I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of expat-ness. What does it take for someone to leave everything behind? To move to a new destination with a thousand unknowns, dive headfirst into starting over with a new culture, language, people, cuisine, novelty abound. It might look glamorous at times, but longterm life abroad isn’t without hardship or awkward adjustments; it’s also full of beautiful and surprising twists and turns. After living in six different countries, I’ve met many interesting, inspiring, and strong women from every corner of the globe who took the challenge head-on and made something great of it. I’ve looked at them as an example of feminine resilience and strength.
This #WanderWomen series highlights diverse women around the globe who took a leap of faith to leave comfort and familiarity behind. In some cases, it was to find love, work, to follow someone themselves or someone else, I’ll share candid stories with you every week to inspire the inner adventurer in you, to remember that no matter where you start over, there’s a new home waiting to be made if you’re willing.
Today I’m highlighting some wandering American women who are scattered across the globe and living expat life every day.
EMBRACING IDENTITY IN MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Growing up in Texas, Sarah Lewis always felt proud of her Mexican heritage but realized there was a lingering disconnect from her roots. When she traveled to Mexico a few years ago, she instantly became entranced by the people, the pace, and the culture. It was then that she indulged in her love and curiosity for Mexico and planned to return. Once she returned to Mexico City, Sarah and her best friend decided to launch ‘On The Table’, a series of exhibitions and workshops under the umbrella of their project, Index.
Why do you love being abroad? Why do you love Mexico?
For me, exploring new cultures, new cities, new countries, also deepens my ability to explore my own self, which in turn allows me to appreciate further and feel more deeply connected to my surroundings. A continuous cycle of curiosity, and Mexico City indulges it all. That is the ABSOLUTE best part. And perhaps I’m cheating because it encompasses so many things – but that’s also Mexico. It’s so utterly diverse. Every neighborhood gives you a different glimpse into the culture, and every person welcomes you in, literally, to look more closely at it, to experience it. The generosity that I have seen and been shown here is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. You learn from it. You carry it.
What was the tipping point for you to finally make the move?
One of the weekends, my best friend Sara met me in Mexico City, and as we were walking around talking about the energy here, we started fantasizing about what it would be like to actually stay in the city for an extended period of time, to be at the SOURCE of that energy. Then we decided, why fantasize? Let’s do it. Our plan was to come for three months…When three months passed, Sara went back to LA. I stayed. It’s been 2 years and 8 months, and I still have no plans of leaving.
What has been your biggest struggle so far living in Mexico?
The biggest struggle for me is that I feel like I am a different person here. Not because my personality has changed, but my language has. While I am proficient in Spanish, I am not fluent. I don’t have the same elegance in Spanish as I do in English, or the ability to become incredibly passionate. If I’m discussing or arguing about something, the box for words to grab from is smaller than my trunk of English. As a writer, language and the ability to express is everything to me. And yet here, my personality is clipped. Every day that changes, though. (Growing pains!)
Any advice for people wanting to move like you did?
Be open. That’s it. Be open to people and possibilities, and yourself.
SELF-DISCOVERY IN MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
For Mar Rosati, a four-night Groupon trip to Mexico turned into a month long excursion, then a year. Eventually she returned to the US and to her then-husband, only to leave a year later on a round-the-world solo trip to nearly 50 countries in over 9 months. When she returned, she didn’t feel like she belonged in the US anymore and realized it was time to end her ‘passionless’ marriage. In 2017 she left her life behind and started over in Colombia where she’s now formed a strong-knit community and has co-founded a foundation to empower young women.
What is it about the US you don’t quite align with anymore?
When I go back to the US, within minutes I see all the strip malls that sell little that’s actually necessary for life…the way everyone in suburban US pulls into the garage and goes straight into their safe house without engaging in their community. I’ve come to feel more at home with the poor, happy cultures than the places that are materially wealthy but feel spiritually empty. I realize that’s a generalization and ‘judgy’ but it’s what’s real for me. I engage far more locals when I travel alone than with company, and I get to do what I want when I want. But dining out or going dancing on a Saturday night while alone can be awkward at best in some places. I often stay at hostels to balance things out.
What surprised you most about solo travel during the 9 months you were exploring?
When I [solo] travel I get adopted by the loveliest people, from my taxi driver in Cairo who invited me to his brother’s wedding minutes after meeting me, to the Bedouin who showed me how to wrap my head in a scarf and put kohl in my eyes to the ladies shelling beans in a village market in Vietnam who wanted to give me free samples of everything. These people all had nothing and wanted to give it away to me for the sheer joy of giving.
What expat life lesson do you want to share with my readers?
[Living abroad] has given me the ability to create and find my favorite things and attract my “tribe.” This has given me the confidence to walk into any situation anywhere in the world with a confidence and grace I’ve never had before. Of all the lessons I’ve learned in this expat life, learning how to resource myself and vulnerably ask for help have been the most powerful and lasting.
LIVING THE IDYLLIC LIFE IN LAKE COMO, ITALY
Celia Abernethy was a model from New York who walked the runways of Paris, Tokyo, and Milan. At the peak of her jetsetting and modeling, she was told that at 25 she was ”too old” to continue her career. Instead of giving up and packing up for NY, she decided to continue on living la dolce vita and became a student in Milan. She never returned to the US. Now her and her husband live in idyllic Lake Como and she’s at peace with her choice to stay.
