My Top Tips for Living Abroad


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
I’ve met many foreigners living in Nicaragua with ‘escapism mentalities’. I’ve found that it is impossible to escape from one’s troubles by moving abroad. They are bound to catch up with you, no matter where you are living. Carefully consider your motivations when relocating for the long haul. Pedophiles, cults, and those on the run from the law are NOT welcomed in Nicaragua or anywhere in the world.

GET REAL
Sure, we all want to move to a tropical island, but before you jump, do the research. If you’ve never traveled abroad, how do you know where you want to live? Ron and I traveled the world for 15 summers searching for our ideal retirement spot. We narrowed our search to two countries: Brazil and Portugal, and Central America. We joined chat groups, visited expats, talked to locals, and explored the culture of each area. Make a list of your  needs, ask specific questions, and be ready to scratch the countries from your list if they don’t meet your needs.

PLANNING IS IMPORTANT, BUT DOING IS BETTER
Once you’ve chosen a place abroad…jump temporarily. The first time we moved to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, we quit our secure jobs, sold our cars, gave away all our winter clothes, and left our house and our aging pets with our son. In an adrenalin rush, we jumped into a new life for a year. I call it our grand experiment with ‘pretirement’. We knew two Spanish words, ‘si’ and ‘no’. Yet, if we would have spent the time planning for our retirement and learning Spanish, I doubt that we would have ever had the nerve to jump. Living abroad could have been a distant dream, instead of a mysterious reality. Throughout our year of ‘pretirement’, we learned everything we needed to know to return to the states and set goals for our real retirement on Ometepe Island. A few words of caution: Don’t burn any bridges. Life is unpredictable. It can change in a minute. Leave your options open.

BE COMFORTABLE
In our experiment with ‘pretirement’, we lived like Nicas. We rented a little beach shack that contained four plastic chairs and one plastic table, two beds, and a two-burner cook-top. The only difference between us and our neighbors was that we had a refrigerator and a flush toilet. Spartan living was fine for a year, but when we returned and bought our little beach shack, I wanted a comfortable, yet simple nest. We remodeled our shack to blend in with our surrounding environment…nothing fancy because crimes of opportunity are abundant between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. We have a huge year-round garden that supplies us with all of our vegetables, 14 varieties of mature fruit trees, and all the comforts of home. Comfort and practicality are my mantras.

TWEAK THE ATTITUDE: LOSE THE TUDE
You ain’t in Kansas anymore! Your way isn’t the only way! You are a guest in a foreign country. Be respectful. Lose the negativity. Learn the language. Integrate and immerse yourself in your new surroundings. Volunteer in your area of ability without being overbearing and arrogant. Get to know your local neighbors. Life is so much more enjoyable once you lose the tude.

APPRECIATE THE DIFFERENCES WHILE CHERISHING THE SIMILARITIES
Life is not ‘us’ against ‘them’. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard expats say, ” You can’t trust any of ‘em. Keep everything locked up, buy a gun, and never let a local come into your house.”  I’m not naïve. I understand that bad things happen everywhere in the world. Yet, I refuse to live in paranoia and fear and lock myself away from the culture in some gated gringo community. As I’m writing this, our 2-year-old neighbor is napping on my couch, while his uncle is sitting at our kitchen table practicing his English with Ron. I want to live humanely and compassionately in Nicaragua. I would trust my life with our closest neighbors and I know they feel the same way. Sometimes I just don’t understand why so much energy is expended fighting our cultural differences, instead of cherishing our human similarities.

PRACTICE PATIENCE AND LEARN TO LAUGH AT YOUR MISTAKES
Be forgiving and loving with yourself. In learning to speak Spanish, I have made many embarrassing mistakes. For example, once I bought bread stuffed with pineapple for our construction workers. Instead of asking them if they wanted bread with pineapple, I asked them if they wanted bread stuffed with penis. I’ve wished people a happy new anus, instead of a happy new year. We all had a good laugh, and they helped me correct my Spanish. Practice patience. Life moves at a different pace. If someone says they are going to come to your house at 2 o’clock, they may arrive at 4 o’clock, or maybe not until the next day. It’s best to learn to live in the moment and avoid expectations of the future. Easier said, than done. :-)

Ron and I are on our way back to the states for two weeks. We are in the process of applying for our residency in Nicaragua. I’ll try to post about our experiences throughout the application process. It’s bound to be another adventure! Stay tuned and please be patient with me.