Why I Love My Ex-Pat Life
By Natalie Speakman
When I was younger, travel abroad was something that rarely crossed my mind, but when it did, I’d immediately toss the idea out. It was just too expensive. The thought of actually living overseas was like pondering living on the moon. Impossible, so it never entered my scope of awareness. Back then, the one place I wanted to go was Greece, but I didn’t even tell myself “One day I’ll go…” because I didn’t think the day would come that I could afford it.
I left my home country the first time at age thirty. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Italy and Switzerland. We came home, and I put my passport away, wondering if I’d ever use it again. We spent the rest of our marriage taking domestic trips. We’d talk about going back to Europe, but our marriage ended before we could get there.
While I was married, I worked for a company part time at home, and part time in the office. When my husband and I split, I left the area and transitioned into being a fully remote employee. My first stop was South Korea.
I had no idea how I would fare living overseas. It was a swift decision without much planning. However, I didn’t imagine myself crawling back to the land of burgers and fries desperate for a fix of home.
I remember getting off the plane after a thirteen-hour flight and feeling swimmy-headed once I got to the neighborhood that I would be staying in. Everything felt unreal, like I was walking through a movie set. Hangeul, Korea’s written language, decorated the city with its patterns of lines and blocks.
Every day was a novel adventure, at first. I experienced new food, new culture, and a new city. I walked around with FOB glasses for a while – the rose-colored glasses of those Fresh-Off-the-Boat from their home countries. Then the glow faded and I saw that I was living in a huge, dirty city where no one spoke English. As a whole, the food was the most unpalatable I’d ever had: fermented stingray, boiled silkworm larvae, whale soup made of aged tofu. Even dog was still served some places.
However, I didn’t miss the US. Not. At. All. I just didn’t like Seoul. I wanted to explore, so I went on a trip to Southeast Asia. Exiting Korea and landing in Malaysia was like being able to take a full breath of air after taking off a too-tight bra at the end of the day. (Men, you can make your own analogy.) I spent two months traveling, and didn’t want it to end.
I returned back to Seoul, but I didn’t stay long. Friends I had met in Cambodia told me to go to Bali, Indonesia. I landed in Bali a few months later and called it home for the next fourteen months.
At that time, I had been living abroad more than a year. It felt like the total decompression of unraveling as an American was complete. Yes, I did miss things: wide sidewalks, ordering off Amazon, Chipotle’s burrito bowls, and sometimes, stop signs. But . . .
Since I had left the US, I was more awake in my life than I’d ever been before. If you think about why people travel, it boils down to feeling more alive in life. While traveling abroad, everything can be an adventure. Everyday life becomes that novel experience when living in a different country.
Traveling in Southeast Asia and then living in Bali was a feast after the famine of Seoul. I felt like I was living in a postcard as I awoke at dawn to practice yoga and meditation in my villa overlooking the rice fields. I never took where I lived for granted, being surrounded by beautiful people and landscapes that kept me awake in the dream of life. Even going to the grocery store was stimulating. Of course, novelty can wear off anywhere. After a while, I knew what supermarket aisle to find the coconut milk on, but there was always something new to see.
Also: motorbikes! I loved driving a moped everywhere. It was like being in a video game weaving through cars and driving on sidewalks when there was macet, a traffic jam.
Not speaking the native language also has its benefits. It kept me out of other people’s business. I didn’t even realize this until I was immersed in Seoul and understood nothing. Of course, it was frustrating at times, but it was all part of the adventure. Going home after two-and-a-half years abroad and understanding everything everyone said grated on my nerves. I didn’t want to know everyone’s business. I also never realized how loud my fellow natives talked. Geez, am I that loud, too?
Being out of alignment with so much of what goes on in my home country is also a large part of why I prefer living elsewhere. I’ve missed more than one government shutdown, presidential election, and school shooting. Of course, other countries aren’t perfect. But it doesn’t feel so internalized when I’m a guest in another country.
I will never go back to living the lifestyle I did before I moved overseas, but it’s not just about living abroad. It’s also about having the freedom to be able to work anywhere in the world that I love. The excitement, the novelty, and present-moment awareness is so much more easily accessible when living this lifestyle.
I do plan to have a home one day in the US, when I am a US Dollar millionaire. (I am already a Bali millionaire, and so are you, due to the currency.) Living in the US without worrying about money and being able to live where and how I choose, makes the idea appealing. Until then, I’ll continue this nomad life.
People often ask me, where’s your home base? I point to my heart. Right here, I say. You can’t get freer than that.
Ed. Note: Natalie Speakman is a writer, meditation teacher, and digital nomad currently house-sitting in the Lakeside area. She divides her time between Bali and Mexico.