Most of us contemplating a move overseas give attention to all the new matters we must prepare for—new languages and customs, different currency, food, and business practices, etc.
This preparation is immensely valuable, and there is never enough.
But there is one area that we often ignore—and to our great peril…
That is, our own dear families, whose reactions to our late-life adventures have the power to make or break the experiences that we have worked so hard to achieve.
This is a problem with deep roots for many long-established American families. We are a nation of immigrants and have been for more than 400 years. With the obvious exclusion of slaves and those native to this continent, every person who arrived, by whatever means, was implicitly rejecting another country for America.
Rejection of the rest of the world for whatever reason—lack of opportunity, servitude, oppression, conscription—together with our fortunate location and resources, has had consequences for most of us…
To many, the United States is our big enough and fully satisfying world. Why would anybody want to leave it behind and live elsewhere?
This feeling remains in many Americans today—even if they are unaware of it. And it makes it hard for them to fully understand why the people they love and respect would want to up and leave. Unintentionally, their lack of full understanding can translate into a sense of loss or distance, and, ultimately, into what I call the “case of the disappearing grandparents.”
That’s why it’s so important for the would-be overseas retiree to make every effort to help loved ones understand as fully as possible what lies behind this great adventure. Experiencing the new need not mean rejecting the people or place you leave behind.
Following are some tips on how to go about keeping friends, remaining part of the family, and generally managing your visibility…
1. Recognize that some change is inevitable, and prepare for it. The local world of the present is not going to remain static while you go out and have adventures or realize your dreams. Focus on those nearest and dearest, and be ready for some casualties if necessary.
2. Start from the premise that everybody is different. You don’t know your friends and family as well as you might like to, so be ready for some real surprises. You’ll get lots of questions—each one will tell you something about your family’s thoughts and feelings, to which you must listen carefully so that you understand exactly where they are coming from and how to help them get to where your head is.
3. Communicate more—and better—than you ever have before. Remember that older people don’t routinely use all the new forms of electronic communication, and make a point of figuring out the best ways to stay in contact with each friend and family member before and after you leave.
4. Budget for visits to your former home and key family members—even just once each year. Assuring people of your plans to visit “home” will be an important link. But so will the expectation that important family and friends will be able to visit you in your new home. Getting them to travel and experience your new life, however briefly, is in my mind the single best way to preserve your meaningful relationships.
Summing up, the best way to stay visible is to take responsibility yourself and not to assume anything about what others will do to keep you in their lives.
Teach them why you are going, communicate regularly, send photos, show by your actions that you value your connections with them, and you will stay visible.
Don’t, and you will truly disappear.