When I moved to Panama, I had never heard of the term “expat.” I arrived in 2018 as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During my two-year service, I met these people called expats, since my small community was just 30 kilometers from Boquete, where a few thousand expats lived.
I found the expat lifestyle to be very interesting. I loved the idea of moving to a new country, starting fresh, having new experiences and forming new connections.
However, I did not yet think of myself as an expat, even though I was living abroad full time, which is the basic definition of an expat.
So, in a sense, I started my journey to expat life twice. Once when I made the jump to become a peace corps volunteer, and again when I made the big decision to stay in Panama for the indefinite future.
My Journey to Expat Life: A Volunteer Goes to Panama
Once I got through the rigorous Peace Corps application process and found out I would move to Panama, many of my friends and family got worried. They thought it was dangerous, crazy even, and that two years was too long to be away.
It’s a Mindset Thing
But my mindset was different. I was excited to travel, and my plan was to go work for two years, at the end of which I would move back home.
Worst-case scenario, I hated it and would return early. That mindset helped me to get over a lot of fear. Of course, I still had many concerns and uncertainties as well.
At that point in my life, I was only 22, fresh out of college, and I probably would not have moved abroad if I didn’t get the Peace Corps job.
Maybe I would have applied for a “normal” position because I didn’t feel ready to go abroad on my own, even though I desperately wanted to travel and have new experiences.
My Journey to Expat Life: Job Abroad Ends – Decision Time
At the end of the Peace Corps, I had met my fiance, and I wanted to move in with him. But the fear crept in again. Even though I knew I could live in Panama and I felt comfortable here, this time, I was deciding to move indefinitely. I had to reevaluate the expectations I had for myself. My entire plan was going to change. I was going down a path that was not the “normal” in the society I grew up in.
My Journey to Expat Life: Expat for Real – A Gigantic Leap of Faith
I would not return to the U.S. to pursue grad school or government work. Instead, I was going to take a gigantic leap of faith and become an expat in Panama “for real.”
This was nerve-wracking for me and exciting at the same time.
I knew I had to embrace this new lifestyle and let go of what my friends were doing back in the States, let go of comparison, let go of everything I thought I would do at this point in my life.
I was scared. Would I find a job? Would my new relationship work out? Was I throwing away my potential to have a brilliant career in the U.S.?
In the end, I knew in my heart that I would forever regret it if I didn’t make that leap of faith and give living abroad a chance. And if it didn’t work out, that would be okay, because at least I followed my heart and I gave it my best shot.
My Journey to Expat Life: Expat by Trial – Get a Taste
So, my advice is to try it out. Just get a taste! Do some research and have fun! Planning an exploratory trip for a few weeks or a couple of months could help you get over your fears and uncertainties. One reason it was easier for me to move to Panama as a Peace Corps volunteer is that I moved with 50 other volunteers.
My Journey to Expat Life: You’re Never Alone
But you don’t have to do it alone. Even if you don’t plan to move with family or friends, there is likely an existing expat community where you can go.
Connect with them! Expats have tons of knowledge, connections, and tips & tricks.
I would highly suggest you meet up with expats and locals in the community where you want to move.
You can find them on community Facebook groups, and many towns have popular expat gathering places as well.
My Journey to Expat Life: Growing Stronger
My journey to expat life has opened my mind a lot. I now have more confidence in myself and my ability to start over at any point. I know I can go down a path that isn’t prescribed, normal, or perceived as safe.
I totally get how scary it can be to make the jump from thinking of becoming an expat to actually making the move, but we are here to help. We’ve done it, so ask us questions, and connect with us here on TCI. Where will you land?
by: Megan Thompson