My Expat Story: Alana Ritchison


At Global Living Magazine we want to connect with our readers — know what you’re all about, what you love, where you’ve been and where you’re going. The best way to do this? Hear it straight from YOU!

We received an email from British expat Alana Ritchison, who is currently living and teaching in Taiwan with her American husband. Alana left England on a “three-month” trip to Thailand almost four years ago.

What’s your favorite part of expatriate life?

Without doubt, the best things about expatriate life are the opportunity to meet so many interesting people, the chance to learn about different cultures, and learning about one’s self.  From personal experience, I definitely don’t sweat the small stuff as much as I used to and I have realized how much ‘stuff’ I actually need, or don’t, as the case may be. While not being able to speak a local language very well can be frustrating and embarrassing, I’ve also learned to like feeling like a child, and not really knowing what’s happening at times. Ignorance can be bliss indeed!

What’s been the hardest part?

Missing loved ones is definitely the hardest part of being away. It gets easier to deal with being apart as time goes by, but when you miss family gatherings, celebrations and milestones, it’s tough. Early in 2014, my dear cousin was killed in a tragic accident. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral, and couldn’t physically be there for my other family members during this painful time. This continually bothers me.

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?

I have lived in Taiwan for two years, and before that I lived in Thailand for a year and a half. I love both places for quite different reasons, although I feel the Thai island of Phuket will always have a slightly bigger space in my heart because it was my first living abroad experience, and because it’s where I met my now husband on the first day I arrived there. It’s full of fantastic memories, but sad and unfortunate ones too. I learned a lot about myself and my ability to cope with adversity there, and I received further education in people in general. I wouldn’t say living in Phuket changed me completely, but I did some real personal growing and perspective changing during that time. I also traveled to some of the most amazing places I have ever been to including Ratchaprapha Dam in Khao Sok National Park.

Taiwan has been very interesting because I knew so little about it before I arrived. In all honesty, one of the reasons I chose it is because no-one I knew had anything to tell me about it. People like to give their input and advice, but sometimes, it’s more exciting and less inhibiting to jump in without the influence of others’ opinions.  Taiwan is a beautiful and intriguing island with a fascinating culture. It’s also the safest place I have ever lived, and the cost of living is very reasonable. I can see why many of my expat friends and acquaintances here are reluctant to leave. It’s relatively easy to explore due to the availability and affordability of public transport, including the High Speed Rail. In contrast to Phuket, it has also been great to be able to indulge in more culture and theater because Taipei and its arts and culture scene are so accessible.

Where do you want to move to eventually?

Eventually, we plan to move to my husband’s native San Diego. Being from two completely different places, we have discussed the pros and cons of a move to California versus North Western England. Clearly, family ties are a significant issue. However, in the end, what it comes down to is neither location is inexpensive to live in, but one definitely allows for a more outdoor lifestyle. Plus, my troops from England won’t mind spending some vacation time enjoying the beach life. I have also fallen in love with the laid-back attitude I have found in Southern California, and the food. Mmmmm…fish tacos.

What’s your sense of ‘home’?

Home is where my loved ones are, and as I am fortunate to have wonderful family and friends dotted all over the place, I guess that makes my sense of ‘home’ pretty wide-ranging. Whenever I visit the quaint little hometown where I grew up in England, it’s still home because my family is there and it’s so familiar to me. My in-laws’ house in San Diego feels like home because my husband’s family have endeavored to make it feel that way. On a recent trip to Phuket, cruising around our old haunts felt pretty homely, like we’d never left. And in Taiwan, we call the sanctuary of our cozy apartment ‘home’ with genuine affection. I suppose ‘home’ is where you feel loved and there is a significant connection with your surroundings. I feel it in all these places so I guess I’m either super indecisive, or very lucky.

Share anything else you’d like us to hear!

During our time in Taiwan, my husband and I founded a beach clean-up group to help clear trash from some of our local beaches. All the most beautiful beaches are in Southern or Eastern Taiwan. The ones near to us, in the North West, appear to have become dumping grounds for trash from fishing boats, and ignorant members of the public, who simply dump their garbage wherever they happen to be standing. Every month, a small group of us, Taiwanese and foreigners, head to the coast to clear as much as we can from the sands. Sometimes, it’s disheartening because there’s always so much for us to do but mostly, we enjoy giving something back to the community that has welcomed us as guests.

Keep up with Alana’s expat adventures by reading her blog.

If you’d like to be featured on our ‘My Expat Story’ section, send an email to Alison at info@globallivingmagazine.com and tell us about your experience as an expatriate by answering the above questions. Don’t forget to include a picture of yourself, your website/blog, and/or Twitter handle so we can help you connect with other expats from around the world!

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