The Maiden Voyage of ‘Ask Jenny’

askjenny

Well, the time has come for my first ever ‘Ask Jenny’!  Welcome!

‘Ask Jenny’ is a series where you can ask me about our travels, logistics, parenting on the road, my life before travel, or whatever else you have a question about. My plan is to post a call for your questions on Twitter and Facebook and of course here at the end of my post. In two weeks, I will write a post to answer one (or more) of them.  The only rule I will have is that the questions be kind. 

Two weeks ago, many of you asked me excellent questions that made today’s decision on what to answer a difficult, but exhilarating task. Please know that if I did not choose your question today, I have a list and will answer it in future ‘Ask Jenny’ posts. So keep asking, I won’t forget about you!


 

The first question comes from Terri at The Homeschooling Doctor:

“What’s an expat circle like? The kinds of people in them. Why they’re commonly expats. Etc.”

I am sure that there are differences in every expat community, so I will just answer what ours have been like. (All you other expats, please feel free to leave a comment and join in the conversation!)

Chad and I were expats in Taiwan when we were childless English teachers, and are now in Thailand as travelers and parents. Depending on which place we were, not only in location but life, our expat circles were different in many ways, but similar in some.  There are some things I love about being in an expat circle, some others, not so much.

First, let me say what I have found true about being an expat no matter what my life situation was at the moment: I have left myself open to be friends with people I normally would not.  The sole reason being that we had one thing in common-we are living in a foreign land by choice. Some of my dearest friends were made because I was happy to hang out with people who had different hobbies, or music tastes, or personalities. I love this aspect of being an expat. I have learned so much, grown in my beliefs so much, and matured so much because my views and beliefs are often different from my friends.

One thing that I have experienced on the negative side of expat communities, is that not many of us have “roots” here (i.e. extended family, friends from younger days, etc.).  This means, you must use your gut to figure out who is trust worthy and who is not. We have met a few people along the way that had wild stories about their lives and we had no way to back up what they said, so we’d believe them for a while. We have found that eventually their lies start to contradict themselves and their stories change and they don’t last long in our group.  Sometimes people leave their home country because they want to, some do so because they have to. It’s important to be a bit more wary of trusting someone completely right away than it would be back home.

There are many different types of expat: the travelers that loved a place so much they never went home, the people who are there because their employer made them, the opportunist that knew their talents would be better suited in another country, and the independently wealthy. This is by no means every type of expat, I am sure the list goes on and on… these are just the types that we have met. The kind of expats we are usually determines the type of expat circle we are in. For example, when we lived in Taiwan, we were childless English teachers, working part-time and often hanging out in bars and clubs on our off time. So our expat circle was mostly people doing the same things as us. Those friends were from all over the world, and had different values, hobbies, and tastes, but we all got along because we were English teachers, without children, and looking to have fun.

Presently, here in Thailand, we have a great group of expat friends. But they are very different from our expat friends in Taiwan. The way that we met many of our friends here in Phuket was through play groups, or by our children hitting it off in a restaurant, or something along those lines. Most of our friends are married, most have children, and so that makes what we do together a bit different. I somehow don’t think that the clubs in Patong would welcome a group of mommies and their toddlers (although I have heard of tourists occasionally bringing their children to the bars until late at night… poor kiddos).  We have play dates at the beach and at the nearby pool. We have barbecues at each others houses instead of going to  fancy restaurants (that does happen, just less often). It’s like settling into suburban family life, but on an island paradise. Not too bad really.

There are so many differences between us and our expat friends, from the slang we use, the jobs we hold, the backgrounds we emerged from, or the faith we hold dear.  But, despite all that we make each other our family because our real families are (usually) so far away. They are our emergency contacts, our help when we are sick, and our encouragement when we struggle with cultural differences and life events. Thailand is an amazing and beautiful country, and our expat circle has just enhanced our time here. It’s a wonderful thing.


Terri, I hope that answers your question. And  for all you expats out there, PLEASE leave a comment and let me know your opinions and experiences with being part of an expat circle. 

For those of you that are not expats, would you like to be one someday? If so, where? 

And if you don’t want to answer my questions, feel free to ask one (or more) for my next ‘Ask Jenny’ in two weeks! 

