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Living Abroad: The Bad Days (How 7 Expat Families Cope)

Our Perspective

When we were planning our move abroad we didn't give much thought to bad days. We were focused on how amazing everything would be in Ecuador. And there has been a lot of amazing!

Living Abroad: The Bad Days

But we have had our share of bad days as well. Days when we have felt lonely for family and friends back in Canada, stressful days trying to get used to new ways of doing things, and sick days, which are especially hard because of feeling even more isolated.

When you are living abroad and bad days come your way it can make you feel like giving up! But, getting past them makes you feel wonderful, like a calm after a little storm.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of expats face bad days living abroad. It would be hard not to, because so much is different: the culture, food, climate, and probably the language.

Expats are also on new ground trying to make friends which form their support group. When you don’t feel good and your “old” support group is far away, you have to learn to deal with things in different ways. Often becoming more self-reliant.

So don’t feel guilty when you have bad days, you are not alone! Moving abroad is a big deal and sometimes adjusting to it is really difficult.

Getting past the bad days and not giving up has a lot to do with attitude and mindset. Focusing on when things will feel more normal, and when you’ll have a better grasp of the language and culture. It also has to do with remembering the reasons you moved abroad, keeping your motivation clearly in mind.

Talking with other successful expats can help a lot as well.

Dealing With Bad Days Abroad: How 7 Expat Families Cope

The life of an expat can be amazing! Days can be full of new experiences and adventures.

And then other days can be really difficult.

I recently interviewed some expat families and asked them how they deal with the bad days abroad.

7 Expat Families Explain: Dealing With Bad Days Abroad

The Hamori Family are Canadians living in Southern France. They have faced difficulties with learning the language and missing their family. Health problems, including a hysterectomy, also added to their expat life challenges. Here is what they said:

“We all have different coping mechanisms in place; exercise, Skype time with mom, talking,”… “I kept my eye on the prize and knew this too shall pass. You never know how close you are to success unless you keep at it. Failure was simply not an option.”

The Surlien Family are from Norway and have lived in Beijing and the USA. Their answer gives some real insight into how hard expat life challenges can be, the importance of allowing yourself downtime, keeping a journal and having expat friends that understand.

“First, it must be ok to feel sad and blue and not be hard on yourself when you just feel like staying in bed… It can be hard to explain it to people what the matter is, especially if they think you are so lucky to live the life you do, so that ‘s where your local expat friends come in. Chances are they have felt something similar.”

“I have found it useful to write all my dark thoughts down… Often the process of getting it out of your head is the start of the healing process.”

“For me it has been crucial to have a reason to leave the house every day, for a work out, a language class, a coffee date with someone that makes you laugh or just shopping for something beautiful.”… ” It's all about finding the right balance between loving care, encouragement to see the positive in the situation, finding distractions and not letting it spiral too deep. A lot can be healed with a daily purpose, clean food and a healthy body.”

Campbell family

The Campbell family

The Campbell Family moved from Central Scotland to the Southern island in New Zealand. One of their biggest expat life challenges was getting residency. It took three years! During that time they were threatened with deportation and were unable to work which meant that they were living off of their life savings. Keeping a balanced outlook and visiting with family has helped them through the challenges.

“I was always keen not ever to blame moving to New Zealand for anything negative in our lives. I was clear it was up to us to make it work, and we would never know if it could or not if we didn't just do it!”

“We have all had trips back to the UK and been reassured that we have made the right choice. Our girls are happy to be kiwi kids and being able to compare countries later, meet family and go back to their roots has been important for them.”

“Our families have also been out here visiting and as we are all on holiday at the time, it's different to when you live near each other all the time and are busy living your life.”

Aimee Chan

Aimee Chan

The Chan Family is from Australia and has lived in Singapore. Dealing with culture shock was a big challenge for this family. This is what made the biggest difference for them…

“What made the biggest difference was when I found myself a job… it was the best experience and changed my life. It was in this workplace that I found independence again, began to interact with Singaporeans on a daily basis and began to understand the contemporary Singaporean culture. Plus it launched my career in the media that has allowed me to create my own website, work with some incredible people, and that allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere and still have time for the kids no matter where we move to.”

Ana Gaby is from Mexico and has lived in Germany, Thailand, Indonesia, Canada, France and Belgium. One of the biggest expat life challenges for this family has been feeling overwhelmed. They have found that being focused and staying positive is very important.

“It is natural to question your move once in a while, particularly soon after you move there and things are not quite right and you don't have a routine yet. It sounds funny, but when you are overwhelmed, you focus on the small things and over time you can become very negative. The best thing to do is to focus on the positive and think about the things that you can only do in your new home. For us, being able to go scuba diving on the weekend not far from home, being able to travel often and having awesome help at home…  made the bad more bearable.”

