Is Finding the Perfect Place Possible? Yes…and No

We often focus on the exact outcome we want, sometimes unfortunately rejecting something very close to our bullseye.

Such is the case when selecting your new overseas home. Because it is such a major decision, your significant research often breeds more significant research. Some get stuck in the research phase for years, unable to pull the trigger for fear of making the wrong decision.

Many wrongly believe the exact outcome, the one to which they have attached their dreams, is required for happiness. The truth is that we rarely know exactly what will create and maintain our happiness. We sometimes need to be reminded that happiness is not a permanent condition and requires our constant attention. It is elusive and we can’t know how things will turn out…as proven by high divorce rates, career changes, and our fickle allegiance to style brands.

True, there are circumstances when perfection is highly desirable (I’m thinking of brain surgery or knowing which wire to cut while disabling a bomb) but very rarely is perfection attainable, or even required. In fact, accepting an outcome that is very close to your perceived bullseye is sometimes a sensible option, as further adjustments to your circumstances can usually be made later.

This should help: The perfect location does not exist. You needn’t worry about finding it. Instead, allow your research to lead you to several, wonderful, non-perfect choices that will have you yearning for your new life outside the U.S. Choose one of your carefully researched places to begin your journey.

Trust your research and believe the expats you’ve contacted who have already made the move. The overwhelming positive attributes of your new home, if placed on a scale balanced against any downside, will be solidly weighted in your favor. Allow sufficient time to adjust. It took me a full year to feel comfortable.

Your contentment will arrive slowly, stealthily, and without fanfare. Before you know it, you’ll no longer be surprised when the plumber or electrician arrives on a bus or taxi with a small tool pouch. (He will assess the job and hand you a hastily scrawled list, asking you to go to town and purchase what he needs to complete the work. Or at least, that’s what they do in rural Yucatán, Mexico, where I live.)

Blended within the joys and wonders of your new life, your transition may sometimes feel like you’re shoveling sand with a tennis racket. It gets better, though. A lot better! Learning a new language and merging with a new culture can be stressful. But stick with it, because your new life will be full of deeply enriching, undiscovered gifts to be unwrapped every day. You’ll soon recognize that your previous contentment has morphed into full-blown joy.

Exploits will become daily occurrences. A simple trip to the market will provide education in transportation, language, food, and daily life in your new home. Attending local festivals and celebrations offers history and cultural experiences, frequently punctuated by celebratory, ceremonial attire. Local weddings, birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries are all powerful mini-lessons in local customs.

Before Mexico, my wife, Diane, and I lived in Ecuador for a time. In our second month, we were invited to an expat party in a home just outside town. As we had already purchased a car, I volunteered to drive to town to replace the depleted ice supply. It wasn’t until I was nearly to the small store that I realized I didn’t know the Spanish word for ice. I had no idea how to ask for what I wanted. My solution was to ask for “water, very cold and hard.” That worked, and I learned the Spanish word for ice is hielo.

Another time, at the market, I didn’t know the word for flour, and I couldn’t find it on the shelves. I checked the ingredients listed on a loaf of bread to know what to ask for. The first ingredient was harina. Bingo! I eventually located and purchased an English/Spanish dictionary, which became my constant companion. I wore that thing out, rebinding and reinforcing it with duct tape numerous times.

There are many places where you can build your new life and pursue your dreams. None of them will be perfect, but significant numbers can be found that meet nearly all of your primary needs and wants. And even those places you believe to be “perfect” will reveal issues requiring your compromise.

I frequently prowl around the numerous expat pages on Facebook, valuable resources where existing and aspiring expats share information. A repeating question in those forums asks, “What are the most important things to bring with me when I leave the States?”

My answer is: Your ability to compromise and adjust; a spirit of adventure, patience, and resilience. And one more thing: bring your happiness with you. Those traits will serve you far better than your favorite brand of something (although Diane regularly asks our visitors to stuff boxes of Rice-A-Roni into their luggage).

You can do this… You have done this.

Allow and encourage yourself to bloom where you are planted. Embrace initial moments of discomfort until they pass and you realize you can do this…you have done this. You will slowly recognize that discomfort has been replaced by confidence, greatly reduced stress, a grand sense of accomplishment, comfort with your second language, a small group of multicultural friends, and an enduring sense of pride in your achievements.

And while some friends and family back home may never understand, your expat friends—your new tribe—totally gets it.

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