9 American Expats on What They Wish They Knew Before Moving Abroad

9 American Expats on What They Wish They Knew Before Moving Abroad

Learn from their hyper-specific experiences.

By Lindsay Tigar

For some folks of a certain stripe, it's not enough to make short (or long) journeys from home: It's about leaving the U.S. altogether in search of a different life abroad... whether for work, love, or leisure. But is that all-new life always what its cracked up to be?

From not being able to find the right shoe sizes in Asia, to learning how to cook in a teeny-tiny kitchen, here’s what citizens living abroad say they miss the most about their home country.

1. I wish I had known that big kitchens were an American thing.

Andrew Bliss, Taiwan

“When I lived in America, I remember the kitchen being the center of our home. As a child, it was the place for casual family meals, game night, and the hub for every holiday. As an adult, it became the place to cook dinners with friends while making use of four-burner stoves, an oven, and gobs of counter space. But after ten years in Asia, this kitchen culture is all but a distant memory.

Having lived in China, Korea, Japan, and now Taiwan, one thing is consistent: the kitchens are tiny. They are generally narrow galleys with a two-burner stove, and built-in ovens are a rarity. If I ever do cook a large meal, it takes about 15 minutes to clear enough space just to be able to start chopping. There is barely enough room for me and a wine bottle, let alone a few good friends to keep me company while cooking. Here in Taiwan, most people pick up a meal on the way home and use the kitchen to add a quick veggie dish or stir-fry.”

2. I wish I had brought my own cheese and bread.

Nina Ragusa, Thailand

“The one thing I wish I knew before coming to Thailand was how dire the bread, cheese and wine situation is. I would have had a truck load delivered to me! Every time I wanted these items, I was led on a wild goose chase to find it, shelled out double than what I would have back home, and was provided with something that was less than half of the quality. I’m a wine, cheese, and bread fanatic and if given the choice to keep my body as is, I’d live on the stuff. Don’t get me wrong, Thai food is the best and I ate it daily. But at night when watching a good show, all I wanted was a small plate of the good stuff while drinking my favorite red. Not too much to ask, right? Oh, so wrong.”

3. I wish I would have brought more baby powder.

Naomi Hattaway, India

“I should have packed a truck load! The true benefits of baby powder when living in a climate that can be described as a full-on frontal experience with the hottest oven you've ever opened. The hot months of India are incredibly hot. The years we were there, the summer average temps have a feels-lke index higher than 50 degrees celsius, or 122 Fahrenheit. I was told early on in my time there to buy a lot of baby powder — but I didn’t realize how much I’d honestly need. It was crucial to saving my thighs from constant rash and chafing because of the pools of sweat from the immense heat. That and wearing skirts to (as an Aussie friend said) ‘fan the undercarriage!’”

4. I wish I knew that ‘plus one’ was an American thing.

Peter Lombard, Colombia

“There is a strong line of demarcation between personal and professional here. In the states, I would often be invited to bring a plus-one to nearly any kind of professional type event. From a conference to a networking event to a dinner party. On the contrary, here in Colombia, any work related event is just that, no one else is invited. And when I ask about it I get the range of reactions from, 'Why would you want to go?’ to 'What's it to you?' to 'That's crazy!' It frustrated me at first, since I don't work locally I can't invite anyone and have to wait for the invitations, but over the last few months as I've asked more people I've realized that they just don't mix. And it's strange to me considering a normal work day here is 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at least five, if not six, days a week.”

5. I wish I had started to ween myself off American brewed coffee before we left.

Megan Zavieh, Australia

“When we prepared to go to Australia, I was a complete Starbucks brewed coffee addict. I’d heard that Australian coffee is amazing, due largely to a historical Italian influence, so I looked forward to a good cup of strong coffee down there. When I arrived, I hunted down a Starbucks and had the absolute worst brewed coffee ever. The barista was even surprised when I ordered it, as I don’t think they sell much of it. As time went on, I got used to the fact that by ‘coffee,' Australians really mean what we in the U.S. call lattes (usually ordered there as 'flat whites,' which really aren’t quite the same).

At home, I used a French press to brew my coffee, but I very quickly learned not to serve it to Australian guests, and they couldn’t comprehend why I would steep my coffee like tea! In the end, I gained a love and appreciation for a fine cup of coffee, hand crafted and carefully poured, though I still drink my fair share of brew back at home.”

6. I wish I would have brought more hair ties and tampons.

Lola Mendez, India and Albania

“I have been in India volunteering and traveling for three months. During this time all of my hair ties have decided to mysteriously disappear as they always do. You'd think finding hair ties would be simple in a country where most of the women have long luxurious hair that they wear in braids daily. I was in Mumbai when my last hair tie broke. I went to various pharmacies and grocery stores to try to buy more. Nothing. Eventually, I caved in and took an Uber out of the city to Forever 21 where I was able to buy hair ties, hair clips, and the style of lingerie I am used to wearing. So lesson learned: Pack as much underwear and hair ties as you can fit into your baggage. These comforts are key to not feeling uncomfortable on the road.

I also spent a month in Albania last summer and was in the north in a rural city called Shkodra where very few people spoke English. I realized I had run out of the female products that I had purchased in Italy where I was previously living just when my time of the month came around. I went to several pharmacies searching for tampons and was always scolded at or asked to leave. I didn't think to save one tampon to have a visual example of what I was looking for. On one occasion, when trying to use charades to get the female pharmacist to sell me tampons, she turned bright red and handed me condoms with downward cast eyes. I pointed to the pads, which were meant for elderly people who can't control their bladders, and used those throughout my cycle. That night I purchased my menstrual cup which will hopefully let me avoid any further embarrassing attempts to purchase feminine products.”

7. “I wish I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy shoes my size!”

Sheridan Becker, Singapore

“I'm based in Singapore. I'm also rather on the heavy side and have big, enormous feet to match with my body size. I wear a size 10 shoe! I have enormously flat feet. I also wear big clothes. And... finding shoes and clothes for someone my size is an enormous challenge in Singapore. Don't even get me started on trying to find a pair of Levi's jeans. Finding big-sized woman shoes is like finding a needle in a haystack, nearly impossible. And clothes, forget it — I got so desperate from eating all the fabulous food Singapore has to offer that I started gaining weight and out of desperation, I started to make my own clothes!”

8. “I wish we knew we’d need whole new electronics.”

Linda Martinez, Italy

“One of the things I wish I had known was that none of our electronic items would work there even with an adaptor. We brought a television, a video player, and a turntable, and the first time we tried the television smoke started coming out from it! We found out that there is an adaptor for the plug style and then there's a transformer. U.S. electronics work on 110 volt, but several devices such as computer chargers and mobile phone chargers can function on anywhere from 110 to 220 volt since it converts this AC current to a low voltage DC current anyway. All you need for these devices is something to adapt the U.S. plug to a European one. However, appliances made for use in the U.S. like televisions, hairdryers, can't work on 220 volt, which is what is used in Europe. They only work on 110, so if you plug it into 220, it'll fry it.”

9. “I wish I would have brought spices, salt, and hot sauce with me.”

Ian Centrone, Argentina

“As a culture, Argentines generally refrain from spice and seasoning. For example, when you go out to eat at a restaurant in Buenos Aires, you can find salt, but never black or red pepper. I'm obsessed with all things spicy, and have had the hardest time finding a decent hot sauce in this city. Many eateries and grocery stores don't even carry an option. If I could do it over again, I would be sure to bring some of my favorite hot sauce brands, or at least a family-sized bottle of Sriracha to add a kick to my meals.”

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