Overcoming Fear Part Two: Expat Living

Life isn’t working out very well for you in your home country. You want a change. You need a change. Your very survival might depend on your ability to change, but you still resist the idea of leaving home. What are you afraid of?

a walk in sihanoukville 2006
This is one of the first photos I took in Sihanoukville. I took it because the scene was so unlike the Sihanoukville I thought I would see.

Objectively speaking, we should owe no allegiance to the country we are born in. We do, though, because we feel a sense of national identity. Borders are imaginary lines. but step across a border and life is very different. The people speak a different language, have different laws, can be of a different colour and may be richer or poorer than the people in our birth country. Our birth country may not be the best country for us, but we are familiar with it and it feels safe. Step across the border and who knows what might happen?

That’s the crux of the fear of expat living. We fear the unknown.

What do we fear? It can be any number of things:

  • Some worry about a perceived lack of medical services
  • Some are afraid so-called 3rd World countries are filled with desperate people who will steal from or even murder you just for a meal
  • Some are put off by rumours of a despotic government
  • Some fear a more affordable country will lack the amenities they need

The list goes on, but in every case, the fears are imaginary until you have personal experience of a country or city.

“But I met a guy who lived in Ecuador for three years and hated it,” you say. “He came back to the U.S. and swore he’d never leave again.”

That may have been his experience, but others love Ecuador and dread the thought of having to return to the United States.

I met a guy who visited Costa Rica, but was afraid to cross the border into Nicaragua. I met another man who lived in Costa Rica for many years, but moved to Nicaragua after Costa Rica became too developed for his taste.


You know what brought me to Sihanoukville? Curiosity. I bought a Lonely Planet guidebook in Phnom Penh and it didn’t sound very appealing. That made me curious. I wanted to find out what it was like for myself. It certainly wasn’t spit-polished, but that was part of its appeal. It was a real Cambodian city that happened to be in a beautiful coastal setting. Had I listened to Lonely Planet and not let curiosity be my guide, I wouldn’t be here today.

Our imaginary fears hold us back from so many things in life. Direct experience is always the best teacher. You don’t have to burn your bridges, but if life isn’t working out for you in your home country, visit a country you think you might like when you get a chance. If you like it, take a closer look at what it has to offer. If you don’t like it, the country right next door might appeal to you more or you might want to travel further afield next year.

In Part Three of this series, we’ll look at the anatomy of fear.

One thought on “Overcoming Fear Part Two: Expat Living

  1. Hi Rob,

    I came here from your other blog on Sihanoukville. There is a story behind it, a very interesting one; it strangely relates to the finger pointing at the moon, Enlightenment, fear and Sihanoukville.

    I’m currently in Sri Lanka, Trincomalee, and would like to start a blog about it. I want to keep the same format you have in Sihanoukville Journal, and if and when it gets developed – get affiliated with your blog. There are no expats here, bar myself and another three people. The place is a virgin, perhaps, what Sihanoukville was like years ago.

    I teach English here, no other expat teachers right now. Need to take it further. I was thinking about moving to Cambodia (the strange story has much to do with that), but perhaps, need to explore Lanka a bit more, it has been a year after the big bang of so called ‘enlightenement’, a fast departure from the UK and now finding my feet here. I spent a year in a state of shock after the BB event. It has been life changing, only now coming into Being, so to speak.

    I’d like to ask your permission to use a similar format to your other blog. Don’t know what will be, just an idea, but I loved your blog and your style of writing, open and unpretentious,


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