Common Challenges Expat Women Face in Latin America
Aug 09, 2013
Whether you’re making a move abroad alone or with a spouse, if you’re a woman, you’re inevitably faced with a different set of challenges then your male partner.
If you’re already living in Latin America, or have done a fair share of travelling to this area of the world, then you’re likely already familiar with some of the common cultural differences from North America. Having an awareness of these differences is the first (very important) step in ensuring you feel empowered and confident in creating an optimistic and satisfying life abroad.
Regardless of where you live, your personal safety is an important aspect of everyday life. There’s a fine line between paranoia and logically keeping your wits about you… after all, you don’t want fear to take over. Striking a balance between being self-confident and taking sensible precautions is key.
A major cause of vulnerability is unfamiliarity. Making sure you look over your map before heading out, or taking an organized tour will help with your confidence levels in an unknown area. In addition, having a basic grasp of the local language will tune you in to what’s happening around you.
Of course, networking with other expats (especially other women), is the best way to gain an understanding of the safe and unsafe areas in your new backyard.
Stress comes in many forms, and for a woman living in a foreign country it can be palpable. Women are considered to be the ‘nurturers’ of a family, which usually translates into them bearing the brunt of the overall challenges associated with moving to a new home. And if there are children involved, this can be magnified… of course, this doesn’t only apply to those moving with their family. Being thousands of miles away from friends and family carries it’s own level of stress. Even with today’s technology, it can be tough for women to feel connected, leading to feelings of loneliness and distress.
Living with your spouse and kids? Use them to combat the stress associated with living abroad. Embrace the opportunity to get involved in the community and school programs via your children. Living alone? Instead of staying in your house or apartment, step outside of your comfort zone – take a language or dance class, join a community garden or even just take a walk and breath deep. Regardless of the source of your stress, taking a step back and remembering your reasons for choosing this life will help chase the anxiety away.
If you’re moving from North America to Latin America, the positioning of sexes in the local culture can be a major shock. Being prepared for this aspect of being a female expat will help you navigate these complex cultural attitudes.
Certain countries and even certain areas within those countries can differ in the realm of equality for women. Typically, the more metropolitan an area is, the more accepting and indifferent the locals will be. Whereas the rural and less developed regions will be more ‘traditional’ in their beliefs.
Although it is fairly well known that not all cultures around the world treat their women the same as North Americans (and even there, it’s not a guarantee), an aspect not often considered is that attempting to change cultural beliefs, as a foreigner, is not particularly your place. Especially if your plan is to live harmoniously with the locals in your new community. Once you’ve established yourself, and feel secure in your network of friends/colleagues, there’s nothing wrong with sharing your thoughts and views. Just remember that the existing cultural attitudes have endured for thousands of years, and the evolution of change will have to come from within the country and it’s locals first.
In general, women have a need to be connected to friends, family and the community. This can be a challenge after moving to a new country. Sure, the internet and various other means of communication are very helpful, but being accepted and welcomed into a new community is paramount. If for no other reason, this is a great excuse to learn the language of your new home. Not only will everyday tasks become easier, but integration into a new neighborhood will be a much simpler process. Plus, this is a great opportunity to connect with other folks in the same boat!
Another beneficial way for women to connect is to start a blog and talk about life and experiences in a new country. Not only is this a great way to keep friends and family in the loop back home, but blogs also attract like-minded individuals; other expat bloggers, existing expats, future/potential expats and people interested in the expat lifestyle.
Networking is another way to stay connected… but tread lightly. For women, networking is more about finding helpful and positive connections, and not just about finding other expats in the area. If you’re a happily single woman, networking within the wrong circles can send the wrong message. The same goes for networking within groups that are negative and cynical of your new country… integrating into your new community is an important part of being a successful expat, and being sucked into a group that is resisting the local culture is not a healthy situation for anyone to be in.
No matter what your gender, moving to a new country is fun, exciting, adventurous and scary. But women, especially those moving to Latin America, have considerations to keep in mind that may not even cross the mind of a man from North America.
By preparing yourself with as much information as possible, and visiting your future home several times before moving, you will get a good feel for the area you’re looking to live in; putting some of your inevitable hesitation to rest.
One way to discover whether or not an area is right for you is to visit on a Discovery Weekend! Not only will you be shown a variety of property options (vacant land, condos or homes) by the developer’s team, but you’ll also be toured around the surrounding area.