Why I was miserable living overseas

In this report, I explain why I was miserable living overseas.

Just listen to this video once now if you are not yet retired overseas. Then just remember this one thing I said, “There is a good chance you will wake up one day miserable while living overseas.” Just remember I said that.

When that happens, you will remember I shared some ideas in this video about how to find your way back to happiness. Come back and watch this again on that day. If you can’t find it, send me an email. I will email this back to you.

Some people will never have this miserable day overseas. But in case you do …

Let me start by explaining why some of us have that miserable day.

I will use myself as an example. I first left my home country in 2007. I moved halfway around the world. When you feel miserable eventually, you won’t care what country I lived in first, because it will make almost no difference in what I am about to share with you.

But I left the United States almost 17 years ago. I have lived in or visited 67 countries in my life. If you are like me, you spent your entire life picking and choosing everything you loved most in your home country. Let me give you some examples.

There was a family-owned Italian Restaurant where I last lived before leaving the US. They made a Pasta Aglio e Olio that was out of this world. I have never tasted anything like it anywhere in the world.

Pasta Aglio e Olio is usually made with virgin olive oil, toasty garlic, fresh parsley, fresh lemon juice, and crushed red pepper. But this Italian family made a supercharged version of it. It had extreme amounts of garlic and a bucketload of crushed red peppers.

I loved it so much I went there every Friday night for almost a year. This was not a restaurant for me. It was like a spiritual retreat. I didn’t realize how worshipping that dish once a week made me feel like I was winning in my life. It was life-affirming for me until I left the US.

One Friday morning, it became clear to me how important that particular Pasta Aglio e Olio was to my existence. That Friday morning, about 3 months after I was living on the other side of the world, I realized that the best Pasta Aglio e Olio in the world would not be on my tongue that night.

But I was still in total denial about it. So I launched my mission to put that flavor back in my mouth. I will explain how I finally got an even better flavor in my mouth. Then I will explain how I learned to love my new life without looking back anymore.

That miserable Friday morning I searched on Google and made a list of every restaurant in town that might have Pasta Aglio e Olio on the menu. Cost was no object. I wanted it bad. I found an Italian restaurant that actually had Pasta Aglio e Olio on the menu. So I made reservations that Friday night. I am not usually a reservations guy while overseas.

It was one of the most expensive restaurants in my new city. It was a fine-dining restaurant in one of the finest hotels in town. The price of the Pasta Aglio e Olio was way overpriced compared to the other international restaurants in town. It was even 10 times more expensive than the common local dishes in the family-owned restaurants in my neighborhood.

I didn’t care. I wanted that flavor in my mouth again, I was willing to try anything. I was even willing to pay that ridiculous price to get it.

So, what do you think happened when I put their Pasta Aglio e Olio in my mouth? At that price, in that tablecloth restaurant, in that fancy hotel, it must have tasted amazing, right? No. It was a big disappointment.

The pasta was overcooked, they didn’t have enough virgin olive oil or enough garlic. There was zero crushed red peppers. Given what they put in front of me, the price was embarrassingly stupid to be served by what otherwise appeared visually like a legitimate restaurant.

Do you think that big disappointment taught me anything? It did not. I guess I am a slow learner. So I proceeded to ask Google and my expat friends where the best Italian food was in town. I went to at least 5 or 6 more Italian restaurants in town before I realized that nobody would be able to put that flavor in my mouth on Friday nights.

So, I started hunting around town for other dishes from home. I tried pasta primavera, margarita pizzas, french croissants, Spanish omelets, burritos, enchiladas, salsa, mashed potatoes, fettuccine alfredo, and other international dishes.

None of these foods I found overseas were as good as what I could get, at 10 different restaurants, within a 5-minute car ride in my hometown.

The only thing I could find that tasted anything like home was McDonald’s French Fries and Domino’s plain cheese pizzas. In my home country, I would never eat Domino’s pizza, but overseas it turned out to be a go-to comfort food when I was homesick.

