My Expat Life: Five Years And Counting

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Rashad Pharaon looking at a sunset from a boat on the ocean.

It’s been five years. Five long years since I’ve expatriated abroad and traveled and worked abroad. My expat life took me from the Middle East to Asia; from Saudi Arabia to Thailand. It’s hard to believe how time flies when you’re traveling, when you’re working on your own, when you’re living a very different kind of life. Someone recently asked me if I regretted any part of my travels, especially my first three years as an expat in Saudi Arabia.

My answer was a resounding NO.

I loved my time in the desert kingdom. Yes, it was hard adapting to its strict ways of life at first, but, think about it, this blog wouldn’t even exist were it not for my experiences there.

A crowded street by the Mekong in Sa Dec. Villagers defocused in the background and a lady riding a scooter in the foreground.

I started Banker in the Sun beneath the desert sun. Soon, I moved my focus to Lebanon, then Vietnam and the rest of Asia.  My expat life abroad has been full of challenges and sacrifices.

I loved my banking job, which explains why three of my five years as an expat was working as a head of retail for a bank.

I wasn’t running away from a cubicle, or a specific way of life. I simply chose to experience the different shades of life and to live in as many of its colors. After my banking stint in Saudi Arabia, I moved.

The next two years were spent focusing on growing an online presence and in turn moving to Chiang Mai to meet like-minded people. For those of you who may not know, Chiang Mai is located in Northern Thailand and is known as a major hub for online entrepreneurs.

When I look back at my expat life so far, I find my greatest challenges so far have been:

  • Distance from my family and friends
  • No job stability
  • An uncertain future outlook
  • A challenging romantic life
  • Lack of proper guidance

The last part refers to the many people around me. God bless their hearts, so many online entrepreneurs mean well, but their advice downright sucks. The problem is not many have actually successfully launched long-term businesses, hence the advice given is based on ideology rather than empirical, tested, long-term experience.

The distance from my loved ones means I’ve had to adapt, to socialize, and to rely on myself for all things that could go wrong. Add to that a lack of job stability and an uncertain future (where will I be in five years?), and you have the prime ingredients for loneliness.

On a romantic level, my expat life has made things very difficult.

It’s very hard finding a special someone when you’re abroad.

As romantic as expat living may seem, the notion rapidly wears off after six months or so. Many people long to return home eventually, which makes it all the more challenging to find that special someone.

Regardless of the challenges, I’ve also had many positive things that peppered my expat life:

  • Not having to wake up to an alarm clock and trundle to work
  • An absolute freedom of movement
  • Learning new skills every month
  • Experiencing cultures across the world
  • Building a sustainable, self-employment income
  • More time to focus on finishing my debut novel, When Kings Fall (currently in its 197th re-write–jk)

It is undoubtedly hard being in a foreign place without a support structure and trying to create a living from scratch. However, once I overcame the hurdle, things rapidly changed for the better. I also learned that many come with the idea of becoming a digital nomad–but that becoming one is easiest when you start back back home. This way when you finally hit the road, you already have some form of sustainable income and a more realistic direction.

It took me one year of burning through savings to learn this lesson.

I’m now back home in Byblos visiting my father, and I can’t help but ponder my expat life abroad and where it is taking me.

I won’t lie. I’ve considered all options, such as returning to the banking world or moving back to the States and foregoing the expat life. But, you know, the digital nomad lifestyle is a really hard thing to give up.

My home in Byblos Lebanon where I ponder my expat life. It looks very modern and geometric.

Yes, you may not know where the future leads you. And yes, it totally feels like taking off in a sailboat on an alien world where there are no maps and no navigational instruments.

There’s just you and your sails,

and your will to explore and to experience foreign shores.

These shores aren’t necessarily physical, they may very well be the shores of the parts of you that have remained unexplored for so long.

And that is why.

That is why it’s so hard to give up this journey after five years.

Because it feels like I’ve just stepped on that boat.

And every new day feels just like the first.

What has expat life abroad taught you? How long do you want to be on the road? If you haven’t gotten on that first plane yet, when will you and why?



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