What’s it like to live in such a gorgeous place?
I live in the town of Lecco on Lake Como, Italy. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived…18th century villas, long lakeside promenades and charming villages make it a very glamorous destination. What most people don’t realize is that Lake Como is far less expensive than many other areas of (northern) Italy. My husband and I were living in Milan and decided to move here not only for its beauty but the cost of living was much more affordable. The natural landscape is so calming and uplifting.
What’s the most difficult thing about being so far from home and for so long?
When you live far away from your family you live with mixed feelings of guilt and pride. Guilty that you are not there for holidays or important life events but proud that you are living independently in a different culture.
I knew I had made the right choice when my parents came for our wedding. They had never been to Italy. After a walk around town on the day they arrived, my dad said “I completely understand now why you want to live here. You made the right choice.” Him saying that completely wiped away any guilt or doubt.
Is there something you still struggle to adapt to in Italy?
The language is also a challenge. Even after more than 20 years, I am still learning the language and trying to improve!
Countries lived in: US, England, Spain, France, Germany, Japan
Websites: http://milanostyle.com / https://lakecomostyle.com
SHEDDING MISCONCEPTIONS IN SHANGHAI, CHINA
I met Megan Fuehrer when we were living in Makassar, Indonesia. Her bubbly personality is infectious and I was so happy to meet her and experience a sense of home if even for an afternoon over coffee. Although we hadn’t known each other long, I felt she could relate to me in a way I had been so missing. She currently lives in Curaçao and works as a wellness and yoga coach. Thinking back on her expat life, she had some really interesting insights on her time living in China.
What made Shanghai special to you?
The opportunities this city offers are incredible, it’s definitely a you can do anything here mentally. I was able to have my own yoga studio, something that would take months of set-up in the states, took no time at all here. Oh and the food scene is amazing: any cuisine you could ever want, from 5 star restaurants to the best hole-in-the-wall dumpling shops you could ever find.
What cultural misconceptions did you have, if any?
Chinese people don’t know what we know about certain topics due to government control and banning certain sites like Facebook, Instagram and Google, so it’s not judging them for this, but understanding it’s their way of life and what they know or do not know is not their fault but just how their culture and upbringing is. My closest friends would ask me questions about certain off-limit topics and I would be able to give insight to them. I learned so much about perception and cultural differences and how to navigate these conversations and develop friendships that respected these cultural differences.
MAKING THE MOVE FOR LOVE – GHENT, BELGIUM
I met Katie Boucher back when I lived in Belgium, and just like her, I know what it’s like to move to a foreign country for love. Many expat women might agree with what Katie says: “the hardest parts remain hard, but become manageable and accepted over time. There will always be difficulties no matter where you live!”
After being in Belgium for 3 years, what would you say are the main pros of living there?
The absolute best parts about living (in Belgium) are the security you feel with healthcare, food prices, cost of living is (more) manageable (compared to some places in the US), and how bikes are more a part of everyday life then I’ve ever been used to! I was drawn in by the European charm, the ease of travel through Europe, the novelty of everything. I think I can honestly say 3 years later that it still is charming and I still appreciate the good qualities.
What did you have to get used to when it came to dating a Belgian guy?
I would say getting used to the family visits and going ‘home’ to see them so often. In the US, I didn’t live close to my family so it was hard to, but here in Belgium I think since it’s such a small country it’s more common to every weekend.
What are the downsides to living in Belgium?
Flights cost so much money and time to go back and forth to go home to see your family, it’s no longer a few hour drive home for a weekend, so all in all the distance. The weather isn’t ideal for half of the year, and it’s more difficult, I think to make a deeper connection to make friends (outside of work and some clubs/activities.)
Countries lived in: US, Belgium
PINNING DOWN PURPOSE IN LEEDS, UK
Allison Whitaker and her husband moved to the UK when his company acquired new business there. They enjoyed living abroad together in Malaysia a few years ago and decided to take on the task of moving again. Allison now works as an entrepreneur as Video Marketing Strategist and is loving the entrepreneurial challenge.
What inspired you to go solo as an entrepreneur abroad?
Purpose is such a hard thing to pin down and with the added complexity of moving with Adam so frequently, it just made sense to do my own thing. I love it!
What makes living in the UK most enjoyable for you? Less enjoyable?
One of the first pleasures I discovered living in the UK was the ease of traveling within the country and to Europe. It’s really easy to find common ground and communicate with locals which has helped me feel at home quickly. Hearing (and trying to replicate) unique accents of each region and learning local sayings has been a lot of fun! The UK also has a vast array of conveniences that make life easier like Amazon Prime, Uber, online shopping, and grocery delivery.
I can’t complain about life in the UK, well except the weather; but then how would we start a conversation? 🙂
Countries lived in: US, Malaysia, England
Do you have an expat story worth sharing or know someone who should be featured? Please reach out to gorgeousglobe AT gmail.com for more information.
FOR MORE #WANDERWOMEN STORIES, HEAD HERE.