There’s this theme I’ve seen among my own readers and elsewhere in this niche. It’s that life abroad is a certain way and that all of us living abroad belong to this homogeneous group made up of people with the same experiences and ideas. It’s just not accurate. Let’s talk about this…
The living abroad experience is not one size fits all
I’ve seen crazy comments and emails that express this underlying assumption that everyone who moves to any area of France is going to fall in love with the lifestyle, food culture, the people, the healthcare, etc. Along with that is the belief that France, and all that comes with it, is inherently superior to life elsewhere, hands down, across the board, everywhere, for everyone.
NO! Just no!
How can anyone rationally think that? Yet I see it expressed over and over again online and in real life. Even if so many aspects of life in France are phenomenal, it’s not a utopia where everyone and everything is perfect.
People on the outside looking in make assumptions about what life is like abroad without taking the time to explore the experience for themselves. Most of the time, the people making these assumptions have never lived abroad and they feel your experience isn’t living up to what they’ve built it up to be in their heads.
Or if they have lived abroad, they’re the ones who move to France to “play house” and are critical of someone’s life that’s very different than the one they’ve lived.
On top of that, another trend I’ve noticed is that when anyone living abroad expresses any type of critical thought about their life, someone will come at them aggressively with a comment along the lines of them not being grateful for the experience or to tell them that they aren’t experiencing the country correctly or that they should be ignored because they’re just being negative. My favorite is, “Well, if you don’t like it, go home!” So helpful!! Ugh.
It’s one thing to have a critical discussion that remains respectful and another thing entirely to act dismissive, uncaring, and rude.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t love and agree with everything about the USA but I sure as heck don’t flippantly tell those living there to move away when they complain. I didn’t appreciate NYC rush hour traffic but I loved my life in NYC and I already was home.
Certain aspects of life in general can provoke critical thoughts and negativity. We’re humans, after all, and life is life no matter where we live on the planet. We think about stuff. It’s not all good. So of course life abroad isn’t exempt from that fact.
To ignore anything critical or negative would be pulling the blinders over our eyes and that’s certainly not real life….
You can still love a place and enjoy yourself there while still noticing the not so positive aspects of life. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I think it’s more normal to see pros and cons than to see everything through rose-colored glasses 24/7.You can still love a place and enjoy your life while still noticing the not so positive aspects of life there. Not every living abroad experience is the same and that's a good thing.Click To Tweet
When I see someone acting rudely toward someone else expressing a critical thought because their living abroad mentalities aren’t identical, it says to me that the person doing the shaming places a high value on the idea of living abroad. That it’s #goals and amazing and something they would love to do.
And I say that’s awesome if living abroad is a goal of yours or just happens to be where life has taken you. It can be amazing. So take the steps to do it instead of criticizing someone else for processing their sometimes-hard-to-process feelings.
Anyway, it’s this sentiment I see over and over that if we are living life outside of the “norm” of what’s expected, we’re missing out or not doing the abroad experience right. Maybe we don’t travel enough or speak French fluently enough by others’ standards, but please remember that we never know what’s going on in someone’s life. Coming at someone defensively and full of judgment is never helpful.
Here are 3 examples that I personally know of where people abroad were hurt by ignorant comments:
1) A newly single mom working a minimum wage job to provide for her child getting shamed for not traveling more and seeing how beautiful France is… when she barely has money for food. Or any free time.
2) A person writing on an expat forum about how hard the bureaucracy is in France and asking if someone can help with documents in French, getting told they should speak French fluently by now after living in France for 3 years…. not realizing the person’s spouse just died and the bureaucracy has been particularly hard to deal with when you’re alone and grieving with no support.
3) A retiree telling a student living abroad who’s having trouble making friends and is lonely to just get out more and try harder… not realizing they suffer from crippling depression and it took every ounce of strength they had to pursue a study abroad program.
And so on…. no one living their life abroad is doing anything more right or more wrong than anyone else. Most people are living their life on their terms and trying to do the best they can in the moment. The best thing we can do is offer support and try to be understanding.No one living their life abroad is doing anything more right or more wrong than anyone else. They're trying to do the best they can in the moment. The best thing we can do is offer support and try to be understanding. #expat #expatlifeClick To Tweet
Life abroad is real life. It’s not always pretty.
I told you that one of the hardest things about living abroad for me is experiencing real-life struggles, just in a different culture and language. If you’re abroad long enough, you or someone you love is going to go through a hard time and experience the death of a loved one, a health crisis, relationship issues, financial issues, job stress, or something along those lines.
That’s not what an old friend wants to talk about when you only have 10 minutes to catch up. It’s not what people want to read about on blogs or see on social media. But it is real.
So often we share our best life online. That goes double for travel blogs and spaces where beautiful imagery sells the dream. We share the good, the shiny, the positive, the beautiful. We upload the best vacation pics and the ones of ourselves looking good and happy.
But real life isn’t always good, shiny, positive, and beautiful and why should we pretend it is? It feeds into the notion that life abroad is a cure-all for all of life’s ills.But real life isn't always good, shiny, positive and beautiful and why should anyone pretend it is? That feeds into the notion that life abroad is a cure-all for all of life's ills.Click To Tweet
Something I stress on my blog is that everyone’s experience abroad is going to be different. When readers write to ask me general questions, I always preface my reply with, “Well, in my experience…” because we all chose a life abroad for different reasons and bring our own ideas, background and needs to our new life. There is no single “life in France” experience. My answers to questions people ask me are unique to where my life has taken me.
Here are a few reasons why life abroad isn’t one size fits all:
What are your motivations for moving abroad? Are you moving to a big city or small town? Will you be working? Are you resilient? Do you have support from friends and family? Do you speak the language? Do you have kids and will they attend a local school? Does your time abroad have an end date? What do you hope to gain abroad? Are you ready to sacrifice certain things?
There are so many reasons for why our lives look different abroad. Honestly, my days probably look a lot like yours. Just in a different culture and language.
Most days, my life is nothing fancy. I work, I grocery shop, I work out, I walk the dog, I clean. I’m not here just passing through for a set period of time. I moved to France permanently. Or as permanent as anything can be. I have a French spouse. I don’t live in Paris. I didn’t study French in college. I try to look on the bright side of things. I get back up when I fall.
I’m just an American living abroad in France. Nothing more, nothing less.
That’s why over on Facebook, I share articles from all different types of people and not just those living in France, not just my experiences, and not just stories from people like me. I post articles from people living all over the world. Students, retirees, singles, couples, those who love their life abroad, those who are really struggling, and perspectives from those who are in between. I don’t only share rosy stuff because my point is that life isn’t all rosy and doing so wouldn’t feel authentic to me.
And it really grinds my gears when I see someone sh*t on another person’s experience or perception or feelings just because those things don’t match their own.
There’s no typical living abroad experience. We all have valid stories to tell and it’s so important to keep our ears and minds open. My experience is mine and I get so much out of sharing it with you on my blog.
Thank you for being here and listening.