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.
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.
MEET NINA HOBSON, A SELF-IDENTIFIED ‘SERIAL EXPAT’ CURRENTLY LIVING IN CHILE
Nina Hobson is a British lifestyle blogger and freelance journalist. She’s lived a remarkable life on the move and her expat journey spans 10 countries over the last 15 years. That’s an amazing feat considering she’s also a mother to three kids – all born in different countries along the way. Her husband and young children currently live in Santiago, Chile but plan on starting over in Ecuador after the dust settles from this pandemic. She talks about how she’s coping with this global pandemic, motherhood, her (surprising) favorite country so far and the most rewarding.
I read your blog post about expat spouses being able to relate to Covid stress. It may sound weird, but it’s really true.
We expat women have had a practise run at the coronavirus stress. I’m not suggesting that our struggles are on a par with the deadly disease that is Covid-19, but I reckon most expat women feel a weird déjà vu.
We know first-hand what deep loneliness is like. We were hosting virtual coffee mornings back in 2000, albeit with slower software. Many of us already quit our jobs to live as an accompanying spouse, so we understand what it feels like to dial down our independence to look after the household.
What events led your family to move to the other side of the world?
My husband was working in Nigeria and loving every minute of life there. However, I was in the UK as I was heavily pregnant and I didn’t feel comfortable giving birth in a brand new country, especially Nigeria where I’d been warned the healthcare system was lacking. My baby was born sick and struggling to cope with our first child alongside, I begged my husband to quit his job so we could be together. Then he found work in Chile and we jumped at the chance.
What, in your opinion, makes your expat story unique?
When the coronavirus dust settles I’ll be moving to Ecuador. This will be my tenth country move. (I’ve lived in the UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Syria, India, France, Germany, Angola, Chile as well as a short spell in Lebanon.)
My life abroad has afforded me such incredible experiences. I’ve studied in a conservative madrassa in Syria, volunteered in India, worked in Angola… Sunbathing alongside Kalashnikov clad soldiers, visiting religious sites that have since been destroyed by Isis, learning how to make the perfect Tarte Tatin, harvesting my own wine…the roller-coaster never ends.
Each of my three children were born in different countries, each were born into different languages in different health systems.
When you reflect on your experience in Chile so far, what are the best and ‘worst’ aspects in your opinion?
People moan about the weather in Santiago, but as a sun-deprived Brit, I think it is wonderful here. I love the mountain views, my community of friends, and the fact I get to practise my Spanish.
On the other hand, it’s tough being so far away from family. It’s an 18 hour flight to the UK and from there another four hours to get to my parents. I don’t like the thought of being so far away in case of an emergency. Like many expat mums, I always fear for my children in case something went wrong. With no family here, who would care for them?
I’d been warned about the classism before I moved to Chile but I didn’t expect it to hit me personally as an outsider. You definitely get a sense of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ here, which is very unpleasant. There isn’t really a social security blanket for the poorest, poor education has left generations trapped in poverty and people are understandably angry.
Last year the pot of discontent bubbled over and 1.3 million marched for social reform. Some protests turned very ugly, with shops looted, people robbed and so much violence. I do fear that the government’s planned changes won’t be enough and people will be left bitterly disappointed. I fear the violence will return when the lockdown is over.
You’ve had 3 children during your time abroad. Do you have any advice for moms in your similar situation?
Firstly, I think it’s important to remember that every experience is unique. It’s very dangerous to compare ourselves to others. Whether our child is sick, has special needs or requires extra care, it’s all so different. Some of us have family close by, have partners who are able and willing to help round the home, have extra help… some of us have nothing. It doesn’t help to compare ourselves with others more or less fortunate than us. There is no suffering scale and we don’t get points accordingly.
For me personally, it has helped making an effort to ensure the start and the end of the day go well. So, in the morning I’ll have extra cuddle time with my kids and enjoy a healthy breakfast. In the evening I’ll kick back with a glass of great wine over Netflix, or leave the housework to chat with friends. The bit in-between can be horribly stressful and chaotic but in my head I remember the day much more positively.
I also check out before I reach my breaking point. Back in 2014, my child was born with some health issues and as my husband was abroad I was left to cope on my own. They were very dark times. I’ve learnt from that experience and now know when I’m reaching my breaking point. Here in Chile we’ve been under strict quarantine for many weeks. We have three children, no outdoor space and my husband works all day into the early hours and most weekends. When I feel it’s getting too much for me, I ask my husband to step in. If he can’t I’ll lock myself in another room and time five minutes on my watch until I’ve cooled down.
For me, it’s also really beneficial to celebrate the good moments. To be really mindful of the wonderful times. This way when things get bad we can flashback to these happier times and envisage an exit.
Which country experience stands out in your mind so far, and why?
For me, every experience has afforded me invaluable skills. It’s not so much about the place, but the people. I loved living in Antwerp, Belgium, which surprises many people. Yes, the fashion scene is cool but it’s a grey, rainy city with a lot of ugly architecture. However, I had a very, very strong support network there. I had close friends to call on in times of need, I had people I could just pop by and see spontaneously without months of organisation.
Angola, on the other hand, was tough. It wasn’t so much the personal safety issues, the electricity or water cuts. Rather, it was the way I couldn’t socialise. I met so many great, interesting, fun, and kind people, but too often than not it was tough to meet up because of practical constraints – traffic jams, security issues, and so on. Nevertheless my most rewarding memories nearly all spring from Angola. I am so glad I went.
What’s taking your family to Ecuador?
Basically, the cost of living in Chile sucks and my husband has a promotion to go to Ecuador. It’s expensive. Compared to other countries I’ve lived in, it has the worst cost of living I’ve ever experienced. My family grocery bill is just stupid. We also felt that Ecuador was a safe but exciting place for our young kids.