I have been introducing myself as an expat for nearly 10 years now and while I am not surprised to find myself an expat, I would never have predicted I would end up in Spain. Ever since I first lived abroad as a student in the US back in the early Eighties, I have always felt that one day the expat lifestyle would be mine permanently: America, Canada and Australia all cropped up as options with varying levels of probability during a career most notable for its variation and lack of stability.
That we settled in Spain was an accident really, albeit a happy one, and rather as the best parties tend to be the unplanned ones, our eventual move to Spain has turned out well. Our journey down the slippery path to being an expat at the time seemed unique, but with hindsight was really nothing special: work meant we travelled a lot so didn’t really have an entrenched base in the UK to leave behind, we started off living in Spain on a 50/50 basis (splitting our time between the UK and Spain), then we based ourselves in Spain and I would take contracts as and where they cropped up, which for a time meant we were 50/50 between the US and Spain. Finally we decided to pack it all in, take some time out, and make Spain our home for the foreseeable future.
We are pretty typical as expats go and in my experience, expats fall broadly into two categories: those that are expats through work-related moves, and those that aren’t. Of those that aren’t, retired people understandably make up the largest percentage, with an increasing number being those that have retired early (not always through choice), and those that have done well enough to sell up and move abroad. Of the rest: “looking for work”, “escaping the rat race”, and “wanting a fresh challenge” seem to the most popular reasons. Then of course over here in Spain we have the Costa del Crime, but best not go there: literally or literarily.
In my view those that are expats through their career i.e. posted overseas, and those that have retired at a normal retirement age (let’s say 65 for now although for how long that will be the age for is anyone’s guess these days) are the lucky ones. By that I mean that they only really have one variable in their life: they are doing what they would be doing anyway, only in a different country. For them life is pretty much mapped out. They are going to carry on working until they retire, or they are retired. The rest of us have this void of no man’s land stretching ahead of us, and we’re not sure where we will eventully end up.
Ironically expats have a tendency to consider themselves pioneers, but in reality the majority of us are just followers, and for many where we end up is more often as much a case of where it isn’t as where it is. “I knew I didn’t want to live in the UK, came across this place, liked it, and thought I would be happy living here” – oh, for a euro for every time I have heard that line.
I would also like a euro for every expat that I have spoken to who after the initial shine has worn off their new lifestyle is bored, frustrated, drinking too much, spending far too much time with other Brits rather than the local population, or running out of money. More often than not this occurs during the third year of living as an expat. It happened to me, and I have spoken to a number of people recently who hadn’t realised it had been three years, but upon reflection all agreed that they too had fallen prey to Three Year Syndrome.
A number of people I have spoken to decided that after three years their golf handicap wasn’t going to get any better, and playing the same course for the next thirty years didn’t hold as much interest as they had envisaged. A common comment heard across the expat communities of the world is “in reality I was too young to be doing nothing. I needed to be using my brain”.
As an expat after three years I reckon one of three things will happen to you:
1. If you are lucky you will go back to work, start a new hobby, or get involved in charity work.
2. If you are unlucky you will return home, your expat adventure report card bearing nothing more than a “could have done better”.
3. If you are really unlucky nothing will change and you will become an established part of the bitter and twisted expat club, to be found daily dispensing advice to anyone that will listen (and cough up the cost of a glass or two) on where it all went wrong and what they should do to avoid the same mistakes.
All of which can be prevented by finding something to do. Call it a hobby, a pastime, or whatever you want, but doing something that provides an interest, keeps the brain ticking over, introduces you to new people, places and activities should not be underestimated by the expat.
Of course it doesn’t have to be a hobby. An increasing number of expats are looking to go back to work, partly it must be said to replenish dwindling bank accounts affected by poor exchange rates and the collapse of the holiday rental market, but in most cases the reason given is simply that they are bored. I know of someone that is applying for jobs in the UK and if successful plans to commute each week, staying with friends in the UK during the week and flying back to her husband and children at weekends. On the salary they are expecting they are not going to make much money each month, but the motivator isn’t money; it’s having something to do that uses their brain and provides variety each day.
For the majority of expats though finding an interest will suffice and if you are stuck for ideas on what to do check out this page on the Expat Blog Forum to see what other expats are doing to fill their time. Photography and writing are two popular, and obvious, hobbies, both of which I recommend fully as if nothing else they help you see the day-to-day from a different perspective and make you more alert to the goings on around you.
If photography appeals then you could do worse then look at Craig Ferguson’s site for great photographs and an example of how it is possible to combine the expat lifestyle, with a hobby, and make money out of it. For those wanting to write then a blog is perfect. A great place to start is by setting up a blog on MyTelegraph, or maybe you feel that you have a book inside you? In that case, Jo Parfitt, a veteran of the Expat lifestyle, has a site where she offers sound advice, and useful services, on how to write your life stories.
Another option is to do what Robin Pascoe has done and turn your expat experiences into a business. Her Expat Expert site includes books, video lectures and chat groups about expat life which she has developed since 1998.
If it helps, think of the expats the Three Year Syndrome along the lines of The Seven Year Itch made famous by Marilyn Monroe; not too bad if it happens to someone else, but best avoided, and easily prevented by learning from the experiences of others and keeping your mind and body active.
Chris runs an expat blog about life in Spain and is a regular contributor to a number of publications and radio stations in Spain As well as writing this monthly column for the Telegraph Expat site he is a Telegraph Expat guest blogger.
He lives in Almerimar with his wife Sands, four cats, two Harleys and more often than not a glass of red.
For more information about these or any other programmes, please contact us to discuss your potential
UK Head OfficeTel: +44 (0)844 5555 480