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  46 comments for “The Maiden Voyage of ‘Ask Jenny’

  1. journey2dfuture
    October 8, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    As an expat myself ive found there are two types. Those with money and those with a little less. Those with nannies,cooks and cleaners and those that do it alone. Im the one that does it alone. I find there is a huge devide between the two different types of expats. I dont go to wine bars i dont get my nails done and i dont go to the spa. And i dont send my child to pre school at 6 month old so i can stay home alone and do yoga all day ! Yes i wear my toddler i wash my own cloth diapers and i cook my own meals oh and im a bus wanker as we’re called because guess what i dont have a driver either 😉
    I like my life i have a very small circle of ‘friends’ but even those i dont call friends im fed up with reaching out and getting nothing back.
    Wow sorry for the long reply.

    • andthreetogo
      October 8, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      I like hearing other perspectives about expat life. Where are you living again? I thought it was England, but is it Poland? Why am I forgetting. Anyways, I digress. I agree that there are often huge divides in expats. I am glad you found some that are good friends though! It makes expat life much more enjoyable.

      • journey2dfuture
        October 8, 2014 at 9:20 pm

        I’m from England but living in Warsaw, Poland. 🙂

        • andthreetogo
          October 9, 2014 at 12:51 pm

          Ok, I was kind of right on both places I guess. haha
          I would love to visit Warsaw someday… If I do, we should go on a walk! I love hearing about your walking group… I guess that means I will have to come in summer though (which I probably would anyways). 🙂

          • journey2dfuture
            October 9, 2014 at 3:16 pm

            Now that could be exciting. Get in tough if you’re ever in the area. 🙂

    • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
      October 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      The money/not money thing can be a big divide sometimes. I find it crazy when the “not-money” people are actually quite rich, just not “let’s go to Sentosa and drop $1000 on a single bottle of alcohol” rich – and yet it’s like different worlds to some.

  2. The Vanilla Housewife
    October 8, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Love learning new things about you and your family. I’ve never been outside the country so I don’t know what it’s like. 🙂

    • andthreetogo
      October 8, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      If you could visit anywhere, where would it be? 🙂

      • The Vanilla Housewife
        October 8, 2014 at 9:53 pm

        I can think of so many places! But I’d like to start with Bali. 🙂

  3. freebutfun
    October 9, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Any chance of getting to know local people over there? Or is the life style too different for you to really meet?
    I think the expats that have become my friends (when abroad), have moved for similar reasons that I have. And sometimes it was nice to have others that also needed to figure things out fresh,and that you even could sometimes be frustrated with without offending locals (you know, things that are different, maybe in a good way, but sometimes it just feels frustrating to use so much energy on figuring out something that should be simple just because you don’t know the ways of the local country yet).

    I agree with expats often making the “safety net”, but I wonder if it would be more important to have a solid “safety net” now when it would be with children compared to when I/we have been abroad before kids? What are your thoughts on that, you’ve done them both?

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      We do have some Thai friends, but they are usually married to an expat, so they are not as local as you may mean. But, they are so very nice and helpful. Our friend, Jojo has helped us with many things to get settled here. So have our expat friends though as well. Thailand is pretty easy to figure out, most of the time. 🙂
      What do you mean by a more solid safety net? I am a little confused and don’t want to answer incorrectly. 🙂

      • andthreetogo
        October 10, 2014 at 8:41 am

        I think a solid safety net is very important no matter where you are when you have children. Chad and I have things set in place in case we get hurt, Z gets hurt and such as that. I guess my question is, Are you are meaning a solid safety net being family? If that is the case, I have an answer. 🙂 Of course it would be great if we had family nearby, but our choice to travel makes that impossible. I think that often “family” that one chooses can be just as good as blood relatives (sometimes better). I always think in the case of my family growing up, we had extended family, but usually my parents were on their own without family help. Although my parents were not expats, they still chose the “family” that became constants in our lives. So yes, I do think a solid safety net is important, but that it does not have to be family.
        I may be totally confused as to what you were asking though, so let me know.

      • freebutfun
        October 10, 2014 at 10:08 pm

        Good to hear you find Thailand easy to figure out!

