We recently spoke with Andrea Hunt, an online life coach, personal growth specialist, and expert in EFT Tapping for expats, to learn more about her personal and professional experiences!
1: What inspired you to live the expat life? Tell us about your journey….
My expat life started in 1998 when I moved to Mexico at 20 years old to study Spanish. At the time, I had no idea that this would become my life I just wanted to explore and honestly, I had some difficult teenage years and I knew that staying in Rochester Minnesota was not an option for me. I remember reading a Bob Dylan quote somewhere that said: "I didn’t know what I was looking for but I knew I wasn’t going to find it in Minnesota." Now, I love Minnesota but it was too cold and I wanted to travel, wanted to learn languages, wanted to meet new people and be adventurous. My grandmother was Mexican and I had always wanted to learn Spanish and Chinese so I contacted a coordinator who did study abroad and volunteer programs. I worked 2 different waitress jobs to save up money and leave for around 2 years. I had no idea that moving abroad was something I would do long term.
My original plan was to study Spanish in Mexico, do volunteer work in Mexico, and study Chinese in China. Intentions are strange things. I did all those things, but I never realised how the decision to leave would change my life forever and actually in better ways than I can imagine.
So I packed my bags and left to go to Mexico. The first night I sat there in my room of the guest house and cried. I wondered if I was crazy, stupid, or what. But that decision was one of the best things I had ever done. I learned Spanish, had so many friends both from Mexico and all over the world, and I learned to live abroad and thrive while doing it. That move completely opened up the rest of my life and empowered me to do it again and again.
2: What challenges have you faced as a woman living in a foreign country? Did you face cultural/language barriers? etc..
I would say my challenges as a woman abroad have generally been manageable except that I have learned a lot about safety due to traveling extensively on my own. There are many things I learned such as never sacrificing safety to save money and I don’t mean staying in luxury areas either. It’s about taking the taxi versus walking alone at night; I think living abroad teaches you a lot of street smarts in terms of trying to be proactive with your safety and always be aware of your surroundings. In terms of culture, I would only say that yes, definitely there are language and cultural differences that are always at play and of course, you’re always treated better when you can speak the language. So, everywhere I’ve lived I’ve made the effort to study and learn the language.
3: What is life like as a transformational coach? How did you get started and what has been your biggest achievement so far?
I absolutely love what I do and what’s most important is that I can help people with the exact or similar challenges as I’ve had over the years. It’s amazing how living in another country can be absolutely incredible, new, exhilarating and make you feel unstoppable some days. …And other days your confidence crumbles as you can’t explain yourself well enough at the visa office, you lose your job due to layoffs, or go through a breakup abroad. For me, those were really my biggest moments of vulnerability and growth as an expat and the hardest. Trying to put yourself back together after something significant like that is hard to say the least but it teaches you a resilience and the knowing that no matter what happens, you will manage.
In terms of coaching, because I’ve always been interested in personal development. I love workshops, evaluating what’s working and not in my life, taking steps that scare me to get out of my comfort zone and never look back. However, like many people, I tried to be practical and play it safe staying in my 9-5.. I loved the jobs but it definitely felt like something was missing and I wasn’t really doing what I was meant to do. I put my idea on the back burner. Well, the universe had other plans. End of 2019, 80 people at my company got laid off in one day because our parent company decided to restructure. I did NOT see that coming. And I was one of them. I thought about getting certified as a coach. Then I got offered another job immediately and again, playing it safe, I took it. I played it safe. I was practical.
Again, the universe had other plans. Enter the COVID pandemic and guess who got laid off again due to company restructuring since I was one of the new hires? Yep. So, at this point it felt like the biggest wake up call and I really had to evaluate things and say to myself: ok WHAT is this trying to teach me? And you know what? I realised that my path had been cleared for me and I was going to take it. I enrolled in Animas Centre for Coaching UK immediately and I got my own coach. As I was completing my coaching hours, topics kept coming up that I knew I could address with EFT tapping, something that up to that point, had been a mind-body tool I used to manage my anxiety and emotional health. So why stop with coaching? I enrolled into a course for EFT tapping certification that I was able to work on much of lockdown in Germany.
Transformational coaching and EFT tapping have such a special place in my heart because I know first hand how they provide clarity, motivation, healing, and transformed the weakest areas of my confidence and imposter syndrome. Every day I am grateful for this gift to help people step out of their comfort zones, work on old emotional programming that creates fear, insecurity, and anxiety so they can take their lives to the next level. Being a coach has transformed me and I learn so much from my clients and feel truly blessed to do the work I do.
Many of my clients in their 40s are at the point I was in, that’s now sometimes referred to as the “Mid-life Awakening.” Unlike a midlife crisis where you go look for external validation in the form of cars, more money, etc., a Mid-life Awakening is when you look around and realise half of your life has gone by - and you think to yourself ‘if not NOW, then when? And if not ME, then whom?”
