Facebook for Expats: Friend or Foe?


As an expat, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. There are days that I gratefully turn to Facebook to solve mysterious Latino customs, or sift through mountainous responses to my questions with the help of my local and expat friends. Other days, I threaten to unsubscribe, cutting myself free from the time-consuming burden of ‘liking’, ‘defriending’, ‘befriending’, ‘hiding’, ‘status updating’, and ‘sharing’.

According to HSBC’s 2011 Expat Explorer Survey, a majority of expats use Facebook as their social network of choice. Even in countries where only 3-4% of locals use Facebook over half of expats are on the site a couple of times a week.

I confess that I am an Expat Facebook junkie. Awareness is the first step to overcoming an addiction. Honoring my newly found awareness, I have compiled a list of Facebook friends and foes for expats.

Facebook Friends

1. Connections
I make Facebook friends with people all over the world. One of the great things about living on Ometepe Island is that the world comes to us. We may live on a small island, but it is a world-famous Biosphere Reserve drawing thousands of tourists every year. Sipping my mocha latte at the Corner House Cafe, I make international connections with like-minded people almost everyday. Once we establish a face-to-face connection, my next question is, “What’s your Facebook name?”
2.   Information Gathering
Lacking vets, biologists, seismologists, geologists, and ornithologists, and practically all other special ‘ists’ on our island, I turn to Facebook for answers. I can post pictures of injured animals I find, seek identification of snakes, fish, and other creepy crawlies…and I always receive an immediate response to my questions from my Facebook friends.

Before Facebook, I joined forums, such as The Real Nicaragua and NicaLiving  seeking answers to questions pertaining to a potential or a new expat. I discovered that these forums always get dominated by aggressive, territorial types who make every thread into a chest-puffing exercise. I’m not surprised that people are getting sick of them. At least on Facebook you can block out the people who don’t add any value to information one is seeking.

Help me! What should I do for this injured bird?

My neighbors call it a Coral Negro. Is it poisonous?

This caused a ruckus on our beach today. The locals are afraid of this fish. Why?

3. Technology
Facebook is free! That’s a big plus for expats. It has a user-friendly interface, making it possible to post videos and pictures, chat with friends instantly, and promote my blog about compassionate cultural immersion and volunteer projects with one simple click. I’ve even turned on my teenage neighbors to Facebook..but, with a price. Check out the foes of Facebook technology.

4. Maintaining Family Connections

Our families are spread out all over the USA and Canada. I enjoy seeing the latest photos of newborns (especially baby toes…I love baby toes!), family reunions, travels, and heartwarming discussions of our families’ adventures through life.

Facebook Foes

1. Connections

Really…how many Facebook friends can one have and still be attentive to their posts? It takes up so much of my time scrolling and responding and trying to be a good Facebook friend, when I should be raking mangoes instead. I’ve continued my routine from my Gringolandia days… morning coffee and Facebook first. But, living in the tropics, I really need to change my routine. If I rake my mangoes and attend to my outside chores any later than 9 am, I’m a heat stroke victim.

See what I’m talking about?

2. Information Gathering
Yes, Facebook is a wonderful source of news and information. I have hundreds of pages and groups that I ‘like’. But, let’s face it, during an election year in the USA, the political posts are annoying as hell.  Battles ensue daily. If I feel the need to respond to a particularly offense political post, which I OFTEN do, I have to spend the time fact checking, wading through propaganda, and exploring the media for an unbiased article. We ALL know that’s impossible. I try to ‘hide’ posts that get my blood boiling, but even that doesn’t work most of the time. I ask myself, “Why do I bother?” I live in freakin’ Nicaragua, a socialist country. *sigh* I really need to rake my mangoes! The fermentation and the sickening sweet aroma of rotten mangoes is making me sick as I fact check.

3. Technology
I thought I was opening the world to my teenage neighbors by helping them join Facebook. Instead, my house has become an internet café. My impoverished neighbors don’t have computers, let alone internet. What was I thinking?

Is this really progress? What have I done?

Plus, my internet connection is spotty. I had to make a special Woktenna to hold my dongle. Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Check out my post, here. My Woktenna.
I feel like a pusher and I’m addicting them, too. Naturally, when they joined Facebook, they have to check it, right? Sometimes, they come to check their Facebook at the most inopportune time.

Sometimes, I lie to them. “No hay internet hoy. Talvez manana.”  Then, I sneak onto Facebook…and have it all to my own. Shameful, right?  I’ve resorted to lying to my impoverished neighbors…all in the name of Facebook.

4. Maintaining Family Connections
I have to choose my status updates carefully. Not many of my family members were overly thrilled with us retiring in a ‘third world country’, or at least their perceptions of a third world country. I can’t post that Ron has parasites because he doesn’t wash the mangoes that drop to the ground. I can’t post that I had to wash and dress a dead gringo because there are no funeral directors here. Nor can I post that I’m afraid the volcano in our backyard is going to erupt any day now because it’s long overdue. They would worry. And, besides, they never read my blog, only Facebook.

