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On Becoming an Expat - Retiring Away From 'Home'

March 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 195

Our bags are packed and ready to go, and within a year or so my husband Fred, Popsicle the cat. Ralph the dog and I are leaving on a jet plane, heading for South America - and we do not know when we'll be back, again!

We anticipate an adventure of our lifetime as new expats, a word that may sound a little strange to some people who are out of the expat loop, and definitely, a word I would not have used around my WWII father, who might have felt we were being unpatriotic.

First, know where the word expat comes from, and that it is quite okay to be one: expat is short for expatriate-meaning someone temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of his or her upbringing.

The word comes from two Latin terms: ex meaning "out of" and patria for "country" or "fatherland." (Expatriation is also used in a legal sense to mean renunciation of allegiance: the Expatriation Act of 1868 referred in its preamble to "the right of expatriation" as a "natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.")

There are many reasons why people make this change, especially in this age of globalization as work reasons are often the case for becoming an expat. Even if a person is older and formally retired, some are opting for a new career in the export business, for example, and relocating to a country where they can retire and make extra money.

Sometimes people simply fall in love with a region or country, and there are still others who become expats because they want to try out a different life - to find something other than what they are used to.

One thing to know is that expatriates will differ enormously from one another and although they are often referred to as a homogenous group, they really are a group of people comprised of all sorts of personalities who make this decision for a variety of reasons.

So why are Fred, Popsicle, Ralph and I leaving for Ecuador? We love our country and have decided to change our retirement location for fun, economics, and other reasons. Like so many older folks whose retirement funds were lost over the past few years, we are moving away partly due to high costs of healthcare and dental care, rising food, transportation and housing costs in the U.S.

Like some others making this choice, we still want to believe that we can help people in other parts of the world, as volunteers in their schools and agencies, as purchasers of their goods and services, and in other roles as we discover new cultures, learn new languages and meet interesting people - all activities that are definitely good for the brain and the soul as one grows old.

Have you noticed that "expat" is cropping up more and more in articles and blogs on retirement? This is because more and more retired folks are packing it up and moving to places all over the globe. If you look around the Internet, you will bump into various "top ten" lists of retiring expat destinations with these countries seem to be making many of today's lists: Panama, Thailand, Bulgaria, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador, South Africa, Malaysia, Argentina and Costa Rica.

Reasons typically include low cost of quality healthcare, cost of living, rate of money exchange, government stability and more. Organizations such as International Living maintain reports that constantly rate and update expat destinations in these categories and more.

We have chosen our new home to be Cuenca, Ecuador, a South American city sometimes referred to as the Athens of South America because of the high number of colleges and universities in this town of nearly one-half million people. Santa Ana de los Curator Ríos de Cuenca, the city's formal name -- meaning Santa Ana of the four rivers basin -- is capital of the Azuay Province, and is located in the highlands. The center of this city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site because of its many historical, colonial buildings.

Important to us in choosing Cuenca was the friendliness of its people, cost of living, culture, beauty and languages spoken. I speak moderate Spanish and Fred plans to attend one of Cuenca's many excellent language schools. The city does not report a major problem with crime, is exceptionally beautiful and I recently visited there, so I know that what has been written about Cuenca appears to be true.

There is a strong presence of expats in Cuenca, many who spend much of their time as volunteers with the schools and various agencies, adding to our decision to go there.

If you are thinking about becoming an expat, use Google to find expat blogs in specific countries, something I have been doing to learn specifics on how to move pets, how to acquire visas, where to find a house or an apartment, and more.

It helps to meet up with such people, especially before moving to another country, and you can easily do this beforehand through the professional online networks, as LinkedIn or facebook, both which host various groups of expats who share their experience and knowledge.

Once in your new home, if you miss using your natural language, and want to reconnect with your culture, one idea might be to find a house or apartment near a local embassy, consular offices or the specific national group that might help you in transitioning to your new world.

What about starting language classes? Fred plans to spend the first three months in one-on-one Spanish lessons. He will be contributing to the local economy while learning necessary communication skills. He is using an Ecuadoran school, and not simply taking lessons from another expat who happens to live in Cuenca.

For most people, it will take time to "feel at home" when you make such a significant physical and cultural shift in your life. Fred is a psychologist and has several suggestions to help ease culture shock: "Find the libraries, local expat groups, the fun restaurants, the markets and all the places where you will have a chance to communicate using your new language skills, and after several months of getting out and about, you should find yourself loving to be an expat. If not, you may need to reconsider your decision." He plans on taking his own advice, and helping others around him with specific ideas about how to orient oneself into the world of multiculturalism.

Expat'ing (I think I just made up this word) is not a new concept for Americans, of course, since most of our relatives come from somewhere else. For instance, in the 19th century, thousands of Americans were drawn to Europe-especially to Munich and Paris-to study the art of painting. Henry James, for instance, was a famous expatriate American writer from the 1870s, who adopted England as his home.

Interested in learning even more about the history of expatriation? The Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague (Netherlands) has a unique collection of letters, diaries, photographs and films documenting the social history of expatriate life. It collects journals, letters, diaries and photographs - in fact, almost any document from the past detailing the lives and experiences of people working and living away from their home country.

The Expatriate Archive's purpose is to collect, preserve, promote, and make available to the public and researchers a collection of primary source materials documenting the social history of expatriate life, giving a voice to the memories and experiences of expatriates of all nationalities from all over the world, and to establish a research resource for historians worldwide.

The archive has always had an international approach and conducts all business in English, and translates every document they receive into English, to make it more easily accessible for future researchers. Visit this center at

Meanwhile, we invite you to come along on our South American expat journey - planning, going, arriving and getting used to the inevitable change.


Susan Klopfer, author and speaker, writes on civil rights and diversity. Her newest books, Who Killed Emmett Till?" "Where Rebels Roost: Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited" and "The Emmett Till Book" are now in print and are carried in most online bookstores including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in eBook versions on iBooks and Smashwords. "Where Rebels Roost" focuses on the Mississippi Delta, with stories about Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Amzie Moore and many other civil rights foot soldiers. These books emphasize unsolved murders of Delta blacks from mid 1950s on. She is also the author of eBook, Cash In On Diversity. Klopfer is an award-winning journalist and former acquisitions and development editor for Prentice-Hall. Her computer book, "Abort, Retry, Fail!" was an alternate selection by the Book of-the-Month Club.

Source: EzineArticles
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