Do you ever have cause to frequent expat forums? I personally spend a lot of time on them getting to know what makes my fellow expats tick, depending on the country they come from and the one they’re now living in. And the interesting thing that keeps coming to mind for me, is that newly arrived expats are exceptionally trusting!
As all expats know, being a foreign face in a foreign land is daunting to say the least. There are so many questions that need answering in order for a newbie to feel comfortable in their new country, and so forums are good places for them to ask these questions in a relatively safe environment. (I say ‘relatively safe,’ because forums are where trolls often peddle their own destructive brand of offensiveness…but let’s not get into that discussion here!)
However, what the questions do highlight, and what the tales I come across do show, is that some expats are naïve beyond belief about their new nation, and many fall victim to all sorts of ‘bad people’ – from dodgy IFAs to rogue property developers. Therefore, are expats as a general demographic actually too trusting, and what can we seasoned expats do to help?
Why Are Expats so Trusting?
The answer to this question is probably quite simple. In my opinion the very vulnerability of a new expat makes them so in need of help, that they accept it from anyone ‘kind’ enough to offer it.
When you don’t know where the nearest supermarket is, and you certainly don’t understand the visa registration process for example, and you’re terrified if you take a false step your dream of a new life will unravel, you’ll reach out and grab hold of anyone who’s even remotely open to assisting you.
Unfortunately – and I’ve touched on this before – those most open to making instant friendships with complete strangers are either out for personal gain, or there’s something not quite right about them! I speak from my own fairly bitter personal experiences in a couple of different countries!
You either meet those who are social outcasts, or those who see you as a target for whatever sort of scam they’re into – which usually involves fleecing you out of cash!
So, expats are vulnerable – they also practically walk around with a sign above their heads saying ‘I need your help’ – and those who choose not to ignore all this are generally self-serving.
Okay, so that’s a massive generalisation of course – but if you start hopping about on expat forums, you’ll come across the same scenario time and time again. The person who first befriended an expat, and whom they thought they could absolutely trust, has ripped them off comprehensively.
I remember one particularly awful story about a British couple in Turkey who were writing about why they’d left and fled back to the UK…
The first people they met found them an apartment in their complex, and proceeded to take over their lives. Initially they were grateful to them for helping them out in a country they found so foreign. But the scenario deteriorated to the point that their ‘friends’ took possession of their car, threatened them with a gun when they complained, and then the expat wife narrowly avoided sexual assault at the hands of these so-called friends.
Yes…that is an extreme example of expats being too trusting…but it perfectly illustrates how it was not the expats’ fault, and what can happen when you don’t tread with caution abroad.
How Can Expats Protect Themselves?
The first thing you, as a would-be expat can do, is get to know your new nation before you commit to moving there. This involves extensive research, and also visiting the country – particularly the area where you want to settle – before you relocate.
It will be important to familiarise yourself with how the rules work relating to the registration of foreigners before you actually relocate…that way you will be less confused about the process and less stressed. The less pressure you put on yourself when you relocate abroad the better, because the less likely you are to fall into the lair of someone purporting to help you!
You can also tread with caution, and be far more careful about the information you divulge to strangers who you meet in bars or on the beach!
As a new face people are naturally curious about you, some will openly question you…but you don’t have to tell them everything, you don’t have to ask for their assistance and you don’t have to accept their offers of help.
You can be polite, you don’t have to tell anyone who speaks to you to get lost! But you can employ the reserve that you would employ back in the UK if you walked into a new pub and were suddenly being grilled by a bunch of ‘strange’ locals!
How Can Fellow Expats Help?
If you’re already settled abroad, you’ve been there, done that and had the strange experiences with those only too eager to befriend you already, you can really empathise with the newbies and take practical steps to help.
Forums are places where you can offer up some insight for example, and there are plenty of communities out there like our own at Expatra, that welcome articles, opinion and advice from seasoned expats. You can pen an article about your experiences, you can write a guide with top tips to help new expats.
You could consider starring up an expat group in your community and reaching out to be a support to other strange faces in your chosen strange land. You can ‘police’ those who join up and offer their help and advice to other expats too, and ensure that no one there is out for their own gain.
If there’s a local expatriate newspaper or magazine you can consider writing a letter or even submitting a weekly column with useful advice and assistance…and you can also keep an eye on those in your community who you perhaps know prey on the more vulnerable, and carefully warn those who may be about to fall victim.
If every single expat out there made just a small effort every now and again to help those who are newly arrived or planning on moving in, the newbie expat’s experiences in general would probably be far more positive.
Don’t Just Sit There…
Whilst David Cameron’s talk of a ‘big society’ may make you cringe and grimace, (and I don’t blame you!), it doesn’t mean you have to go totally against the sentiment behind his rhetoric. The sentiment being that we could all do a little more to help others…
As expats we don’t of course have to help…however, how nice would it have been if someone had looked out for you when you were newly arrived? How nice would it have been if you could have found answers to your tricky questions on a forum? How nice would it have been if you’d found a ready-made support group in your new community?