So, there you have it. My friends and foes of my love/hate relationship with Facebook. I’m curious to hear from other expats. How do you feel about Facebook?

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15 thoughts on “Facebook for Expats: Friend or Foe?

  1. Not an expat but couldn’t resist commenting. Facebook is an excellent source of information but I believe it was originally meant for people to keep in touch and reconnect with people they have meet. I’ve deactivated and re activated my account many times and have given up deactivating it. I see people have hundreds of “friends” and always wonder do they really communicate. Are they truly your friend or just someone you meet? This world of ours full of advanced technology is it more efficiently run? If utilized appropriately perhaps…We all have an addiction…to shopping, to chocolate, to our sports…but as long as it doesnt control us.

  2. I loved this post! As our impending relocation to Boquete grows nearer and nearer I find myself wondering if I will succumb to the Facebook craze! I know I must be the last surviving human in the Silicon Valley,( we live practically next door to the Facebook campus in palo alto, ca) who does not have a Facebook account! I have a feeling that it will become a really helpful tool for me to stay connected to people back home. I can’t exactly articulate what my aversion to this social media craze is, but I’m dreading giving into it ! It could be that I know I will get seriously sucked in and I’m just not ready ! I really appreciated reading about your honest list of pros and cons with your addiction! And you made me chuckle about your inadvertent social media influence on your impoverished nieghbors , I could sooooo see myself doing that and then wondering how I got myself into it!!! Lol!! You really crack me up!! I’m sure there will be a day when you will get a ‘friend’ request from me, so stay tuned!! Cheers!!!

    • Holly, I resisted Facebook for years, until, finally, a teacher friend of mine convinced me to join. I added several parents of my 5th grade students and cautiously posted non-confrontational stuff, like inspirational posts. One day, an incident occurred in my classroom, while the Music teacher was teaching. I wasn’t there. A parent posted on Facebook about the incident, accusing another parent of poor parenting. All hell broke loose! The school director got involved. My students were fighting. The parents were fighting. Meetings took place between teachers and director, between teachers and parents, between students and teachers. It was a mess. I defriended everyone on Facebook connected to my school. For a while, I even unsubscribed to Facebook. Ahhh..life became tranquil and calm. But, then my addiction won over and here I am…on Facebook again.

      It’s much easier, now that I’m retired. I feel the freedom to say what I want to say without worrying about my job. I wrote this post because I still can’t decide if Facebook is a good thing or a bad thing for expats. I’ve tried all the social networking sites. I even made my own social networking site for a short time…but the only people that seemed to join were the “Call this number for a good time, women.”

      Only you can decide what is right for you. But, I have to warn you, if you have an addictive personality like me, it will be difficult! Thanks so much for your comments. Let me know what you decide….there’s always email. 🙂

  3. I continue to resist facebook – one because of copyright concerns and the other is the instant lack of privacy when it automatically connects a newby’s address book with friends of friends of friends.. or that’s how the dominoes played out on my first attempt and found me starting at names i’d prefer not to be associated with that were friends of friends of friends!

    as for the fish.. did you receive an answer? i caught a mystery fish here in ecuador, and so far no one has identified it. i learned to respect it quite fast!

    http://zeebradesigns.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/gone-fishin/

    z

  4. You would hate me-I am up to my eyeballs in the political battle- soon as I sell this house I just repoed, I am coming back- and,I hope,losing the political junkie habit, and learn to relax again.
    Facebook?every day, sometimes hours BAD HABIT,indeed!

  5. Ms. G, this is so true. I also have a love/hate relationship with FB, but in the end it is an easy way to exchange information, especially when you meet a cute girl. That wins out for me. also like being able to easily share with family and friends back home. Google Plus is better (and with G+ you could easily avoid some of the bads), but came to the game late, so what to do? I wish everybody would switch to G+, but hard to lose a database you have, ya know?

    • Haha! Lance, leave it to you to include another advantage of Facebook for expats. I simply didn’t think of that one because I’ve been married waaaay too long. lol I am on Google + and I totally agree. It came into the game too late and most of my friends hang out on Facebook, too. I should have included that, thanks to you, I got Strong VPN. Can you access Facebook in China without it?

  6. Totally empathize with you. My problem is the FB pages have a mind of their own. It changes stuff all by itself and I am lost in the options. I appreciate that you provide loads of great links. I, am afraid do no research and only pass on things that I think are inspiring. Political stuff makes me crazy. One of the nice things about living here, is that I really dont give a hoot as to what is going on in the 1st world!!! Information overload gives me a headache. I have coffee, read a good book, look at the scenery and check the pigs are all safe and secure. I seldom touch the computer until evening as my sister is in Scotland and I can read her posts while she sleeps. All in all, its like anything else. Moderation. LOL

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