Since moving to Cuenca, Ecuador, with my partner over a year ago, I’ve experienced my share of challenges just like anyone new to a foreign country: finding a place to live, figuring out how and where to pay bills, making local friends, and navigating the professional visa process, etc. For the most part, I have to say that adjusting to life in my new home has been pretty good; there are many kind and generous people who are glad to help, if I just let them.
One thing that I have found to be very important in the expat journey is to remain grateful for all of the good things that are happening in my life abroad as they happen.
Sometimes it can be too easy to forget this step when life gets busy. Read on to discover some of the things that have helped me, and can perhaps help you, to illuminate some aspects of your current expat experience to be grateful for.
[color-box color= “green”]1. The Weather Outside isn’t frightful. I have so many friends and family members who live in places that experience truly tough winters. Don’t get me wrong – I love snow, and yet there’s something to be said for the moderate Cuenca weather, where you don’t have to use air conditioning or heat and you aren’t plagued by bugs.[/color-box]
2. All the friends I haven’t met yet. On Thanksgiving we hosted a dinner for about 20 friends, and the two best things about the day were a) people sharing their memories of Thanksgiving and b) making new memories with guests we didn’t know and who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, including visitors from Chile and Lithuania. At any given moment, new friendships can be forged and connections are created.
[color-box color= “green”]3. An abundance of difference. There are countless celebrations and festivals in Ecuador – the Pase del Niño parade, Inti-Raymi and Corpus Christi, to name a few. Different cultural influences invite and encourage me to open my mind and heart, regardless of my age or background, and connect with other world traditions and the people who practice them. [/color-box]
4. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to live here.I often wonder how people can afford to live in the United States nowadays. Friends who are realtors have told me that Asheville, North Carolina, is now so popular and expensive that even the basic homes that were built for workers in the early 20thcentury (highly-desired Craftsman-style bungalows) are out of the range of affordability for a young couple with decent-paying jobs. We live here on less than half of what we did in the States.
[color-box color= “green”]5. Membership in the world’s community.I feel heightened sorrow for the people of Paris, the folks in San Bernardino, and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. You don’t need to go somewhere physically to have your compassion, altruism and empathy kick-started; however, if you’ve travelled to those places and know their exact sounds and scents, it usually makes you more caring about if/when something happens there and definitely cements your status as an engaged world citizen.[/color-box]
6. I’m 7,000 miles away from “Black Friday” or any other major shopping event or season.Discussing with Ecuadorians recently how people get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to wait in line to buy stuff made me realize how much I don’t miss consumerism on a grand scale. Even if I wanted to go on a consumer rampage here, the best I could probably do would be to buy all of the tins of tahini that the grocery store has for my hummus cravings, just in case they don’t stock it for a while.
[color-box color= “green”]7. I get to be the “crazy foreigner.”A friend who has lived in many different countries reminded me recently that, no matter your eccentric tastes or habits, when you live abroad the locals generally indulge your odd ways and chalk it up to your being foreign. This also works in reverse when I travel back to the States and engage in behaviour that might be considered unusual, such as waiting patiently in a line with lots of other people and saying with a smile on my face, “This is how we do it in Ecuador.” [/color-box]
8. Nothing is constant but change. By default, living and working abroad is pretty transitory. Someday we will probably return to the United States to live, which means that every home, every favourite park and restaurant we have until then is temporary. Eventually every aspect of our familiar, cozy life in Cuenca could be thousands of miles away, which makes me sad on one level and yet grateful for the opportunity to be present and appreciate each moment while I am living it.
[color-box color= “green”]9. And last, but not least,if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, I don’t have to make plans to leave the country. I’m already gone! [/color-box]
So, in short, I’m grateful for getting out of my comfort zone, learning new traditions, and being exposed to fresh perspectives. Living abroad has made me more open and allowed me to participate in some amazing moments with the Ecuadorians and their wonderful country. Wherever you are in the world today, may gratitude find its way to you and the people you love.
Feel free to share your comments below on how you’ve become more grateful while living abroad!