When Americans go to live overseas, it is usually because of their job. They go there to work, and for most of us, the arrangement is temporary. When we know that we are transient, it is easy to get into routines that are unbalanced. Family and personal health can suffer as a result. Here are a few things I have found that help me stay balanced as an expat.
Cut the grass.
OK — I realize that many people who move overseas will end up in an apartment where they don’t have a yard. So, if you are fortunate enough to find a house with a nice little yard, cut your own grass. But if you find yourself in an apartment building in the middle of the city, let this be analogous to maintaining your own home — just as you would if you lived in your home country.
The reason for this is that many of us end up settling for a living situation that we would never accept back home. Things break and we don’t get them fixed, we neglect to hang pictures on the walls, and we fail to make our homes into the nice, warm abode we would have made otherwise. Your home needs to be your castle — a place where you can relax and be at ease after a long day of work. Don’t neglect this subtle element of life, or you will come to regret it.
Learn to fix things yourself.
Over the years, plenty of things have broken in our houses, and we’ve been in need of a handyman plenty of times. Don’t misunderstand me — there is nothing wrong with calling a handyman. However, I have been disappointed so many times that I decided I was better off just buying some tools and learning to fix a few things on my own. And in the end, I think I’m a better person for it — I ended up gaining good skills and maybe (maybe not) saving a few bucks in the process.
Make things with your hands for your family.
This is a personal belief of mine, so feel free to disagree or leave a comment below. I believe that spending time making and doing things with your hands builds discipline and patience, traits that are necessary for successful family life. It also helps you take pride in something you’ve produced by the sweat of your own brow — a process that can positively influence the way you do your “real work” when you are at the office.
Ride a bike or walk to work.
Many who move overseas find that it is suddenly possible, in their new surroundings, to eschew driving a car, at least for the daily commute to and from work. I took up commuting by bike last year, but in years past I had always walked. Many joke that it’s part of the so-called American weight-loss plan that American expats commonly take up when they move overseas: cut out fast food (because it doesn’t exist), walk everywhere (because you often have to), immediately lose x-number of pounds 😉
Participate in sports.
This is a big habit that can be healthy in more ways than one. Participating in sports with a group of people, be it organized sports or just a pickup game in a park, builds friendship and camaraderie. And in the end, the relationships forged may be the biggest positive outcome of spending a couple hours playing a game.
Find community activities for your children.
Your children would be involved in a dozen different extracurricular activities if you lived in your home country. So don’t just assume that while you’re overseas they’ll be fine spending all their time either at home or school. They need time at friends’ houses, local libraries, etc. And they also need things to do that stretch their physical and mental abilities. Find them a tennis school or organized swimming lessons. Enroll them in an art class at a church or local school. Find something — you won’t regreat the experience, and they will make new friends.
Go on dates with your wife.
This is the big thing that many of us tend to neglect for some reason. If we were in our home country, we would not go years without taking our wives out for a nice coffee or dinner together. But for some reason, when we move overseas, that becomes acceptable. Buck the trend! Find a babysitter and go out — even if it’s just for an ice cream or a nice walk in town, and even if it’s just for an hour or two. You need to spend time together, without the kids and without the distractions of life abroad.
Become a connoisseur of local attractions, restaurants, and cafes.
I still haven’t done this, but I would like to. It’s important to become aware of the nice things to do in one’s town. It’s especially important when hosting guests from out of town — something that us expats tend to do a lot of. Learning about one’s surroundings also fosters a willing spirit and an increased appreciation for the city.
Keep up with local cultural events.
This is related to the previous point, but implies an ongoing habit of keeping abreast of the events in one’s town or city. If there is a festival or concert in town, chances are it would also be a good opportunity for a date.
Find a regular watering hole.
Find a great place, and find some friends who will go there with you regularly. I have a group of men with whom I go to a local pub once a week. This is a great time, and I look forward to it each week. As a foreigner, you don’t have that many opportunities to simply go and spend time with people, tell stories, and cut up. Even if you don’t imbibe, most “pubs” around the world serve espresso or other drinks as well as alcohol, and don’t care if you personally choose to abstain. Take this opportunity to let your guard down and be yourself — you won’t regret it.