Other clients are younger and very self-aware that they know exactly where their pain points are whether it’s anxiety, imposter syndrome, comparing themselves, wondering if they’re on the right path, wanting to get out of their comfort zone corporate job they hate ((I wasn’t that self aware in my 20s and early 30s I can tell you that!). They just need a bit of guidance to make it happen and we ALL need that sometimes. You just have to know when to ask.
4: Where have you worked/studied/lived that has been the most fulfilling and a place you would recommend?
That’s a really hard question because I’ve now lived, worked, or studied in Mexico, Argentina, Italy, the UK, China, and now Germany, where I’ve been for 10 years now. All of those places brought me different lessons and awakenings at different points in my life and each one has its incredible aspects as well as challenging ones. I love Asia and Latin America as much as I love Europe so it’s hard to say where I recommend because it’s important to know what your comfort zone is and ask yourself how far away you want to go. Be honest with yourself about culture as one that’s really different from yours can also be the most isolating.
In terms of the most transformative, I have to say the answer hands down would be China. When I was 28 I moved to Zhejiang Province alone to teach English for a year then to Beijing to study Chinese first and then work. My BA degree is in journalism, so I worked for the Chinese radio and also various online publications like eChinacities and China Daily. Overall, nothing could have prepared me for the incredible experience I had there from 2006-end of 2012. That’s probably my most challenging living abroad experience as I was there for about 7 years and China turned me into who I am as a person today. I learned flexibility and patience and to deal with uncertainty, understanding how the world really works. China has changed a lot since I was there (pandemic, etc) and I’m grateful that I was there before and after the Olympics and the Global Financial Crisis. Everything seemed to be happening in Beijing and it was chaotic, invigorating, frenetic in every way. I met some of the best friends I have ever made in my life then and also learned more about myself, people and the world that I ever have.
Having said that, China is not an easy place to adjust to and it’s definitely not for everyone. But then again, for all the places that I love, there are people who don’t like them. Every country without exception has positive and negatives so if you’re picking a place, it’s important to consider: job opportunities, culture and language, economy and political stability, safety, weather, and food.
I decided to do my master’s degree in Germany as I’ve always wanted to live in Europe and I love it here. I’m very thankful to live in Bavaria where I can go hiking on the weekend. They’re quite health conscious and Munich is incredibly safe. It’s a stable economy and government where things generally work pretty well and are organised. On the whole, I find Germans to be very educated, informed, and well-traveled so it’s always interesting to meet new people here because you always have interesting conversations.
I think in terms of places I recommend, I will also always love Andalusia, which I go to a lot in winter. There is a vibrant digital nomad community and lots of expats there so it’s also nice to meet new people as well. There is beautiful sunny weather, wonderful people, amazing food, and the architecture is absolutely gorgeous. Also, it’s safe. While I love Mexico it’s changed a bit in the last few years and that’s a factor
5: What advice do you have for women who are expats/ digital nomads who may be dealing with loneliness, or feelings of displacement?
So this is something I can totally relate to and I want to start by saying that it’s one of the top challenges that comes with living abroad. I remember when I was in China at first, I was living in a small town and even though my Chinese colleagues were super nice and would invite me to dinner, we were always home by 7 PM. I was in a small Chinese village of a million people and not aware that there were any other foreigners there at all. I looked on My Space (this was before Facebook nowadays it’s so much easier) and found a group of foreigners living in Zhejiang province and we decided to meet up in Hangzhou for a Friday night. That was the first time I had ever done any organising with strangers like that as this wasn’t really common during the early 2000s. Out of that experience I found myself going to Hangzhou and Shanghai on the weekends, staying in hostels and meeting more people. When I was in Beijing, I tried to connect people, invite new people out to do things, and include people who had just moved to China. It can be very shocking and lonely at the beginning and it’s important to meet people.
My advice is to create a sense of community by joining groups and activities:
Facebook Expat or Digital Nomad Groups and suggest meet ups.
Join Meetup.com as it’s all over the world and there are so many different activities and it’s a great place to meet people.
Inter nations is good as well and when you go by yourself it’s easier to meet people and you become very approachable. Now, it’s important to remember that some cultures are more open than others and it’s important to be patient with yourself.
Networking events for your profession are also good places to go. I used to be really shy, trust me, but it became a conscious choice that I made where I said to myself: well, if I want to have friends, that’s up to me.
Take classes - join some language classes, maybe a dance class, art class, class at the gym, Toastmaster international, swimming groups, hiking groups, etc.
Learn a new hobby - there are so many hobbies and new things to try and it’s a really great way to meet new people in a setting
6: How do you take care of your emotional health? What tips and tricks can you offer other women?