The Barnthouse Family are from the USA and have lived in Guam and Italy. Feelings of isolation were a big challenge for this family. Notice what they recommend as a way to deal with it…

“I would highly recommend connecting with as many American and / or English speaking friends as you possibly can. It's so important to have a support structure and be able to ask for help if you need it… Building a solid group of friends is the key. Looking back, I wish I hadn't been so stubborn and had asked for help long before I actually did.”

tracey tullis

The Tullis family

The Tullis Family are from Canada and are traveling the world. This family has not really experienced bad days thus far. But they realize that bad days will happen…

“We haven't had any what I would consider bad days yet… Some things have definitely been different than we expected, not bad just different… The bad days will come as they do in life at home or abroad. When they do, we will focus on the lesson in whatever is bringing us down and support one another as best we can.”

happy expat family bookLearning From Expat Life Challenges & Supporting One Another

That's what it's really all about!

Despite the challenges, these families stick with it. If you haven't lived abroad you might wonder why they just don't give up.

It's because the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

To learn more about the challenges expats face check out our book, The Happy Expat Family: How to Overcome the 8 Challenges Your Family Will Face Living Abroad. In the book, you can read the full-length interviews from the families above, and many more.

If you've found this post helpful, please share it with your friends.

What about you? Please share how you deal with your expat life challenges by commenting on this post.

For more information on bad days and how to deal with them please check out our book, The Happy Expat Family. In the Happy Expat Family, we talk about the 8 challenges faced by all expats and how to overcome them.


Are you an expat? Share what helps you deal with your bad days by commenting on this post.  Who knows, you just might help someone having one right now 🙂

Meet the Author

55 comments… add one
  • Victoria miller Dec 22, 2011, 12:24 pm

    Dear Dena.
    I came to your post thinking you WERE having a bad day, and thinking to send you good vibes… instead I found this wonderful post.
    You are so right. In the two years I’ve had in Ecuador, I have had many such days. Granted, our motivation is different that yours, and maybe this is why I find it difficult. Also, Guayaquil is no Cuenca. (I love Cuenca, its totally awesome)and the need to show off that certain people have here really kills me. (Igto used to the driving quite fast, thanks god!XD )
    Its heartwarming to know that others have bad days also and take courage in them.
    It its ANY help, when I am feeling down, I take great comfort in looking at iguanas. (Yes, iguanas) I find them prehistoric, funny, incredible, and they do not exist in my home land. On top of all this, thay have this funny nod that they do as if they were saying… “yeah, I know, I know”. Iguanas, as crazy it might seem, are among the best everyday ecuadorian things for me.
    Take care. The fact that you are happy in Cuenca makes me hopeful.

    • Dena Haines Dec 22, 2011, 2:33 pm

      Hi Victoria,

      Thank you for your comment, and for being so sweet as to want to send me good vibes if I were having a bad day.

      I understand exactly what you mean about the iguanas. I feel the same way about pigs and monkeys, they always make me laugh. When I walk by a little pig in a field, snorting and jiggling around in the mud, I can’t help laughing! And when I see monkeys, even in pictures or on TV, the way they use their hands and their little facial expressions – crack me up.

      I’ve never thought of an iguanas head nod as saying “I know, I know” but I think I will whenever I see it now. It’s much nicer than the “Oh yeah, I’m the big guy, don’t get too close, oh yeah, I can take you out!” that has gone through my head in the past 🙂

      Thank you for sharing what helps you feel better on bad days.

  • Lollie Hoxie Dec 22, 2011, 2:49 pm

    It’s so great to hear from you on this post. You have a terrific perspective. We are still in Connecticut and any minute now, will make it to Ecuador to live and retire (waiting for the guy to say yes and buy our business). You know that bumper sticker that says,” a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work”, well..I can’t wait to have a bad day in Ecuador.When you recalled your previous experience of not having enough time with your daughter and compared it to now, I realized that every day we make that choice: to stop and look at what we have and how far we’ve come. When you increase your happiness factor in that way, you can get through the challenging moments, eh?

    • Dena Haines Dec 22, 2011, 3:35 pm

      Hi Lollie,

      Thank you for your comment. I think you should get one of those bumper stickers and bring it with you to put on your fridge or in a frame on the wall 🙂

      I hope the sale of you business will go through really soon. I remember how anxious we were waiting for the final papers to be signed on the sale of our business – exciting times!

      All the best to you on your future move to Ecuador.

