Relaxing at home in southern Thailand

Author’s Note: In this “Living and Working Abroad” series, my aim is to demonstrate how anyone can experience genuine fulfillment and self-discovery through different, freer ways of living – ones that are not narrowly focused on blind ambition, resume building, or saving the world, but more so on following your heart, discovering your life’s purpose, moving with the natural flow of your energy as it connects with the universal energy. By keeping it simple, easy and not forced, this may involve “living outside of the box”, experimenting with lifestyles learned from other cultures and different ways of living – being open to other priorities in life.

There are many social and economic benefits to living abroad. The lower cost of living in many countries can be tremendously liberating, no matter what your age or condition. Teaching English is a rewarding way to stack up some chips, and pay off school loans. Teachers are also highly regarded in most places, and the respect shown to elders is particularly refreshing. So, instead of getting older, you just get better!

If you are considering retiring in a foreign country (full-time or as a seasonal “snow bird”), investment in your overseas “dream home” can be a real bargain. Vibrant expat communities are emerging in countries throughout the world. But be prepared for “developments” that may impact your chosen surroundings. Over the years, I have moved from idyllic island hideaways that became too busy, or badly developed. Places tend to change over time, and not always for the better.

Whether you are retired overseas, working as a career expat, a budget traveler, or a young volunteer on your first overseas assignment, see what attachments you can release – how free can you become?  On a limited budget and away from all the luxuries and assumed “necessities” in the West, you can eliminate vast dependence upon material things and lifestyles. For example, in many parts of the world, public transport is widely available, convenient and cheap – so you can easily and happily do without a car. Imagine that!

Raise money and gifts-in-kind fearlessly from other foreigners living abroad. They never feel like they belong, or are truly involved with the populace. In this way, you can give them a chance to enter, and deal with a nagging guilt feeling. The funds you raise will be immense in the local economy, and inspire similar work among the locals. Unemployed (often bored) spouses of expat workers make enthusiastic volunteers as well.

Get a regular physical check up – most of us pick up things overseas, and do not realize we are being dragged down by a new bug. And don’t assume you can more easily get these things taken care of at home. Doctors in the field know the problems better, and state-of-the-art healthcare is available in most countries for a fraction of US healthcare costs.

Be open – so much comes from the “chance things” that come up. Even a dreadful all-night bus or train ride may win you the acceptance for more meaningful work later. Be aware of the frustrations and accept them as a reality to be expected. In this way, you can avoid the creeping dependency on alcohol and other drugs, sex workers, dull routines, or friends who rob you of your fullness. Embrace the wisdom of daily yoga (or some form of exercise) and meditation for commencing each day with a calm, clear mind.

Keep a journal – it helps you recover and even discover amazing and funny things which happen to you. (My posts here draw from 40 years of personal journal entries!) Remember that the only real learning comes from experience. Rereading it often gives you a sense of gradual progress over time as well. Take pictures early on while it is all still fresh.

Visit a local “backpackers” hostel for a fresh batch of fearless and exciting friends. And when discouraged, visit the lobby and pool of the best hotel in town, and over a drink, ponder the one-day cost of the tourists around you, in order to visit this place where you live absolutely for free. For an added lift, take one to a local eatery for a bowl of noodles and a real view of your country. (This results in a big, free supper for you at the hotel later!) Ponder also the freeing value of this wealthy, retired man’s experience you are able to have while still young. It will always change the way you live for the rest of your life.

Stay tuned for “YMCA Intern in Sri Lanka”, coming soon! 

You can read more about Jim’s backstory, here and here

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