Emotional health is a topic that’s dear to my heart because the uncertainty in my life created a lot of stress and anxiety. When I was doing my master’s program this all came to a head with 3 final exams in a week and I was going through a horrible period with my ex and had no support at the time. I realised in that moment with with severe anxiety, I had no way to calm myself down. I felt so overwhelmed I was panicked, scared, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I grew more frazzled and vulnerable. Meditation didn’t work. I would exercise and get my energy out but it didn’t stop the loops of unwanted thoughts in my head. And the exams weren’t going away.
And this is how I found EFT tapping with a Brad Yates video on Youtube.
I thought it looked funny tapping on my face but I was so incredibly desperate I was willing to try anything. But 20 minutes later, I was calmer than I had been in days! I was hooked. I did more videos and was able to get through my exams while tapping every day. The Emotional Freedom Technique is hands down the most important tool I use on myself and with my clients. I use it every day for anything and everything that comes up. I use it in the morning as part of my routine as it’s a nice way to ground yourself in the morning first thing. It’s also great to use over the course of the day when things happen. Unfortunately, we can’t control everything and sometimes we might have interactions with people that upset up, emails from bosses, our partners or kids so something, or maybe we get an unexpected bill. Whatever it is, we can use EFT tapping to lessen the emotional charge so we can clear the worry, fear, annoyance, anger, sadness, etc.
This is so important because so easily our minds can be like runaway trains destroying the rest of our day because we got derailed by one small thing. Someone said something to us we didn’t like, we get suddenly stressed about a deadline and can’t concentrate. I’m grateful to have EFT as my super power to manage my emotional health and I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially if they struggle with anxiety.
7: What advice do you have for fellow females that have never lived abroad but want to start living the expat lifestyle?
First, consider your visas options as an important starting point. Have a few places in mind and reasons for why you want to go there. In my experience there is no use deciding to make plans to move somewhere that’s pretty impossible in terms of your visa. The biggest mistake I see people make is not doing research and their homework to understand how visas work, when to apply, what the requirements are, etc. I’ve seen way too many people think they can just move to Europe out of nowhere and find a job easily without speaking the language. It’s important to remember that language skills are important and
Second, be realistic about your expectations. There is no such thing as a perfect country. If it’s stable, it might be cold. If it’s beautiful and historic, the job market might be really bad. If it’s easy to live there, it might be politically unstable. You get my point. Understand that traveling to a country for a holiday and living there are two completely different things. I’ve spoken with many people who get quite upset dealing with visa bureaucracy and utilities for example that they would never have had to deal with as a tourist. And it can get frustrating.
Thirdly, research the job sector and how easy it is to get a job there as different degrees and requirements don’t always transfer over. There are many possibilities but it’s important to find out what you can do. There might be ways you hadn’t thought about such as having a business online that can give you the type of career you’re looking for. Check Expat forums for ideas and there are so many people willing to help!
Forth, taking the leap can be difficult and all sorts of fears and doubts can come up. Moving abroad can be one of the most rewarding decisions you can ever make in life. Work with coaches and mentors who can help you. We don't need to do it all alone! When you’re abroad and you’re not sure how to get aligned with your new life, goals, lifestyle and dreams and you feel like there are a lot of challenges, coaches can help you.
8: What advice do you have for women looking to advance their career?
When thinking about what you want in your career, it’s important to create clear intentions and outcomes and then look at what could hinder you. Many times, we don’t understand where our subconscious might be sabotaging us.
But some of our fears and anxieties that come up are much deeper, and often rooted in our past. They come from things we experienced as kids or later in life, things we were told, things that happened to other people we were close to, etc.
Unfortunately, when we perceive something that looks like a situation that caused us pain, discomfort, shame, embarrassment, etc., our brain wants to protect us and it starts setting off the internal fire alarms in the amygdala that’s responsible for our fight, flight, freeze response. If we can’t calm it and remove the emotional charge, then we can’t calm down and feel like we’re in control let alone confident. Imagine a kid who gets up in front of the class to speak when he’s 9 years old and the teacher criticises him in an unhelpful way. Everyone laughs at him. He learns that it’s not safe to be seen, put himself in the spotlight, etc. It could be that decades later this inner child still is afraid of public speaking and it creates anxiety.
Working on the limiting beliefs or imposter syndrome that we have is so important to moving forward. Many times we struggle to do it alone and we aren’t clear why we can’t move forward towards our dreams and fulfilment. Invest the time to work on yourself so you can thrive abroad.
8: Last but not least, how do you like to spend your free time?
I love traveling and exploring the world and different countries. I love being able to go to new places, meet new people, and wander around unfamiliar cities and places. I’m lucky to live in Bavaria where I can hike on the weekends and be in nature and the mountains in only 1.5 hours and I am grateful for everything Germany has given me. I love being able to bike around in the summer as my transportation and have picnics and BBQs. At the moment, I try to escape a bit to sunny spots in winter especially to Andalusia because I love the sun, food, people, and surroundings. I love Germany but the winter is a bit cold for me, even though I’m from Minnesota!
Certified Transformational Life Coach & Level 2 EFT Practitioner