        Not quite sure if know myself either exactly what I mean by a solid safety net 😀 But something along these lines: when we were travelling before kids, I was pretty happy to jump into knew things without knowing a soul and without doing too much research. Now, when we are thinking of where and when we’d live, it seems more important to me to know at least something of or somebody at a location already, know a bit more, know where we can get support if something happens… Or maybe that is just me getting older and more careful? 😉

        • andthreetogo
          October 11, 2014 at 7:47 am

          It does make it much easier to know someone first, but we haven’t had much trouble meeting people quickly when we don’t. Of course, we still consider ourselves travelers, so if one place doesn’t feel like a fit (like when we visited hua hin) we just move on. 🙂

          • freebutfun
            October 11, 2014 at 7:49 pm

            That must be the right mind set for travelling! 🙂

    • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
      October 9, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      Can I jump in and give my thoughts? I think it is more important to have a more robust safety net with kids (you don’t need much of a safety net without), and at the same time I’ve found the expat community does ok sometimes.

      But that’s probably the big thing about what journey2dfuture was saying above. In Singapore expats will assume expat families with kids have full time maids. So it’s tough when you don’t because there aren’t those automatic offers of help, and people will assume you can deal with maid-worthy logistics when planning social occasions. You can’t be all, like, well, 5pm isn’t good for me, because it’ll take me an hour to get there by bus then we have to leave again at 5:30 and that’s if we do takeaway or sandwiches for dinner and have the energy to wrangle two young kids on a bus by the end of the day without help. Instead it’ll be more like, why not five? Just get the maid to cook dinner and/or take the kids home when they’re tired? Earlier is too hot!

      So in other words the strength of that safety net does depend a lot on either living the same lifestyle as a big proportion of other expats or being able to fit in with the local community, which I think is easier in some places than others.

      • andthreetogo
        October 10, 2014 at 8:36 am

        I understand what you are saying Bronwyn. Luckily, I do not feel that it is assumed that we all have live-in maids here (in fact no one I have met here has a live-in one), help in the house is common, but not assumed. Many people do send their children to preschool, but I think that is a universal thing at this age, not just an expat thing. The locals here start sending their children to school at 3 years old, so that may be a part of it. 🙂

        • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
          October 10, 2014 at 2:04 pm

          I guess at the end of the day it’s all good as long as you can find some way to fit in. Sharing the same day to day goes a long way towards that. 🙂

      • freebutfun
        October 10, 2014 at 10:30 pm

        Thank you for jumping in! Interesting thoughts, having a maid is so far from my reality that I never thought of that making a difference in the safety net thinking. But I can follow what you say. I am just thinking of who we tend to make new friends with are often people in a similar stage of life and leading similar lives, so as far as it goes to a safety net, that must really make it easier to foresee the needs of others too.

        I think the only times I’ve been abroad (without kids) and I’ve felt pretty vulnerable without a safety net has been when I’ve been travelling alone and sick. With children so many more things can happen, so when toying with the idea of living somewhere else, I have a bigger need to find out more about it than I used to. But it might just be me getting older too?

        • andthreetogo
          October 11, 2014 at 7:49 am

          I will say that one thing we make sure of before we go to a place, is that they have adequate medical facilities. And aren’t in the middle of riots or war or something (that’s why we had to skip turkey last year 🙁 ). Besides that we feel pretty safe in most places.

        • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist
          October 11, 2014 at 10:08 am

          No, I think that’s it – you need to know the kids are taken care of even if you can’t do it one day. It makes a big difference. That said I think in most places there’d be a solution – you’d just have to be more prepared.

          • freebutfun
            October 11, 2014 at 11:56 pm

            Or more creative in finding the solution? But i agree, mostly there is a solution

  4. Valerie
    October 9, 2014 at 2:23 am

    This is a great idea! I would love to live in Ireland for a few years at some point. I think it would be far different from a vacation there (which I actually have no interest in doing for some reason!) 😛
    My question is: How does healthcare work? When you travel, and also when in one place for some time, how do you get proper health coverage? Is it all out of pocket?

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

      Those are great questions Valerie! I am adding those to the list for the future posts. Thanks!

  5. expatlingo
    October 9, 2014 at 2:57 am

    Wow…expat circles. The flow of thoughts shooting out of my mind is almost too wide to capture. I completely agree that, as an expat, I’ve made myself far more open to making friends with different politics/belief systems than myself and that this has been a really cool and beneficial experience.

