Fritz, I want to leave the U.S., where should I move? I have been asked this question numerous times, & I am probably well qualified to answer it. Whichever way a person decides, whether to stay or go, it should be based on faith not fear. The answer I give is not what many expect. While some people have wonderful experiences moving to third world countries, by & large most Americans are going to find the move does not improve things. This post is a discussion about some of the issues.
At times our feelings distort our views of issues, so before I present some thoughts, I will quote a verse that may have some application to the discussion. “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food & clothing let us be therewith content.” 1 TIM 6:6-8
I have lived in third world countries in Asia & Africa. My father made a career of helping third world countries. He did 5 year stints in Libya, Egypt, Baluchistan (wild west Pakistan), Sri Lanka & Nepal; he also did 2 year or less stints in Indochina, Japan & Tajikistan for a total of over 28 years of service trying to improve the world’s agriculture. I travelled as a child & an adult overseas. I know the subject of Geography well. A number of my friends have moved to third world countries, and although they were sincere in leaving the U.S. forever, most have come back after living a number of years in some third world country, very glad to return to the U.S. or Canada. Of one group of Amish I know about which moved to South America, one third came back because the total lack of infrastructure in a third world nation made their 19th century horse & buggy lifestyle untenable. The few ex-pats who have been successful overseas seem to me to be those who are very familiar with living & travelling overseas.
There is no price tag one can put on one’s life or health. Both my father & I have had our run ins with life threatening diseases, and militant anti-American foreigners. At times, Dad found himself in battle zones. Malaria, amebic dysentery, dengue, parasites, and many other life threatening diseases are out of control in third world countries. There are epidemics, malnourished children, lack of clean water, and an absence of stores stocked with things we take for granted. How can life be better, if you are captured, tortured, & held for ransom by some militant group? How can life be better if you get a serious disease? My father lay in a coma for 6 months with amebic dysentery and was one of the successful ones to survive o.k. A friend of mine was kidnapped & held for ransom for a nightmarish year, thinking all the time he was going to die.
On the positive side, you will often find the local people are lovable and in spite of poverty, they are appreciative & generous with the little they have. It will feel good to get away from the spoiled crass materialism of America, where we make problems out of silly issues that much of the rest of the world would find trivial at best. Some of these countries have some extremely beautiful spots, and their real estate and living expenses are cheap compared to America. If one looks at only the positives of living in a third world country, and takes into consideration all the negatives of living in our growing police state, it is easy to comprehend why there is such a widespread desire by Americans to move overseas. Almost all inmates expressed a desire to move to me, many because of the total lack of justice in their cases. But seeing what they complained about in prison, showed me few of them were ready for life in a third world country. The same would apply to Americans in general. The saying, “The grass looks greener on the other side” certainly applies to people’s illusions about the idyllic life they are going to lead in a third world nation. I have always held Costa Rica in high regard (a stable peaceful well off Latin American country) but have known Americans & Canadians who came back. A friend in Panama also wants to come back.
Personal stories? I had to talk my way out of being taken into custody by a secret policeman in Africa. Had I failed, how would I have managed visiting a third world prison? Within about a week in Nepal, I had round worm & ring worms which were having to be dewormed from me. A Peace Corps boy, on his first night in Nepal in his assigned village, was given a special treat by his host family which was also a cultural shock. They cooked & placed a rat on his plate. For them in their poverty it was a treat, & they even eat the bones. In another nation, I took note of the mounds of stinking garbage everywhere. In the Bahamas, our tour group realized that all our hotel keys were the same (it happened by accident when one of the group got mixed up on his room number). So you can see why so many foreigners around the world still crave to move to America.
And as bad as we feel things have gotten…compared to many places…our system works. You need something you can buy it in a store or online. You need medical care; it is more or less there. You need help from the police, you have a chance they will show up, and not threaten you for a bribe, and that they will do their job. Because we are used to things functioning, Americans take a lot for granted. For instance, we take for granted street signs & people obeying the rules of driving. We are used to toilets. We assume things will work, and people will pay attention to clocks. Were it just the hardships, I would say, hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But the fact that the risks of life threatening things seriously increase: robbery, anti-American violence, life threatening diseases, life threatening pests, & life threatening storms make third world nations risky. That is not to mention the types of governments that come & go in these places. This post has explained in part why I think that Americans & Canadians, if they put their minds to it, still have worthwhile opportunities in the vast landmass of North America.