On leaving the homeland indefinitely:

I posted this earlier today in response to cisum88note's post about getting a new life. breakfastattiffanysgirl asked the question: "Can I ask how did you manage to leave the country forever? Were you set up with a job before you moved?"


I had to laugh a little at the phrasing, 'how did you manage to leave the country forever?'. As if I had somehow planned it all out in advance with an eye to permanent escape.


I was indeed escaping one of the times I left the country, but it wasn't permanent, and I'll get to that in a minute.

In my experience, most long-term expats don't know in advance that they are going to be long-term expats, excepting immigrants and refugees who might hope to return to their home country and know they probably won't, and perhaps retirees who really plan to leave for good.

The rest of us leave, thinking we know what we are doing and for how long, and then somehow a three-month or year-long stint is suddenly five years long, then ten, and then as in my case, 25+ and I've spent more of my adult life outside the country where I was born than in it.


The first time I left, it was with my mother and step-father. I no longer lived with them, but he'd gotten a job in Germany and they invited me to take a break from college and see what it was like to live abroad. I was 18, just going into my junior year (I started college early), and at loose ends, so I said yes. What this short-term experience (1.5 years) showed me was that living abroad wasn't really so different from living at home, and also (crucially), I found out that I could learn and speak another language in a relatively short time.

The second time I left, I was escaping. I'd finished college, was again at loose ends, my mom had just died, long-term relationship break-up and a car accident all within a matter of a couple of months, and I wanted to put as much distance between myself and all that as possible. Also, I just couldn't get on board with the country under Ronald Reagan (I told you this was a long time ago). So I took crash course in basic Japanese and moved to Japan. I had the phone number of a friend of a friend in Tokyo, a travel guide for students (I don't remember which one), and some insurance money in my pocket from the accident.

I (easily) got a couple of teaching jobs that were well paid, a couple of private teaching jobs that were even more lucrative, and got approached on the street to do work as an extra for TV shows. I got approached to do a lot of other work in bars, etc., but really wasn't interested. But this was the late 80s and there was money all over the place for people like me with a college degree. I got a work visa and it was all smooth sailing, except for one thing:

Between my mom dying and my leaving for Japan, I'd met the person I thought (I knew) was the one. And he was (coincidentally?) from Germany. So...I left Japan after a year, thinking I could come back (I didn't), I went back to where my prospective life partner was finishing his degree in the US thinking maybe we would stay there together (we didn't), and then when he had to return to Germany because his student visa ran out, I followed him. We thought he would get into grad school in the States and we'd be back Stateside in 3-6 months (we weren't).


So, it just happened that I spoke some German. I got a job teaching English at one of the big language schools, and that got me a work visa. But as the months turned into years, I didn't much like that, so I applied for grad school and got in, ditched the job, and had a student visa. What I was really doing was working in film production through contacts I'd made while teaching - and that was the next five years. Prolonging my student visa, working on the side, asking the immigration authorities for exceptions to the student visa 'no work' rule so I could make money translating and writing, and so on.

It was absolutely no fun getting those extras from the authorities, and required all manner of verbal dexterity and excellent record-keeping. I worked for a while at a very nice restaurant where the owner was blithely unconcerned that I had no permit to work there at the beginning, and this really helped with the rent. I would say, overall, that I worked a lot - between the school stuff, transferring from a work to a student visa, and making ends meet, I had long stretches (years) with almost no days off, working all the time.

We could have just gotten married and that would have solved things, but we weren't really the marrying kind.


But after 6 years we got married anyway, and then my residency status was much easier, of course.

Hubby then got a job in yet another country, I got pregnant, and we moved to where we've been for the past 19 years - and for at least the first 10 of those years, we were always thinking we would move back to the States. But then he started getting job offers from the States - and we found ourselves oddly reluctant. As much as I missed the California coast, and he had felt that California was his home away from home, we just found we had grown into where we live here in France. And we wanted to raise our kid here, not there. And so he turned down the offers, and we stayed.

And now I have dual citizenship, the kid has the same, and she can pick where she wants to live/work/study.


So, I guess I'd say if you want to get out of Dodge, get out of Dodge. Go somewhere that interests you, get at least a basic level of language under your belt, take any job you don't hate, keep it legal (i.e. I always paid my taxes, made an effort to get permits and visas, etc.) and keep good records so the immigration authorities don't boot you out and so at some point you can, if you want, apply for long-term residency status. Teaching is a good foot in the door, but if you can find something, anything, in your own field, that of course is even better.

I guess you could get married, but like being a long-term expat, that's not for everyone.

My story, from the stories I've heard from many of my expat friends regardless of country of origin, is a fairly typical trajectory. At no step of the way was it planned out, life just evolved in the way it sometimes does, and we went with the flow. It turned out pretty well.


End notes:

1. I should mention that my student loan debt was not astronomical because this was a way long time ago. Also, I am probably a lot more aimless than many of you are or ever will be. I.e., I might have less attachment to one particular outcome, work-wise, than many people. My main interest was being with the person who seemed to make those other goals seem kind of less important. And: As a writer (and translator), I take my work with me.

2. Hubby has also been a long-term expat now for around 20 years, employed as a researcher in his field. He has said that if he hadn't married a foreigner, he probably would have stayed in his home country - but that he's glad he left. He also thought it wouldn't be forever (the move, not the marriage).


3. There's always that fickle element of luck.

4. But I thought it might be of interest to those of you who might be considering a big change, and how that might work out in the long run.