Before you become an expat you have a million thoughts. What will it be like? Will I make friends? Will it be safe? You might even think it will be amazing (much better than where you currently live), that you will master a second language in a day and quickly fill your Facebook feed with photos of you surrounded by exotic friends, each photo filled with outrageous smiles. You hear that it is very easy to live in Chile, so you arm yourself with a TEFL and think “yup, I’m good to go.” Then you head off into the sunset amidst family who think your an equal mixture of crazy and brave, especially when you tell them “See you but I won’t be back for a while!”
Until you’re on the plane and you realize that Spanish spoken in real time is a lot different from those one-on-one classes you’d taken before you left. And then you get off and realize you have no clue what the signs are saying let alone what the customs official is bleating on about. And when you finally meet those hilarious, exotic friends you find that singing a few hundred Shakira or Daddy Yankee tunes won’t actually help the conversation progress very far.
Lets face reality: moving to any new country can feel like a slap in the gonads (or so I can imagine). The euphoria quickly depletes until all your left with is a suitcase filled with all the wrong things and an inability to use even the supermarket correctly (“I have to weigh the veges BEFORE I get to the checkout? I have to pay the packer? But what do I DO with all these plastic bags?!!”). You find that the amazing job you’d envisioned is actually quite demanding and filled with long commutes, rush hour rides and students that never do their homework. The shops are filled with things way to expensive to buy and only God can help you if you don’t want salt on your food.
There’s a cycle that all expats follow that can make you appear alot like you are in need of medication to friends and relatives who’ve never travelled. Your emotions will change like the wind, racing from overwhelming happiness to the worst depression known to mankind. One minute you will be skipping along, marvelling at mountains that they don’t make quite the same anywhere else, and the next you will be crying in the middle of Lider holding three different types of warm, boxed milk that you don’t quite understand the difference between but it must surely be important to warrant taking up a whole aisle!
The language will also take you on a rollercoaster ride. You may find that one day you speak perfectly only to discover that on the next you can’t even process greetings properly. New acquaintances will test you on your ability by speaking really fast nonsense to try catch you out in order to grandly state: “a ha! Chilean Spanish is SO [insert adjectives here]”. But you will master the Spanish in Chile, until the day you decide to visit the rest of Latin America and find they speak funny.
No matter how bleak it all seems to get, trust me you will not always be stuck watching How I Met Your Mother reruns accompanied by chocolate biscuits. That’s not to say that there won’t be things that will drive you absolutely bonkers (such as every single time you need to deal with beauracracy in Chile) but you will eventually settle into your new life comfortably, thinking less and less about all the things you miss until eventually they will be only an occasional thought. Through the good stuff and the bad, reach out to the expat community because they are going, or have gone, through the same. English-speakers can join The Chile Experience while mums can use English Speaking Mums in Chile. Both have been invaluable to me during my several years here, especially the latter because there is nothing harder than being a first-time mother in a foreign culture. All the playdates for Emilio or friendships with expats that I have made, are via this amazing network. While not everyone has the same experiences, there is an overwhelming sense of comraderie and support that can be especially helpful when you are struggling, whether with homesickness or with health.
It’s not always a picnic when you move to a new country, but it is a banquet! A delicious, diverse, overwhelming and (at times) scary feast that works all five senses like no other. Travel is the best education but also the best medicine, just sometimes it has to get a little worse in order to get better. You can do it!!