©2020 by Jen Knight

  • Jen Knight

Expat Expectations Versus Reality


When I moved abroad six years ago, I didn't really make proper preparations. I had never visited China. I didn't know where I would be living. I had applied for a job kind of on a whim, gotten it, and it started in Shanghai two weeks later.


So I packed a suitcase, jumped on a plane, and the rest is history!


Still, I did have some expectations of how my life abroad would be...and of course life had its own plans. Here are some of the realities you might not expect (and if you are an expat you know exactly what I am talking about!)


Expectation: I'll pick up the language naturally

Reality: You make a serious effort or learn nothing


When I was in university I spent a lot of time studying and traveling around Latin America. I picked up Spanish almost effortlessly, so I figured it would be the same with Mandarin. Wrong.


I had to study, practice, and memorize just to get my taxi Chinese down. With a language so hugely different from English, you need to go all in or you won't learn it at all.


Expectation: I'll make lots of new friends

Reality: You will meet lots of people, but it is more difficult to find besties


In San Francisco I had a ton of friends, and over years of living there my most important friendships became super close. There was always someone to hang out with or talk to.


Living abroad you will meet lots of people, but often they are only there for a few months, or they leave the next year, or they go back and forth between countries. So it is much more difficult to find lasting, bestie-type friendships.



Expectation: Moving will completely transform me as a person

Reality: Wherever you go, there you are


So I did totally transform as a person, but not because I moved abroad. What I found when I got to Shanghai was the reality of who I was staring me in the face.


My issues were right there, and I couldn't ignore them. So I started working on them, and that combined with years of expat life has changed me in so many incredible ways!


Expectation: I'll eat mostly local/street food

Reality: I eat mostly at foreign restaurants and shop at the foreign grocery stores


Chinese food in China doesn't really resemble the American Chinese food I grew up eating, so I was in for a rude awakening when I got there!


I figured I would be eating local all the time, but I craved comfort foods from home. There was a western style pub, a German bakery, and an Italian restaurant right across the street from my apartment. And I ordered my groceries online from an amazing Western grocery store.


As you can see from all these examples, expat life is never what you think it will be. It takes guts and confidence - but the reward is worth every minute of discomfort.


Working with me can help!


To learn more about how you can create more confidence and get the results you want in your life, book a free discovery session with me. We will work together to get clear about what you really want, determine what is holding you back, and identify powerful actions you can take to create your best life abroad. Book here: https://calendly.com/jenknight/free-session


About me


Hi, I'm Jen! I am a US expat currently living in Thailand with my wonderful husband.


I always strive to learn, grow, and be the best version of myself, and I'm so grateful I get to spend my days working with amazing expat women like you:


Women who are smart and want to reach their goals, but need help overcoming obstacles so they can create their best lives abroad.



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