  • gin arnold Dec 22, 2011, 3:10 pm

    Years ago doing my sailing years another single hander said “always remember wherever you go you take yourself with you”.Live in Ecuador, India, or the U.S. and there will always be something that might frustrate you, but that is life, no matter where you live.

    We have been back in Ecuador since Nov. 2 and most of that has been in Otavalo, although we have been in Cuenca for 2 weeks. We did go back to Vilcabamba for a couple days, but too many gringos and dropouts for us, so we have returned to Cuenca. Cuenca is a nice city, if you are a city person and we are not, so we will return to Otavalo at some point. Living outside the U.S. is not for everyone and if it is cost of living motivating you, rather than the people and climate, I would think twice.

    • Dena Haines Dec 22, 2011, 3:43 pm

      Hi Gin,

      You are right, no matter where we live, there may be things that will frustrate us. And it’s important to think carefully about motivations before moving abroad.

      Thank you for your comment.

  • Bob Barber Dec 22, 2011, 3:14 pm

    Hi Dena,

    I’ve been following your blog, but I haven’t commented on it yet. I’m not currently in Ecuador. My wife and I are returning this year. I have started a blog with my own thoughts on living in Ecuador, at (Just cut out the link if I’m not allowed to post it here.)

    I can relate to a lot of what you say. When I was learning Spanish, I lived with a host family in Ecuador and there were days when I didn’t even want to leave my room. It was more of a language barrier than anything. Eventually I got comfortable enough with Spanish to where I don’t feel that way anymore.

    I think it’s important to be flexible, or roll with the punches as you say. No problem is permanent, and most of our happiness comes from within us. More than anything, we are happy only inasmuch as we can accept other people and situations as they are, and not as we would like them to be. There are plenty of chances to practice that in an unfamiliar culture.

    I think a lot of people that move to Ecuador have core values like you share, of wanting to spend more time with family, but even pursuing an alternative goal such as constructing a new family-friendly lifestyle in a foreign country can be hard work, and it’s important to remember to do things that are fun once in a while, like looking at iguanas. (I know that park!) I never had a magic bullet like the iguanas, but I was always up for a dumb movie, or a phone call back home to someone that I hadn’t talked to in a while, to bring me up a little bit.

    I think the other thing that works for me is trying to connect with some aspect of culture back home. A lot of people that move to Ecuador are intelligent and independent, and don’t think of themselves as candidates for homesickness or culture shock. But a little bit of loneliness creeps in around the edges from time to time, no matter how competent a person is, a sense of being far away from home, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to watch T.V. shows from home, or read magazines from home, and then reconnect later to the experience of being in Ecuador.

    I’ll bet tomorrow’s a good day.

    Bob Barber

    • Dena Haines Dec 23, 2011, 9:46 am

      Hi Bob,

      I understand what you mean about the language barrier, that’s the biggest challenge for me. There were days during our first 6 months that I didn’t feel like leaving the apartment. So we didn’t – we stayed in, watched movies, did crafts and ate treats. Those little vacation days really helped.

      There seems to be a kind of settling phase or two for most people. The first few months are so exciting that feeling homesick seems like something that only happens to “other people” but as time goes by and reality starts to set in, most people are homesick in one way or another. That’s normal and healthy, no matter how much we want to immerse ourselves in a new culture, our own will always be part of who we are, and reconnecting with that once in a while can really help.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • LindaRose Dec 22, 2011, 3:42 pm

    After living in Mexico for 20 yrs, and the last few sola, I face ALOT of problems. It´s a good day when only a few appear. For the past 2 weeks, we´ve had road construction, and this, during the Snowbird months! I’m trying to sell my house and now I see water running down the road and none coming out of my hose! Ok, another trip to the water company to have them dig up what they’ve dug up a dozen times. about 35 vecinos walk up and down the road, thru the water, kids play in it, will anyone say anything? Absolutely NOT! You´d think after all this time living in a Third World Country, I´d have it down…well, I feel mighty proud of myself when I can get the 20 ft. aluminum ladder from its given place, drag it to the top of my bodega to check and see if there’s water in the tinaco…and when there´s none and I fix it and get a flow, WHOOPEEE, it´s a good day…I could write a book on bad days AND good days…..

    • Dena Haines Dec 23, 2011, 7:36 pm

      Hi Linda, sounds like you have a lot of experience. Maybe you should write a book about your ups and downs over the past 20 years in Mexico. I think a lot of people would be interested in it.
      Thanks for your comment.

  • RG Dec 22, 2011, 3:53 pm

    Excellent article!