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      My best friends were friends I made as an expat. And we are all so different. Do you notice a difference yet in being an expat in the Netherlands in comparison with Hong Kong? Did you feel more welcomed in either place by the expat circles?

      • expatlingo
        October 9, 2014 at 5:00 pm

        Because of my daughter being in international school, I have found it very easy to meet other expats both here and in Hong Kong. Funnily enough, UK was rather more difficult!

  6. mamabyfire
    October 9, 2014 at 3:04 am

    I had never heard that word before. So, now I know. And I feel like I know a lot about it. Love this series already!

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks! I really enjoyed writing this. I am glad everyone is giving me such thought provoking stuff to write about. 🙂

  7. Sasha
    October 9, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I love how you have found friends in those who you would normally not think you would click with. What a great adventure!

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Every part of travel can become an adventure, even making friends. I love the chaos and fun of it all!

  8. Benay
    October 9, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Jenny, this is an awesome concept – I think I may have to borrow it for my blog 🙂

    Great question Terri!

    I’ve been an expat since I was a teenager and I love it. I find that being a world traveler makes you interesting and opens doors to connect with people on both sides of the social scale. Both sides have plenty to offer in terms of expanding my ever evolving world perspecifve. -B

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      Go for it Benay! I would love to read some ‘Ask Benay’ posts. I agree with you about being an expat and how it evolves ones world perspective. I cannot even begin to say how much my viewpoints have changed. Thanks for commenting!

  9. theblackberryboys
    October 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Great POST! I was an expat living in Arizona, when I was a child. I had american friends. My parents on the other hand had friends who were also expats. I have a question: what made you choose Thailand as the country where you will stay for a longer period? xoxo Fanni

    • andthreetogo
      October 9, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      We have always loved thailand ever since visiting years ago. We had promised ourselves that “someday” we would live in Thailand. We love the weather, the food, the people, the landscape, and it’s fairly inexpensive to live in.

  10. Sue Slaght
    October 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    What a great idea for your blog Jenny. At this point we are sporadic travellers but in time living away for extended periods may be something we would so. I will know where to come for advice!

    • andthreetogo
      October 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      That’s a real compliment. 🙂 I already have you as my go-to bicycling adventurer/guru for when I do that someday… the more I read about your travels, the more I want to try. Although I think the Tuscany hills may be out of my range forever. hah

      • Sue Slaght
        October 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

        With a little training no problem and there is a support vehicle if you want to take a break. 🙂

        • andthreetogo
          October 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm

          I would probably be driving the support vehicle haha. But you do give me something to aspire to. 🙂

          • Sue Slaght
            October 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

            Well that could be fun too although I think it might be safer to cycle than drive in Italy. 🙂

  11. thehomeschoolingdoctor
    October 10, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I enjoyed every word, letter, and period. I read every comment. Interesting interchanges. I hadn’t thought about the different “socio-economic” classes of expats. Or stereotypes that may form. I do have another question stemming from reading this (and your other posts). When you start in a fresh city/place, how do you go about getting involved in those play groups for Z? Do you just go out to a park and see people? Or do you have a connection? Or is there an expat support group in each place you somehow know about?

    • andthreetogo
      October 10, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      It has depended on the place. Here in Thailand I used a site for expat women called chickynet.com to find playgroups and connect with other expat women. Every where else we met people just by chance along our travels. I am pretty social and have no problem just walking up to people and introducing myself and setting up beach days or whatever, so many people along the way were just chance.
      For anywhere that we go though, most of the groups on the internet are a good place to start. Most places have expat groups of some sort.
      In Taipei we met many people through a church we attended with an old friend. So, yeah, pretty much just random people along the way. 🙂

      • thehomeschoolingdoctor
        October 10, 2014 at 8:09 pm

        Yes. The internet. Forgot about that resource! 🙂 This makes me think of a Romanian couple who came to South Carolina to teach. We were at a park and we befriended them. Keep in touch to this day, even though they headed back.

        • andthreetogo
          October 10, 2014 at 8:13 pm

          That is one part I love about all this traveling, all the people I have met along the way I have kept in touch with. We have even met back up with some of them! It’s awesome!

          • thehomeschoolingdoctor
            October 12, 2014 at 7:40 pm

            I know! And then later in life, you can make travel plans to meet up with them again in their homelands! We plan to go to Romania some day.

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