Sometimes the Challenges of Being An Expat Aren't the Obvious Ones


I asked Anne, a highly motivated and insightful client of mine, if she would answer some questions about building her life here in the United States. She agreed, and her answers contain within them a great deal of authenticity and wisdom. I know you will enjoy reading about her journey.

What brought you to Houston, Texas?

My husband was assigned to his new business project in Houston in spring, 2016. When my husband and I knew the new assignment, the first thing we did was to think very hard if moving out of our home country, Japan and moving to the U.S.A. would be beneficial for our two children. Also, I was running my own business at that time and had to look for someone to take care of it. After a few months of consideration, we finally decided to relocate to Houston, TX with our children and started a new life in Summer, 2016.

What was your biggest challenge (or challenges) in the beginning?

Honestly, language was not the biggest challenge for me because I used to live in two English-speaking countries, Singapore and Canada when, I was young. Although my English background has been influenced by British culture, I have loved and enjoyed learning the difference between American English and British English.

The biggest challenge was to manage our family’s mental health. I knew that big changes in your life and living in a foreign country often cause much stress on your body and brain. In my family’s case, it was my husband and my son who were suffering from huge work stress. From day one that they moved to Houston, they started to complain about everything from the meals I cooked and the things I did for them and it hurt my feelings a lot. As a mother and a wife, it was not easy to be patient with them.

And then, my second biggest challenge came in Summer 2017. Almost a year after our relocation to Houston, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had no record of major illness until then, so I was devastated with the news.

How did you overcome that challenge?

I always thought of how to make the best use of my predicaments and challenges. Speaking of my family’s mental health, I read a lot of books relating to psychology and counselling and even participated in a study group of mental health. I listened and listened to what my family members complained about and had them realize they were overwhelmed by stress.

The process was painstaking but worked really well. They gradually accepted the cultural difference and started to appreciate it. As a result, they adapted to a life in the new land within a year or so. I am glad that they have taken the good with the bad. And about my illness, I was able to overcome it, thanks to the best care I was able to receive from the local hospitals and the support from my family and friends. Fortunately, Houston has the Nation’s best hospitals and I am grateful for it.

And an added bonus was that I was able to learn lots of English medical jargon through the conversations with the doctors and share the sentiment that cancer patients have, which gives me a new insight. Now I help some Japanese expats who need linguistic assistance at medical facilities in Houston. I think that every cloud has a silver lining.

When you think of your time in Houston, what are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of the way my children adapted to their lives here. They’ve got to have lots of friends, picked up English quickly and enjoyed their sport and recreational clubs to their hearts’ content. And speaking of myself, I am proud that I completed running 26 miles of the Houston Marathon and have completed my cancer treatments. I am thankful very much to my language coach, my family, my local friends and a medical team for supporting my journey.

What advice would you give to someone from a non English-speaking country who is moving to Houston?

Living in a foreign country is definitely challenging for anyone, but I think patience and positivity are the keys to success. Once you have moved to a new land, it is nice to engage with the locals and other expats as much as possible and to enjoy the diversity of different cultures. People say that Houston is the best kept secret, which has amazingly good restaurants, educational museums and cultural diversity. You’ll find there is much to be learned from the experience you’ll have here. And if you need a friend in Houston, it’s my pleasure to be a friend of yours.

#ESLexpat #Houstonexpat #ESLHouston

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