    No matter where you are, you will surely have some bad days. There’s no such thing as a perfect world. It’s how you face or deal with it. If you focus on the negatives, you are bound to have a miserable life. Financial success may help in possessing material things but it does not guarantee happiness in your family life.

    I consider this as one of the best if not the best article I have received from you and Bryan.

  • Ed Berry Dec 22, 2011, 4:42 pm

    Thank you for your candid article. Most IL posts are almost too positive, and to be honest, I think a lot of us reading these articles want to know about the bad stuff, crime, security, what if you need emergency surgery. It is refreshing to read that expats have bad days like the rest of us. Keep up the good work.

    • Dena Haines Dec 23, 2011, 8:31 pm

      Hi Ed, it’s good to know what our readers want to hear about. Thanks for the feedback.

  • bob sykora Dec 22, 2011, 5:07 pm

    I love seeing and reading the articles on Cuenca, Ecuador. I plan to be there soon as the U.S,is in a mess we can not dig out of. Keep the articles coming and look for us soon.

    • Dena Haines Dec 23, 2011, 8:34 pm

      Hi Bob, I hope everything works out for your future plans to come to Cuenca.

  • Stephanie Dec 22, 2011, 5:26 pm

    Thank you for your candid article.
    I love “For us it means none of these things, it means working less and having more time as a family. ”
    Knowing your values going in, gives focus and allows you to live in the bigger picture as you deal with daily issues.

    You mentioned in your last article where you returned to Canada that Ecuador is changing it’s immigration rules, can you please elaborate on what those changes are?
    Thanks, for both of your honest contributions.

  • Louis-Marie Ste-Croix Dec 22, 2011, 6:48 pm

    I can hardly wait to go visit

  • MaryAnn Dec 22, 2011, 6:48 pm

    Dena, great article. Many posts I read are just too “life is perfect” rosy. There are goods and services we get used to in the USA that are not available elsewhere. I expect lights to go on when I flip the switch, I expect hot & cold water to flow from my faucets, my computer to be online in an instant. I know that some of these things will not happen consistently if at all when I start traveling. But I am open to visiting new places and learning new cultures.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Jakob Dec 22, 2011, 6:56 pm

    Hi Dena… I find your post interesting, since most of it describes the emotional mix my Ecuadorian wife is currently going through trying to find her place and build her life in Canada. We moved to Canada from Europe to be closer to Ecuador, since Ecuador itself was not an option at that time. I personally have started my life over twice in two different countries and I can say that this is normal procedure that ALL immigrants go through, be it Ecuadorians in Canada, Canadians in Ecuador or Zulus in China.

    Greetings from hot Guayaquil.

  • Eric lutz Dec 22, 2011, 7:28 pm

    Hello Dena;
    nice to read your blog , I’m a bit of a writer myself. as I was reading I was also reading between the lines. Being an “Old carpenter” from way back, I learned to look at a situation then make an assumption on the repairs.
    However in your case I’m not sure if could make the needed repairs. I believe you and Brian are capable of your own repairs.I do believe you are are on the right track. It is true when we go to another country or even a place perhaps a thousand or two from our home, we find different cultures. I can remember being a kid and had to make some adjustments in my life for more than two months which seemed like eternity to a young teenager. But I got through it.
    I believe in your case if you dig down deep , you will find two options. One, think of how things will be when you have mastered the language and can communicate better. No two, if the heart aches are too great to bear . Remember that your good friends in NS still love you.
    One more thing Folks, think of your parents and the rest of us who made through our lives, brought up our families. Now we are Grandparents and are still happy. Remember life is not perfect. I believe the No 1 option is the answer. work on your Spanish and think about the long rang future. Cheerio Eric

  • David Akins Dec 22, 2011, 8:49 pm

    Enjoyed the blog. Things can get frustrating at times (thinking of the challenges in the visa process and all the related stories), but I get frustrated in the U.S. as well.

    As for the comment by Ed above, my wife did have the need for emergency surgery (we live in Cuenca). The doctors and staff at Mount Sinai were very caring and professional. The surgeons spoke English and were very attentive. Karen is back to normal (which means she is out shopping).

    We to are frustated by our lack of skills in Spanish, but are taking classes from two different sources. Our housekeeper also helps us with our pronunciations, etc. We are teaching her English at the same time. It is fun and educational. We are guest in a Spanish speaking country. It is our responsibility to learn the language.

    The immigration of those to Cuenca reminds me of the immigration during the 1980’s of many of the folks from the northern part of the US to the Southeastern part of the US. The South had a slower pace of life and a different culture than the North. The northern immigrants (if you will) usually had one of two reactions: a) they loved the slower pace of life and the friendliness of the people or b) they could not stand that it seemed to take so long to get things done (i.e., slower pace) and they thought Southerners were less than intelligent….plus they felt they had to start every sentences with “up north we do it this way”… Because of that memory, I try never to mention to my Cuencano friends how we do or did things in the US (it is just rude in my opinion).

