How becoming an expat helped me meet life goals


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Moving to a foreign country is a lot like writing a book. It’s something 80% of people would like to do but most never will. It’s challenging, inspiring, scary as hell, and requires the loyal grit and determination of a cat chasing a laser beam.

You can be the most beautiful, emotive writer, spinning streams of golden prose that dance gracefully across a page – and yet, in the same moment, be a terrible storyteller with no sense of character development, plot, or narrative structure. Then, there are born storytellers. People gifted at crafting tales that intoxicate readers with just the right amount of complexity, soul, and intrigue. A twist here, a turn there. Literary origami. More often than not, these people are not great writers.

Then, there are the experts – we cannot forget factual accuracy. So many specialists, historians, sci-fi nerds, and PHD’s attempt to write books leaning on the near-religious grasp they have of a subject matter—but again, gripping facts and accurate situational dialogue do not, alone, make a good book. It’s incredibly rare to find that all the qualities of true authorship embodied by a single person. What being an expat has taught me is, it’s a game of playing your strengths.

Many people, myself included, dream of writing a book. Like living abroad, where does one even begin to prepare? What does it even mean to be prepared? What if I don’t have the tools I need to do this right? The key is, don’t think—just do. In the expat life, this mentality has led me through painful challenges, up volcanoes, across deserts, and through a tempest of soul-quaking adventures. Why should life goals be any different? Only creative expression can transport you from the passive condition of thought to the active condition of sensation and there is nothing more creatively inspiring than experiencing another culture.

The expatriate life has given me freedom to know what I want, and the visceral stimulation to deliver it into reality.

Expat Resolutions: 6 ways to get inspired in the new year


MADDIEFAT

If you only attempt what you know you can do, you’re never going to do much of anything. But reach too high and you’re doomed to fail from the start. Where’s the balance?

This is why setting a New Year’s resolution is such a blind hamster marathon. You never really know if you’re setting off in the right direction.

Expats living thousands of miles from the support of friends and family have the hardest struggle of all to set and achieve New Year’s goals. This is compounded by the fact that the number one fear of those living abroad is not safety, homesickness, or culture shock; it’s the fear of not fitting in.

We’re terrified of not being accepted – not finding our place in natural the order of things. Is there anything worse than a life “on the outside”?

This leads many expats to indulge in a hurricane of social activity as a way to compensate – we want to feel like a part of the local community. We want friends!!! Unfortunately, this leaves typical resolutions like exercise, alcohol detox, and weight loss to fall by the wayside quicker than you can say Margarita Monday.

So what’s the secret to getting inspired in your expat life of 2015? Here are 6 tips to help you to target your resolutions and overcome your deepest expatriate fears:

Choose goals that work with your lifestyle:

One of the biggest mistakes expat resolutionists make is setting goals that grind harshly against the grain of their lifestyle.

For example, if you live in a city like Amsterdam that gets a daily dump of  snow this time of year, don’t set your weight-loss goal around jogging. If you live in a city like Rome where decadence is institutionalized and every dish is loaded with carby, caloric deliciousness, don’t pin your diet plans on avoiding fatty foods. Because you won’t.

Instead, mold your resolution to your city: What do the locals do for exercise? Are there a ton of bike trails nearby or a beach to run along? In Buenos Aires, the “thing to do” is roller blading. Locals gather in groups of 20+ and zoom their way from one suburb to the next with the grace of ballerinas and the attitude of 1980’s street thugs. It’s a great way for expats to bond with the community, make friends, AND keep weight resolutions!

Narrow your focus:

Another classic mistake is making too many goals spread over too many sections of your life; it’s like not having enough butter for your toast. I was never very good at juggling so I always find it to be a safe analogy – you can hold two balls in your hand securely, but as soon as you start to juggle more you’re likely to drop them all! Picking one or two goals your really comfortable and inspired about will make it easy to keep them.

Have confidence in yourself:

According to research by professor of psychology ALbert Bandura, a person’s level of motivation is directly proportional to what they believe they are capable of. People will only take you as seriously as you take yourself so the first step to keeping any New Year’s resolution is to have confidence that you can do it. If you’re doubting yourself, it’s probably not a great choice. I’d love to learn calculous sometime, but that’s just reaching for the stars.

Sorry, that’s a lie – I don’t want to learn calculous even a little.

Plan for obstacles:

Don’t assume it will be easy. If you do, you are giving yourself an easy out. “It’s raining today? Oh, I didn’t plan for that, my run is cancelled”. False! Professor of psychology Peter Gollwitzer reports that people who mentally prepare for obstacles are more likely to stick with their goals than those who don’t. Make sure there is a plan b in your pocket for the likely hick-ups and distractions. If you give up at the first sign of trouble, you were never really in it to begin with. This goes for every relationship, including the one you have with yourself.

Play the tourist:

Nothing is more inspiring about the expat life than the rush of cultural reciprocity. Exploring your foreign oasis with the fresh eyes of a tourist can give boring, tired goals new life. No matter how long you’ve been living in your city, there’s always more mysteries to uncover! Make a healthy-eating goal fun by trying more local dishes or exploring a new restaurant scene. Take a jog to a part of the city you’ve never seen before.

Just do it:

People ask me all the time how I ended up in the expat life, and in reality it’s because I just…did it. Many expats will tell you they spent months or years planning their continental leap, researching every tiny detail and comparing one city to another. That doesn’t work for me. If I sit down and plan too much, I get totally overwhelmed. Before long, I’ve completely lost my ambition in a cloud of risk analysis and apprehensive confusion.

