23 March 2013

Advice from Russia to Potential Expats


In America vacations were few and short, but in Russia it’s possible to spend all summer at a beautiful lake next to the Volga.

It’s almost thirteen years since we arrived in St Petersburg from New Jersey.  Given our situation it was for the best.  Still, I caution others who are considering the expat life. 

In New Jersey...

I didn’t realize until after arriving in Russia  how much I enjoyed living in Flemington.  I worked in a small, pretty, safe town and knew many friendly people... politicians, policemen, customers.  I was always yammering in English and Spanish, sometimes taking an hour to get back from the post office because of chats on the street. 

I could stop in a luncheonette and give and get cheerful helloes and smiles.  We belonged to the Presbyterian Church and enjoyed the Sunday service and relished the church suppers.  I got respect as a businessman and active community member that I could never find in Russia... an old foreigner of no consequence stumbling with the language.

The MacDonald Insurance Agency, Inc. was a one man business whose potential was limited by my heart disease.    My association group disability claim was denied, and living costs were rising.  The INS was sending my wife to Russia, and I didn’t want to go back to a lonely single life.

In Russia...

Nowhere anywhere could I have a more loving relationship than I do with Larissa.  It is better to live in a strange country than live without her.  She is attentive and caring and has made my years with heart disease much happier than they would have been.

As a non drinker I don’t see the friendly exuberant people that only exist here with alcohol flowing. Russians are less outgoing than Americans, but have much in their culture that I admire.  Our summer village is beautiful.

We live comfortably on my Social  Security, a small NJ teacher pension, and Larissa’s Russian pension .  We  have state medical insurance, which covers hospitalizations and some doctor’s care, but surgeries, drugs, and dental are our expense. I have received good to excellent medical care including intricate valve surgery while living here.


Tentative becomes irrevocable...

A tentative decision can within a year or two become nearly irrevocable.  So... go for a year or less.  Just like buying property in Florida, don’t burn your bridges before you know what life will be like for you overseas.

Contrast your destination with London and Paris...

Know that life in a cosmopolitan enlightened city can be vastly better than elsewhere.  St Petersburg has beautiful buildings and culture, but lacks many of the amenities of modern life. 

To get a clear contrast, try comparing your destination with London or Paris. For instance...

  • London and Paris are walking cities.  Being a pedestrian in St Petersburg is a high risk adventure.
  • The British are famous for their civility.  The Russians often display no manners, not even holding a door for another shopper.
  • Books and newspapers are available in many languages in England.  I have yet to spot an international newsagent in Peter.

Knowing the language may not be so helpful as you expect.

If you know the language of your host country that doesn’t assure friendly opportunities if the culture is standoffish  Russians are not usually gregarious, and can be wary of social groups.

A charitable, outgoing people are easier to mix with.

In the US many people are charitable towards their church, help the needy, and raise money for such organizations as the American Heart Association.  Russia is a paternalistic country where people are much less likely to help others, and are not likely to take the initiative.

How safety conscious is your new country? 

Not every culture values safety as much as yours. Russians are poor at checking for dangerous conditions and fixing things before accidents occur.  You will have to live with this attitude every day.

Your potential climate and level of pollution.

I miss the clear and often beautiful seasons we had in New Jersey.  St Petersburg  is often overcast, damp or humid, and polluted.

A lot of people are attracted to the challenge of getting through a winter in Maine or Russia, but it gets old after a while, especially as you too age.

Missing the views

Are you truly aware of how much you value the hills, mountains, seaside of your own country?  Living in a flat country with unattractive housing, adorned with few flowers, can have a depressing effect for someone from a scenic environment.

If it is to be, it is up to me!

With me, love trumped all other considerations, but still... it’s wise to think things over before you make the leap!

Comments and emails...

You can comment by clicking below, or feel free to send an email using the Wibiya strip on the lower margin.  I’m eager to know your reactions.  Thanks for responding!

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