    I have seen similar reactions from the gringos coming to Cuenca. So, to paraphrase an the old Southern saying of “get your heart in Dixie or get your a$$ out”, I would suggest to ‘get your heart in Cuenca or get your a$$ out’. The people here are so friendly (very, very few exceptions that I have experienced) if you make the effort the people will make you feel welcome and ‘part of the family’.

    This has just been my experience. We have been here a little over 6 months and have not been home sick one day.

  • Lisa Dec 22, 2011, 9:59 pm

    Hi Dena, enjoyed your well written article, and it gave me a little more insight to reality. Often you only hear all the great experiences. I know you have many of those as well, or you wouldn’t still be there. I have no words of wisdom as I am not an expat. Only 1 month living in Cozumel doesn’t count, however, brief cultural experiences adds to one’s life in a good way and realize you are living in their country, not yours. I hope all works out for you soon(you know what I mean). Hugs to the whole fam. 🙂

  • John Dec 22, 2011, 10:47 pm

    This was a great article, thank you.

    My wife and I with our two children were lucky enough to spend 18 months in South Africa back in 2003-2004. While we didn’t have the language issue, it was a big cultural change. Coming from Chicago it was very hard at first to relate to the slower life style. There is a very different concept of time in a lot of countries. It was very frustrating with appointments not being kept, and such. But, once we adjusted it was great. We learned to enjoy two hour meals out in the sun in a tea garden with the children having so much fun on the outside play equipment that would have been outlawed in the US years ago, because of all the law suits.

    Once we learned to slow down, you started noticing a lot of beauty in the little things. It didn’t matter if they were the little things in nature, or the little things that our children did. Another great gift was the way our family reconnected, There was a new closeness that had slowly slipped away in the state with all the commitments that are expected.

    Also, with labor being so inexpensive in SA as in Central/South America we were able to support the local economy by hiring some great folks to help around the house, and regain a wonderful gift of additional free time to spend with the family.

    Sometime in the not too distant future we are hoping to explore Cuenca with our youngest son now 11, and hopefully spend an extended amount of time there. He is about the same age as our daughter was when we were in SA. The experience was definitely life changing for all of us in a good way.

    While we are looking forward to learning a new language, it is somewhat scary to me. My wife is very witty and a great conversationalist so she is a little worried about the communication barrier being an English speaker. I’m sure if we apply ourselves and study in earnest, it will make the experience that much more rewarding. Neither of us want to remain sitting on the edge looking in. We want to truly experience the culture and the people to the fullest.

    The company that I worked for in SA made us rent in a gated community. However, we made it a major point to get out every chance we had to experience the new culture. That was why we were there. We didn’t want to recreate life back home. I am hoping we can fulfill our longing to experience something new in Cuenca. Our entire family has a wanderlust, and we want to give our son the same experience that we did for our daughter.

    There are sooooo many wonderful and exciting places to explore in this world, and Cuenca is near the top of our list. Although, I know there will be tough days, I’m sure they will all be worth it in the end. Heck, I have plenty of trying days here at home just trying to deal with the same grind day in and day out.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, and have a happy and safe holiday season.


    Sometime in the not too distant future we are hoping to explore Cuenca with our youngest son, now 11. He is about he same age as our daughter waswhen we were in SA. The experince was definitely life changing for all of us. While we are looking forward to learning a new language, it is somewhat scary to me. The copany that I wored for made us rent in a gated community. However, we made it a major point to get out every chance we had in SA to experience the new culture. That was why we were there. We didn’t to recreate life back home. I am hoping we can fulfil our longing to experience something new in Cuenca to fulfill our wanderlust, and to give our son the same experience that we did for our daughter.

    There are sooooo many wonderful and exciting places to explore in this world, and Cuenca is near the top of our list. Although, I know there will be tough days. My wife is very witty and a great conversationalist, so she is a little worried about the communication barrier being and english speaker. I’m sure if we apply ourselves and study in erneast, it will make the experience that much more rewarding.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, and have a happy and safe holiday season.


  • Jennifer Reyes Dec 23, 2011, 9:25 am

    This is a great article. You are right on in your point that the reason for relocating has a lot to do with your experience. We moved to El Salvador almost 3 years ago because my husband was deported. I allowed that negative experience to ruin my first couple of years here. It didn’t allow me to enjoy our new life. It wasn’t until I realized that I could now spend more time with my husband and son, and I could have my own business that I started to appreciate it. There are other factors such as having to deal with in laws that make my experience abroad a bit different than others but I do try everyday to look past that and appreciate the blessings that I have. Thank you so much for sharing your bad days as well.