So how is any of this bad news going to make you happier overseas? Just give me one more minute to explain how I got all those favors in my mouth and then I will explain.

One day it finally occurred to me that Pasta Aglio e Olio is not that complicated a dish and I should try making it at home. I easily found all of the ingredients and they have continued to be easy to find all over the world. It wasn’t long until I had perfected Pasta Aglio e Olio.

In fact, my gourmet Pasta Aglio e Olio has more garlic, more olive oil, and more crushed red peppers than anyone else’s in the world and it is the best in the world. But I have also learned how to make Spanish omelets, salsa, mashed potatoes, burritos, enchiladas, and many other delicious dishes better than any of the restaurants from home.

I have become such a great chef traveling the world, that I was able to win over Qiang Hui’s affection a decade later while traveling through Malaysia in 2016. The first thing she looks for in a man is someone who can cook delicious spicy food.

Okay, time to get to the point.

Before you leave your home country, you have all sorts of things that give you comfort and you will be leaving those behind. You won’t even realize what all of them are until they are gone. Food is not the only one.

So what was I doing wrong?

I was trying to find my old culture in a new part of the world. And when I couldn’t find it, I didn’t give up. I kept trying to find my old culture in the new world. I even learned how to cook so I could bring my old culture with me into the new world.

At least with respect to food, my personal interest in the foods around me in the new world was very low. Instead, I was all about finding my old culture in the new world, and when I couldn’t find it, I switched to learning how to create my old culture in the new world.

My behavior broke the first two rules that send many people home early from life overseas:

Problem: Rules to ruin overseas retirement without really trying:

One: Focus wholly on trying to find your old culture in the new world.

Two: And when you can’t find it, focus wholly on trying to recreate your old culture in the new world.

I am not telling you to abandon your old culture wholly. I am just suggesting that you not focus wholly on recreating your old culture in the new world. Heck, I still make my world-famous Pasta Aglio e Olio at least 2 or 3 times per month.

I still make my world-famous Spanish omelet once or twice a month on Sunday mornings. I still make mashed potatoes and green beans on Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I am still recreating my old culture as I move about the world.

I just don’t focus wholly on my old culture anymore. I will explain what I do when I enter a new country to guarantee my success in a moment. But first I want to explain why focusing wholly on your old culture might result in a miserable early end to your overseas life. Here is why you will get so annoyed

Why you will be miserable overseas:

One. You will never find a satisfying version of your old culture in the new world. In other words, you will probably never find that perfect pasta dish in the new world, so you will just be annoyed every time you eat the inferior version.

Two. You might have to pay more to eat the inferior version in the new world. In other words, the inferior pasta you find overseas, may actually cost more in the new world than it does in the old world. Overseas, pasta is fancy foreign food. So you will be paying more for the inferior version than the real thing will cost at home. That will annoy the hell out of you.

Three. You may not learn to cook as well as me. So, whenever you crave comfort foods from home, you will be constantly annoyed that they keep putting inferior food in front of you and charging you as if you were in a gourmet restaurant.

But food is not the only thing that might annoy you. Everything about the new world will seem different from your old culture. The roads are different, the laws are different, people may honk their horns too much, there might be noises you don’t hear at home, and they might not have pool halls, bowling alleys, or sports bars. They may not have bike lanes, the roads might not all be paved, and people may not understand you when you talk.

But for everything that annoys you, there might be something that you admire like thousand-year-old temples, new beautiful music, different cultural arts, clothing, food, and architecture, people that respect their elders, people that are polite, people that don’t fight in public, people not yelling at each other about politics, new ways to exercise, new social dance and yoga, new waterfalls and mountains to climb, white sand beaches lined with gently waving palms trees and turquoise water, a calmer life, a new love by your side, and fewer money surprises that empty your monthly budget before the end of the month.

So what is the solution for your success in the new world?

Become a student of the New World

You have to become a student of the new world instead of just being wholly focused on what is missing from the new world. It is okay to keep one foot in the old world so long as you also learn how to bring the other foot into the new world.

