In a previous post I discussed the top ten pros of being an expat wife. Contrary to what the folks at home might think, we aren’t on a permanent vacation! Unfortunately, as with all things in life, there are a few cons to living the life of an expat wife.
1. Putting your career on hold
This by far has been the biggest con for living overseas. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor. I do not speak Portuguese well enough to work overseas in my field, so I am currently teaching English and putting a career I love on hold. By doing this I am also giving up 3 years of potential increases in earning potential and work experience. I did a cost/benefit analysis and decided that Dale’s earning potential is higher than mine based on his career path and we knew that moving to Brazil for his job would give us the biggest pay off financially, not to mention the chance to travel. So I put my career on hold. I will return to the United States eventually with even more life experience, cultural awareness, and a new language (Portuguese). I already speak Spanish, so adding one more language to my tool box will make me even more marketable. My field is constantly changing and evolving and by living overseas I am proving to be an adaptable person. So, even though my career is on hold, when I return to the states, I return with a new skill set.
2. Language barriers
Yes, the language barrier can be a very frustrating and at times an embarrassing obstacle. Just ask Dale who told people in Portuguese when he was first learning the language that “We are moving to Brazil to die”, he meant to live as the verbs for “die” and “live” are very similar in Portuguese, “morrer” vs “morar”. Or when I was stuck in the turnstile at the bank because I had metal in my purse and had no idea what the security guard was saying. It can also be very lonely and difficult to make friends if you cannot speak the language. This is why anyone who is living abroad should make some effort to learn the language. Just imagine if you had to go to the emergency room and you could not communicate with the doctor! Your life will be much better if you take the time and make the effort to learn the language of your host country. That said, learning another language is a huge time investment, it’s frustrating and can be expensive. But it is well worth it.
3. Everything takes more time
Living overseas often comes with a lot of bureaucracy. So despite having more free time, it takes forever to get things done! To open our bank account it took 3 months, and multiple trips to the bank to fill out more paperwork. The process to get our Brazilian ID cards was very complex, and we had to go to multiple agencies, have papers notarized, translated, etc. Recently I obtained my work card so that I can legally work in Brazil as an English teacher, which was also time-consuming.
4. People will ask you with disdain, “What do you do all day?”
Please see my pro list on my previous post for my response to this question. But let me answer this question seriously–It depends. I do sleep in sometimes until around 8 or 9a.m. but I also stay up later than I did in the United States. I clean house, pay bills, grocery shop, run errands, write for our blog, cook meals, clean up after cooking meals, take naps, teach English, substitute for other teachers, prepare lesson plans, correct homework, go to Portuguese class, occasionally meet my friend for coffee or lunch, surf the internet, work on social media for our blog, organize, create power points for some of my classes, clean out the garage, get sand out of everything after our weekends at the beach, plan our trips and vacations, do laundry, watch Netflix, read, talk to my parents on the phone, go to the gym, schedule my husband’s dentist appointments, etc. I try to take care of as much as possible during the week so that Dale and I are free to travel and explore Brazil on the weekends. I don’t get bored and I manage to stay busy. While Dale loves his job, it is very stressful to work in a foreign country, in a different language, and with a new culture. My job is to make sure that he is supported so he can do his job, so he doesn’t have to worry about the small stuff and so we can enjoy our free time together.
It is difficult to be away from my family. My dad has recently completed treatment for oral cancer and was very ill, however he is doing much better now. I do worry that something may go wrong while I’m overseas or that I will regret not having spent time with my dad over these next few years. My sister recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer really sucks and this makes living abroad very stressful. I think about my family and friends a lot. However, today with technology, I can pick up the phone and call or text my family and friends anytime. I can also use Skype and Google Hangouts to see them face to face. My advice to anyone living overseas, if you start to miss someone, pick up the phone and call that person as this is the best cure for homesickness. I am lucky to be able to fly back to the United States twice a year and I can stay as long as I like because I’m not working full-time.
6. Being Someone’s Dependent
Okay, this one was a little tough at first yet amuses me at the same time. Since we moved to Brazil for Dale’s job, I am actually considered his dependent. It even says in my Visa that I am a dependent. This label is a tough one to come to terms with for many expat wives. I have always been a very independent person, graduated College and earned my Master’s Degree and I did not meet Dale until I was well into my 30’s and had a career and life of my own. So being a dependent is tough but we joke about it!
7. The Gym
I have heard countless people say that they would be at the gym all day, every day if they didn’t work a full-time job. To those people I say “yeah right!”. Prior to moving to Brazil I also said I would be at the gym all the time and in great shape by now and wow was I wrong! Guess what, even when you do not work 8a.m.-5p.m. every day it is still difficult to get motivated to diet and exercise. So that brings me to the next con, #8.
8. The Food and Weight Gain
I’m sure we have all heard of the Freshman 15, that 15 lbs. a lot of women gain when they go to College. Well, the same thing happens when women move overseas. This is not a myth. I’ve lived in 3 countries now and let’s just say every time I live overseas, I get a little “curvy” as do all my other expat girlfriends and we constantly complain about it and vow to get in shape and lose weight. To top things off the food in Brazil is amazing. The cows are grass-fed and the beef is cooked to perfection. Eating out in Joinville is a source of entertainment and it is a 3-5 hour-long event. I will eventually do a blog about the food in Joinville because it is incredible. I keep hearing that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels but I’m not convinced that saying is true! Having to buy new jeans a size up is well worth the experience of trying new foods while traveling.
9. Feelings of Inadequacy
Not being able to always effectively communicate in Portuguese can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Once I was able to schedule all of my appointments on my own. Now I try to schedule my appointments but sometimes you end up speaking to a receptionist that is not very receptive to your funny accent and it doesn’t happen. We at times rely on friends and co-workers to help us out. Sometimes it feels like being a child again. However we are so thankful for all of the help we get from our Brazilian friends when things get complicated! It is also a valuable life lesson that teaches one the importance of accepting help and causes us to want to help out other people more often when they are in similiar situations.
10. The person who is the Expert on all things USA
I love living abroad, but I do have a major pet peeve when people stereotype Americans. There is always that one person who has studied in the United States that feels he/she is an expert about all things USA. This is the person who has been to one particular city or place and then tells everyone they know exactly how people in the United States are. That is like living Brazil and thinking and saying that all Brazilian women have big butts. This is simply not true and one cannot stereotype an entire country based on one person’s individual experience. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes that people all over the world hold about the United States, and as someone who has lived in multiple states and cities, it can be frustrating. Also, while I enjoy an occasional hamburger and fries, not all Americans eat hamburgers for dinner every night. I hate fast food! Now I understand that stereotyping goes both ways, and Americans also have a lot of misconceptions about Brazil and Brazilians, which hopefully this blog will help to dispell.
Even with all these cons to being an expat wife, living in Brazil is a once in a lifetime experience I would never trade! I believe the pros outweigh the cons, and living overseas is always going to be what you make of it and your experience will be shaped by your attitude, as with all things in life. With that said, and having lived in South Korea, some countries are so culturally different from the United States and adjusting can be more difficult. If you are currently living overseas, I would love to hear from you about your pros and cons of the being an expat.