws me over the top sometimes. Especially when the culture isn't customer service oriented or dislikes confrontation. (Case in point - Ecuadorians will almost always tell you "yes" because that's what they think you want to hear and it avoids any nasty situations at that particular moment. Whether it's actually possible or not is an entirely different matter.
Strange things that you don't know what to do with?
Not having the things we're used to having can be hard, too. Especially when I'm not feeling well and all I really want is some hard core cold medicine to knock me out. They don't really have that here. Decongestants are a controlled substances and hard to come by, but you can get sleeping pills no problem. (They scare me.) My list really could be endless...I miss a toilet that is actually bolted to the floor, reliable plumbing (p-traps seem to be optional in many places here), Christmas lights that will last more than one season and limitless English TV channels. I also miss Dr. Pepper and gourmet specialty items that have yet to be discovered by Ecuadorian palates.
Inexplicable combinations
It's also hard being so far away from family and friends, especially if someone is ailing. The sticker shock of airplane tickets can get the heart pumping or even make a trip back home impossible. It's hard to miss birthdays and other special occasions as well. We really have to pick and choose which we go to, which can get us in trouble.
Unexpected occurences
When the Canadian dollar tumbles (as it just has) we feel it. It sucks. It cuts our income dramatically and we have to be even more selective about what we buy and when we buy it. So, it's not exactly the highfalutin' life style that many people assume we have. It's more cost effective to live here, to be sure, but we aren't drinking champagne and eating caviar everyday. (Or even every second day.) The flip side of the whole money thing is sticker shock when you go other places. We had lunch in the airport in Montreal, on our way to the East coast of Canada. We each had a sandwich, shared a small bottle of water and a very stale lemon tart and the dubious pleasure cost us over $30. Aigh! We can eat a filling lunch here for $7.50 CDN and that includes beer. When you live in a country that is more affordable, it's a shocker to go to 1st world countries and (literally) pay the price.
Sunshine basking with friends (it happens)
We've sacrificed a lot of things to live here, but we do it for the lifestyle, the experiences and the immersion in a different culture. If I'm having a bad day, I may not agree that it's worth it, but most of the time the sacrifice pays for itself in spades. I don't want to sugar coat the experience, but I don't want it to seem daunting, either. Like everything, it has its pros and cons. You just have to be willing to take your lumps (sometimes while crying or swearing under your breath) and remember that everything in life teaches you something.

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