  • Jim Cohoon Dec 23, 2011, 9:51 am

    I can’t say we’ve ever thought of throwing in the towel and giving up, or rather “I” can’t say that. My family has not indicated any desire to move back to Canada. We do miss family and friends and the beauty of Nova Scotia but we have new family and friends here. I love mostly everything about Ecuador. Most of our bad days were up in Racar. We were isolated up there and renting from a landlord who could look you straight in the eye and lie to you. Back then we looked forward to moving out of Racar, we looked forward to pursuing residency, we looked forward to being closer to friends, most of whom lived in the city. For us so far, living in Ecuador has been simple. We reflect on the fact that we don’t have to “endure” a Canadian winter again….that’s a huge issue for me, we no longer live in a country with laws that burden you so much all you feel is stress and anxiety(that’s a deep comment and would take a lot of writing to explain). I like the fact that you can get a motocross bike registered for the road here, it makes sense, it’s practical. Of course I don’t dwell on the dangerous driving…I used to. We just keep our wits about us more so than before and we’re getting used to it. I used to get bothered about being bumped into when walking around the city or wherever, but now it’s a part of life, a bump here or there doesn’t make for a bad day or a bad moment, there was no offence intended, it’s just the way it is here sometimes. Of course we’ve only been here under 6 months and there will likely be bad days to come, but I don’t expect anything like the bad days in Canada. Ecuador works for us, simple as that.

  • Bob French Dec 23, 2011, 2:27 pm

    Hi Bryan, Dena and Drew. Here’s wishing you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I have a question for you and I was wondering if you can put any light on it. The question is that I have been hearing alot of talk of Uruguay and it being the place to retire to. Could you give me some insight into your opinion of which of the two places has more to offer, in the sense of costs of living, weather, general living conditions, taxes and the english speaking population compared to one another. That’s if you can. I sure you’ll do your best to help me out on this one. So in closing, thank-you very much for your time and patience,and knowledge. Thank-you. Till next time, take care….Bob…

    • Bryan Haines Dec 24, 2011, 10:32 am

      Hi Bob – I’m not really qualified to compare Ecuador and Uruguay. I’ve never been there, let alone live there. You really should plan a trip to visit them both, and see which one works for you.

    • RG Dec 24, 2011, 11:18 am

      Bob, if money is not a problem, I would suggest Uruguay. Otherwise, I would recommend Ecuador because of much lower cost of living, consistent weather especially in the coastal areas and much slower lifestyle. Real Estate prices in Uruguay went up significantly in the last ten years when you compare it with Ecuador (based on both country’s brochures I have received from developers). Real estate prices in Punta Del Este, Uruguay have gone so much that you will get more value of your money if you opt for Ecuador. Visit both countries and decide which lifestyle you like.

  • Andre Hugo Dec 24, 2011, 9:42 am

    Perhaps it is because I a much, much older than you, or, maybe because I moved so much in my life, I have adjusted fairly easily. You published my story

    For me, I say that every day is a good day. I am single and now, after two years, speak Spanish fluidly, if nothing else. Fluency is developing. When I am tired, there are times when I can’t think in English, let alone Spanish. Those are my bad moments.

    As for motivations – I had my time and the top and lots of money. What really satisfies me are learning to be a better writer and photographer, and working on projects to help poor children. You will see blog posts on this sort of thing on my website

    I hope that you realize how your newsletters bring joy to us readers. I thank you.

    Merry Christmas and may your new year be filled with health, happiness and prosperity.

  • Paul Fine Dec 24, 2011, 10:46 am

    For those of us that are retired and live in Cuenca there should really be no bad days if you are fortunate to stay healthy unless you miss the early morning commute to work or shoveling snow, buying gas for your car, the cost of living, etc. etc. etc. for those that complain my suggestion would be to leave. I for one love it here (now if I could only get really good cheese and a Trader Joe’s but we are not in heaven yet).



    • Bryan Haines Dec 24, 2011, 10:57 am

      Absolutely, life is so good here, isn’t it? If we are making a wish list we’d like to add one of the big bookstores – like Chapters / Barnes & Noble. But thats about it…

  • Jose Jan 4, 2012, 4:48 pm

    Hello Bryan and Dena! I am from Cuenca, so I’m not an expa but I want to say that I am happy to see you like my city and you can overcome the bad days 🙂 As Ecuatorian, I can say that we also have bad days, but we are learning to be patient (specially with public employees hehe) And we will try to help you in everything, because (in general) we are kind and helpful people. And if anyone wants some help with their Spanish language, we could exchange languages (I need to practice and improve my English), I am sure it could be funny and a natural way of learning a language. My email is
    My best wishes for all of you in this blog, I love it!

