Life is full of contradictions. For every scientific study published arguing one thing, another one publishes arguing the exact opposite. There’s no denying that we are living in the information age. Never before has so much knowledge been as accessible to so many. Never before have we had so many platforms from which to air our views, expound our beliefs, share our thoughts. We can post, tweet, and blog. We can video, record, and podcast. We can write tomes or thimbles of text. We can find an audience of one, of ten, of millions. And it’s doing my head in.
I don’t know where to turn. Too much choice and I’m likely not to make any choice at all. Or worse still, have someone make the choice for me. [I miss the days when my choice of coffee was limited to black or white.]
I have friends whose opinions I trust on certain topics. They’re not necessarily any smarter than me; they’re just more interested, more engaged. I use them as my guides. I listen to their recommendations. When it comes to making decisions that require some form of expertise, I go to those who have already done the research and made the call. It’s all so easy now. A quick email or an SMS might lead to a longer coffee or a lunch, and eventually, I’ll get the information I need to make my decision.
But I wasn’t always so careful.
When I decided to more or less make Hungary my base, I didn’t do any research at all. None. I’d visited twice, yes. But on neither occasion was I anything more than a tourist. I chose to ignore all the advice I was given. I visited a fortune teller (as was my wont back then) and even ignored his dire warnings of bad things to come if I persisted with the move. I didn’t listen to those Hungarians who quite accurately predicted the country’s current state of chassis. I had my mind made up.
But not everyone is as foolhardy as I. Others like to do their research, to plan, to weigh the pros and cons. Guide books will only tell you what to visit. Local news is often biased and subject to the vagaries of translation. Country nationals can’t tell you what life as an expat will really be like. So where can a body go to get some decent, on-the-ground information about what it’s like to live as a foreigner in another country? Any country?
Enter Expat.com. Billed as possibly the largest expat help and support network in the world, this brainchild of Julien Faliu was born in 2005 as a simple directory of expat websites and has now evolved into a real social network with over 250 000 members. Showcasing blogs from Algeria to Zimbabwe, from Afghanistan to Vietnam, from Anguilla to the Virgin Islands, from Albania to Wales, from Armenia to Yemen and everywhere in between, Expat.com is a wealth of information written by real people, living real lives, experiencing real challenges. All of them have one thing in common: a willingness to share.
Take the Hungary site as an example. It has job offers, forums, and ads for accommodation. You can ask questions of those already living the dream. You can meet new people, make new friends, and build new networks. If the information is out there, you’ll find it on Expat.com. And if it’s not there, there are hundreds of people you can ask. If you’re thinking of moving to Hungary, why not read accounts of life in Hungary written by those who are living it. And then make up your mind. And if you’re already here – I’m sure there’ll be something in it that surprises you.
First published in the Budapest Times 25 February 2015