You don’t need to totally abandon your old self. But you can never fully accept or be happy in the new world if you are unable to connect with the new world in some meaningful way.  The way to connect with the new world is to raise your awareness of the new world and honestly appreciate it and the people who live there.

So how do you do this? You can accomplish this more quickly by studying the new world.

One. What is their history? Who are their founding fathers? I kept seeing a name pop up all the time when I was in South America. There was a brave man who helped most of Latin America win their independence from Spain. His name was Simon Bolivar. Simon was a Venezuelan military and political leader who helped Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia win their independence from the Spanish Empire.

I am from the US, and one of our founding fathers was George Washington. So when I learned just a little about the founding fathers of South America, it sort of raised my reverence for the people as a whole. Simon Bolivar not only freed his own country from colonial rule, but he traveled to all of the surrounding countries and helped them win their independence also. So when we were in Santa Marta Colombia, we made sure to visit the estate where Simon Bolivar died in 1830 to learn more about his life.

When I started learning about the history of each nation I traveled to, I started to respect the people of those nations. Not just military leaders, but artists, writers, and charity workers. Learning the history and struggles of a people gave me more reverence for all the local people standing around me as I walked through these beautiful cities of the world.

Wherever I am in the world now, I look for the statutes in the middle of parks and I go read about those people when I get back to my computer. When you understand the people, their struggles, and their traditions, you will begin to see their culture through rose-colored glasses.

Two. What foods are famous in that part of the country? Who makes the best version of that dish in your city? It is probably not surprising to you that a country halfway around the world full of people who have never tried to eat 50 different versions of pasta in restaurants in your home country, don’t know what it is supposed to taste like, right?

So why was I thinking they would know how to make the best pasta I had ever tasted in my 47 years of living in the USA? So, looking back, it was stupid of me to think one of those 5 Italian restaurants would have my favorite version of pasta, wasn’t it?

But do you know what foods they are likely to be really good at? Their local foods. They have spent hundreds of years perfecting their local foods. It may take you eating in 5 or 10 of their restaurants before you discover your favorite version of the most famous dish in that part of the country. But once you have found a family restaurant that makes your taste buds dance, you are well on your way to being happy in that country.

So the key to being happy overseas is being a student of the new foods instead of trying to find an acceptable version of foods from home. Here is a tip on how to find the best version of that local food.

First, even if they speak English in whatever country you are in, translate the following sentence into the local dialect on Googe Translate: What dishes are famous in ? Then Google that translation instead of the English version of the sentence to get the local (dialect) names for the famous foods in that area.

Then Google Translate this into the local dialect: What restaurants near me make the best near me. In the Google results, look for the highest-rated restaurant making that food and go try that dish in that restaurant. Do that for each of the dishes. There is a good chance you will find something you love in that country if you do this.

Three. How do the local people associate together and entertain themselves? How do they congregate publicly when they are not at home or work? Is it a cafe or tea culture, meaning they congregate in local coffee and tea houses and chat for hours? Do they meet in public parks and people watch and socialize? Do they congregate through spiritual means such as churches and temples? What are the names of their gods and what are their principal beliefs? You don’t have to switch religions but knowing about things like Karma and forgiveness may help you understand the ethics of a culture. Are they a sports-minded culture that meets in large or small stadiums to watch and cheer for their sports teams playing the visiting teams? It is okay to have some expat friends, but you need to also become a student of this new world so you begin to develop local friends so you develop your connection to your new world. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to befriend locals and have them teach you about their culture, their foods, and what makes the people of the country unique and interesting.

For each of the things that define you in your old world, be willing to seek out and find the local versions of that in your new world. It is okay to keep one foot in your old world, but to feel connected to and finally love this new world, you need to develop an affinity for the new world also.

The US State Department teaches Americans who are moving overseas on assignments how to get past this difficult period that many people experience in their first year living overseas. To learn more about that, watch the video appearing in the upper right-hand corner now.

Thanks for watching this video we will see you in the next video.