It’s much the same with New Year’s goals – it takes strength of character; you have to dive in with everything you have before you lose heart and direction.

At the end of the day, we only get one shot at living so follow the advice of Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

3rd World Nations: How is Guatemala different?


© Matt Dayka - Vitamin Angels GT14-9688Reduce_RBC7690

You cannot walk down a street in the loneliest Guatemalan town without encountering it.

The gentle enthusiasm, friendliness, and sociability expressed by every local, from the oldest woman to the youngest baby. Travel to China, India, or Thailand and you’ll be accosted on every street corner with wares and services—but not here. There is a gentle civility that blankets the commercial clamor. A kind, creative calm.

And it’s not just social etiquette. Mayans give off such a radiant vibe that it colors the atmosphere around them. It is palpable resilience, proud and authentic. Decked head to toe in the most exquisite hand-embroidered traje, broad smiles and quirky curiosity utterly betraying the hardships they endure.

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One day, I was walking down the main road lost in the doldrums of un-actualized intent. Slowly twilight began to soften the edges of the sidewalks and cast the volcanic peaks in a scarlet haze. My gaze swept gently across the lane; was the kind of day where it’s both really easy and really hard to remember you’re alive. Suddenly a colorful woman smiled at me and beckoned me over.

Where are you from?” She asked.

I told her about my journey from Australia, her gaze teeming with wild fascination. “I hope that one day, maybe when my family is grown, I too can travel like you,” she said.

Beaming with pride, she stepped aside to reveal a sprightly little girl. As she danced in the milky half-light, I tried not to notice her bare feet or the mud caked under her tiny fingernails. The girl smiled slyly, then dashed into their booth. She came out holding a stack of warm, freshly baked tortillas.

“Amigas,” she said. “Por siempre.” She held one out to me like a new mother offering her newborn child. Well, there was no refusing such an offer. They smiled warmly as my taste buds melted on the first Mayan food I had ever tasted.

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Over a month into my time volunteering with Mayan Families, I find that the same warmth and character oozes from every corner of this amazing country.

Traveling True in the Developing World


Explaining a developing country to someone who has never seen one is like teaching a blind man to paint. He can hold the brush and imagine the colors, but the abstraction can never be actualized to intent.

It takes a certain level of visionary consciousness to confront the honesty that oozes from every cobble and crack. Quantifying impoverished localities means awareness—open eyes, open ears, and open heart. Awareness is not pity, sorrow, or sympathy. It’s an agreement to see and appreciate the world around you from outside the comparative lens. It’s quiet observation, nurtured by a respectful curiosity. It’s sharing in the enthusiasm, friendliness, and sociability expressed by those struggling under the poorest circumstances. Most of all, it’s feeling awed by a cultural community where poverty, trust, and goodwill thrive in tandem.

Unfortunately, this state of mind is not fundamental or inherent. It takes commitment and reflection, as well as a passionate respect for what lays beyond one’s understanding. It’s been my experience that most travelers remain disengaged, despite total immersion in a developing culture. They flit from one visceral encounter to the next with hasty unaccountability. Their days are scaffolded to fulfill one self-gratifying agenda or another; they do not hear, think, or see beyond the tragedy of foregoing first-world conveniences. Every exposure and observation, for them,is colored by their own perception of what’s right and normal.

Embracing twilight from a terrace in rural Guatemala, I witnessed one of the worst examples of the disenfranchised perspective. It was close to 9pm and most shopkeepers were rolling down their gates after a hard day of work. One booth remained open, manned by a girl about 12 or 13. Her frock, sandals, and emotive gaze were as downcast as they were colorful. As I studied her, a group of American tourists surged up the lane—three teenage boys ducked inside her booth and peevishly rummaged through her goods. They snickered, playing with their smartphones and shoving each other into her carefully arranged wares. None of the boys offered a glance her way, as her mouth sank into an expression of gritty fatigue.

Laughing, one of the boys stepped backward and tripped over a vase. The group turned to stare as hand-painted shards splintered across the pavement. For a moment, the boys just gaped in silence at the wasted terracotta. They looked at each other, then the girl. She didn’t make a movement. Her jaw quivered. Suddenly, one of the boys shrieked and took off down the street. The other two followed—they broke into peals of giggles, their voices echoing through the night air as they caught up with their group.

I dropped money on the table, grabbed the basket of rolls, and ran out of the restaurant. She was in the street, sweeping up the shards with tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Let me pay,”I said, shoving a wad of bills into her tiny hands.

She tried not to accept it, but after a few moments she gave in and took the bills from me. I offered her the rolls from the restaurant and she gingerly accepted those as well. We sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the moonlit tranquility. Her native language was Kaqchikel, a spoken language indigenous to the Mayan people, but eventually we were able to exchange a few ephemeral pleasantries in Spanish. I learned that she works every day from sunrise to sunset, earning money to care for seven younger siblings. Her one wish was to go to school, but for the time being her family needed her income to subsist. Despite it all, she was optimistic. Happiness isn’t conditional, it just is. In just a few minutes, she demonstrated more courage and heart than anyone I’ve ever met.

In this moment, all the tyrannical urgencies of life were extinguished and I could see things exactly as they were. For every act of blind disrespect, I hope that as we evolve as a people and a species, there is always someone watching. Someone who cares.