    • Frank Apr 26, 2015, 9:32 am

      Hi Jose,
      Thank you for your post. Yes, everyone has a bad day and everyone should realize this. I have been reading Bryan and Dena’s blog for almost a year now. My wife and I plan on visiting Ecuador in the next year or as we plan our retirement within five years. Cuenca is high on our list for retirement and is on our list of must visit . Many thanks to Bryan and Dena. They have been very inspirational and very helpful. One of the nice things is that I have sometime to learn Spanish as I believe it is essential and respectful to our hosts in Ecuador. I Ecuadorian culture is simply beautiful and we are very excited and looking forward to our visit. Best wishes.

  • Michelle Feb 15, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Well I’m having a bad day, but not really. My friends brought me a stained glass angel for Valentine’s to try to explain how they feel about me. And tears leaked out of my eyes although I didn’t really feel like crying. I’ve been an expat since 1988, and sometimes the sweetness of the people where you live just makes your eyes leak, even if you don’t feel like crying. I no longer, sadly, feel at home in my home country, although the few visits back, when I see how my siblings have a “normal” life, cause me to be off balance for a while.

    I live in Argentina after some 20 years in Africa, and it’s just so nice to have a simple country life in the mountains again, but with a hell of a good delicatessen, and a new puppy. I don’t have all of your responsibilities with children, which is obviously all-important, but you get their company and I get some lonely days. Nevertheless, the sun shines, the neighbours kiss my dog, and frankly, I cannot think of anything else I want except for the pottery workshop to open this winter. I’ll be rotten at it, but it will be fun!

    And, as a singleton I get to know that my dear old dad fell in love again at about age 70, so I get 20 years to get it right if I want, as my 50th birthday comes up in April.

    I can’t repatriate. In 1988 my cousin said to me after a few months in England… “Hello stranger” and that is what I have been for 2 decades. I can listen to their stories happily and nostalgically, but they don’t understand mine at all.

    So for those of you scared of going or scared of staying, it’s all fine, I promise. If you are respectful, people will respect you back, if you are lovable, ditto. Languages are an issue for North Americans, but the words and the music elsewhere are so beautiful I hope you get to enjoy it. And, I was advised long ago not to glue yourself to other foreigners. Playgroups, ok, out of necessity, and how I envy the chance for a playgroup. But throw yourself in there with all the energy you’ve got and the energy will come back to you.

    Not always easy people, but it’ll be fine, and I wouldn’t change my little life for all the shopping malls, traffic, and mail order catalogs in the world, . Don’t owe anyone anything, and I can sleep well at night.


    • Bryan Haines Feb 15, 2012, 8:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience as an expat. Life abroad has its share of good and bad – just like everywhere…

    • Michelle May 8, 2013, 7:32 pm

      What an amazing post! I admire you for your courage and your amazing outlook on life! Much love sent your way! I hope you got to open up your pottery shop!

  • dennis fahey Feb 29, 2012, 9:53 pm

    Beautiful post. I hope we’ll have the same beliefs if and when we get down there.

  • Marcia Ransom Mar 18, 2012, 8:41 pm

    Very encouraging outlook on moving to a new place. It of course starts with having or developing love and respect for others. From that vantage point its like turning to a new page in a good book, you just cant wait for the next word! Take care!


    • Dena Haines Mar 18, 2012, 9:31 pm

      Hi Marcia,

      You are right, when you really get to know people in a different culture you better understand why the things that seem so different to you are the way they are. And then you start to see them through different eyes.

      Thank you, and thanks for commenting.

  • Amanda Jul 4, 2012, 3:22 am

    I really liked your post. When I lived in America I had days when I wasn’t sure if staying there was what I really wanted, at times I felt alone and alienated.

    I really admire that you’re not giving up and that you’re persevering to learn the language and culture.

    I truly wish you all the best and thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • Matt Sanborn Jul 26, 2012, 3:10 pm

    Great post. I’m from Boston and have lived in Ecuador for a few years now. When I came here I didn’t know the language and even though I had anticipated frustration as I was learning it, I still had some rough days. I knew deep down learning a second language would be one of the most rewarding, not to mention coolest, achievements of my life.

    I recently returned to Boston. Not for a two or three week vacation but for 10 months. I wondered how I would see the city now that I had lived overseas for 3 years. These ten months proved to be a great learning experience.

    I enjoyed seeing my family and friends, doing the things I liked to do and eating the foods I loved and missed. It was great for about 3-4 weeks. After that, I just felt like things were becoming routine, same old, same old. My life was morphing into the life that made me want to leave in the first place. Then winter rolled around and that just reinforced what I had been feeling since month two in Boston. It was time to go.

    It was great to spend the holidays with my family and share so much time with them after being away but even that wasn’t enough to make me stay. Ecuador is my home now. It’s an amazing place. Moving to another country is just like anything else in life, you have to take the good with the bad. For me, the good out weighs the bad, it’s not even close.

    If you decide to live overseas, good for you. If times get tough, just remember what motivated you to take such a valiant leap in the first place. Hang in there, you’re going to love it.

  • Denise Toepel Aug 15, 2012, 10:09 am

    I read your blog faithfully, but missed this one. We were military and moved a lot until we hit Japan. We stayed 10 years there, our children grew up there, and that was the best thing that ever happened to them. They all have profited from the culture. We had the opportunity to watch the two year migration that military people had, and the new imports that faithfully each week were “getting a ticket and going home”. I appreciate that you were truthful and and upbeat, it is very hard to do when your hormones and reasoning go out the window for a while and you feel the need to address it by writing about it, it is a very difficult task, but you did a wonderful job.
    I use pinterest and the uplifting words boards.. it makes me feel better immediately and reminds me that I am my own worst enemy in any adjustment battle. I did it before and I can do it again, we are joining you in Cuenca in May of 2013, look forward to reading many more blogs from you.

  • John Aug 30, 2012, 4:27 pm

    Family oriented?… I guess I will have to rent a family when I get there? 🙂

  • Dave Wheeler Nov 29, 2012, 10:02 am

    Hi Dena, Enjoyed your article. Life away from home can very hard. I also miss the good old days when we were all together in the beautiful Annapolis Valley. I miss the good friends and family but there also are good things about our new homes and the people we meet. I know the half glass is whatever we make it to be. I try everyday to keep mind half full. You, Brian and Drew take care for now. I think of you often. Dave

  • Hank Dec 30, 2012, 11:10 am

    Hi Dena (and family)
    Have been following yours and Bryans blog for almost a year now, and this article I really like, more than anything for it’s insight and perspective. I know people here (States) well enough to for see the negative behavior you described. It’s probably my biggest concern about moving to Cuenca.

    For the first few years at least, many of the people one would know would be other expats. And if the majority of them think everyone there should ‘change’ and be like them (as so many Americans believe)… well, that would be very unfortunate.

    Thanks for the article.

  • David Nathanson Jan 1, 2014, 12:56 pm

    Thank you so much for your excellent in depth information! I also appreciate the heartfealt candor with which you share (-:

    Quick Question; Have you found a store in Cuenca that sells “Screech”???

    ONLY someone from the Maritime Provinces will know what Screech is of course (-;

    • Bryan Haines Jan 29, 2014, 12:37 pm

      I haven’t seen it as such – but there is lots of cheap, locally made alcohol. A popular local choice is Zhumir – made just outside of Cuenca in the town of Paute.

      For those who don’t know what this is, here is what Wikipedia has to say about screech.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • James Jan 10, 2014, 10:49 am

    I have lived in other countries and it is difficult in the beginning learning to deal with the slower pace. But after a short time I realized that there is nothing wrong with slowing down and taking things as they come. It is much healthier. In Italy the saying you hear a lot is Po Vediamo. “What ever happens, happens”. Sorry I did not make it ,but I ran into my cousin, or I just didn’t get around to it. I am retiring this year and moving to Cuenca. I am looking forward to the change from my do it now life in the states.

  • Lorne and Midge Novak Jan 17, 2015, 10:29 pm

    Loved your stories. we have been talking and searching for a place to retire and have decided to come to Ecuador for a visit. We travelled a lot to different places but never to South America. We are hoping for a new way of life and slower to what we are use to here in Canada. Did I mention the weather? Thank you again.

  • Christy Mar 16, 2019, 10:21 am

    What a great post! I spent 4 years living in rural Kenya, part of which was with a Kenyan husband and newborn daughter. What helped me cope most with the “bad days” was to shrug my shoulders and say “Well, TIK (This Is Kenya).” It worked as a reminder to myself that I was NOT in America and things just happened differently in Kenya. Although I do have to admit that on Christmas Day when our celebratory meal was roasted goat head I went out to the cow pasture and sat down to weep as I envisioned my extended family sitting down to their Minnesota-style Christmas dinner. Lol! I definitely laugh now, but holidays were tough!

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