We all hear about the big possibility of saving money while working at international schools, but the reality is that many of us don’t save much of any money at all. So, why aren’t these international school teachers saving money?
How NOT to save money when teaching abroad #9: Finding a New, Amazing Grocery Store in Your Host City
When you move abroad, the goal isn’t to recreate your exact life and lifestyle as you had in your home country. Check out the 10 Commandments of Relocated Overseas for more information about moving abroad.
International school teachers try their best to take in the local culture and local foods; it is a part of getting acclimated to their new setting. On the other hand, it is important to “take a break” from that goal, and get some foods that remind you of home and your home culture. In addition, having a wide variety of food choices while living abroad is also quite important.
One challenge of buying products in grocery stores in your host city is that you might not be able to read which food product is actually in the package/box. If you are not able to read in the local language there, it might be a challenge to even figure out which food products some items are. If you don’t know what it is, most of us wouldn’t necessary buy it. Plus, if you are not able to read and understand all the ingredients of a product, then you probably won’t buy those ones either.
It is hard knowing exactly where to go grocery shopping during your first year of living in a new city. You tend to just go to the ones near to where you are living. Every once and awhile you might hear from a colleague of a new grocery store you should check out. Even if the grocery stores near to you are good (if you are lucky that is), it is still good to keep your ears open to what else is available in your host city.
Even after five years of living some place, things change and change fast sometimes. You can easily get into the routine of just going to the three stores around your home and be quite content with the food options those places have. But even the same chains of grocery stores in your host city can be very different from each other depending on their location (e.g. in a rich neighborhood vs. a non-rich neighborhood).
Recently, my partner and I were in a different location of our host city than we usually are when we were doing some grocery shopping. We went into this grocery store thinking that it would be quite similar to the same one we go to nearer to our home. But once we started looking around, this store had so many more products than we were used to! Completely different products, more imported products, and brandnames (local and foreign) that we were used to buying but with many more varieties.
Of course, we got that awesome excitement feeling straightaway. It’s that feeling of finding something new (and maybe familiar as well) while living abroad and the realization that there are many more options for groceries for you in your host city.
As you might have guessed, we filled up our grocery carts with many of these new products (well new products to us)…spending more money than our usual grocery store outings. Finding new food products, especially ones geared towards to the expats in that city, can definitely do some damage on your back account!
Finding a bunch of new products that you didn’t know existed in your host city can be one of the best feelings while living abroad. International school teachers definitely do their best to enjoy the local grocery stores and buying the local products (which can also be awesome and delicious) they sell in those stores, but mixing those products with some other ones that remind you of home or at least of a cuisine that is familiar to your palate, is also very desirable. Just be careful though, because it can cost you a lot of money buying all these products you think you just “must have!”
We have a comment topic on our website related to the theme of grocery stores in your host city. It is in the city section of the comments and information tab on the school profile pages. It is called: Locations in the city geared towards the expat lifestyle (grocery stores, bars, etc.). Here are a few examples of comments related to grocery stores:
“There are “Foreign Food Markets” in Itaewon where you can buy anything, literally ANYTHING you could find in an American grocery store. And if they don’t have it, typically they can order it for you. Of course these shops are more expensive. Local grocery stores are well stocked with a wide variety of foods. The local grocery store closest to our campus, Saruga, carries everything (slightly higher prices though) and even has a (perfectly legal) “Black Market” in the middle of it where you can buy all kinds of food imported from the US. The only things we ever buy at the Black Market stalls are things like chips or candy (for parties), and some seasonings or spices.” – Seoul Foreign School (Seoul, South Korea) – 83 Comments
“One grocery store that I like is called Pomme’s on Davie St. They have a lot of organic items and produce from all over the world including many items made locally.” – Vancouver International School (Greybrook Academy) (Vancouver, Canada) – 11 Comments
“There are a number of grocery stores in the area that have imported items from the US and UK. Lulu’s Hypermartket is great.” – Rowad Alkhaleej International School (Dammam) (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) – 69 Comments
“Oscar’s is a good grocery store in the area that caters to expats. You can get anything you need at the surrounding malls.” – The International School of Egypt (New Cairo City, Egypt) – 43 Commentscontinue reading
We all do it. We feel slightly guilty and maybe embarrassed about it. We plan special trips to stores to make sure we get everything that we “need.” We even make sure that the airline we use to get back to our home country allows for a checked bag, maybe even two checked bags if we’re lucky (that is if our partner let’s us use their elite member status!).
We can’t wait to go home for the holidays! It is lovely seeing our family and friends. Some of us only get to see them this one time out of the year. But even though spending time with family is the number one reason we go back home each year, we also like stocking up on all the wonderful (and secret) items of our home countries!
Of course, I stock up on clothes. Many times clothes are cheaper in our home countries. They also have sales more often in our home countries. Our parents might have coupons that we can use to make the total price even cheaper. As another plus, some states in the USA don’t even have sales tax on clothes. Additionally, it is often easier to find our own size and understand the size labeling system! Don’t be deceived though, clothes can add a lot of weight to your suitcase, so plan accordingly!
One of the best feelings in the world is baking some food that reminds you of your time in your home country. There are just some spices that you can’t get while living abroad. One is high quality vanilla extract. Baking powder can be also hard to find. In many countries, it is basically impossible to find stores that sell other baking items such as dried cranberries, pecan nuts, chocolate chips, and the list goes on. It is worth it in the end to bring these ingredients back because there will always be that one night when you are inspired to make your favorite recipe that reminds you of home.
Garbage Bags and Quart and Gallon-Sized Plastic Bags
Now these items do seem quite ridiculous. Why bring these bags back with you when you can put so many other more important things in your suitcase? Not until you live abroad do you realize how crazy garbage bags are in other countries. They are typically super small, don’t have drawstring enclosures, and are more prone to ripping. I’m quite comfortable with making some space in my suitcase for a roll of garbage bags from my home country as I know I will very much appreciate having them throughout the coming year.
Tortilla Chips and Corn Tortillas
If you live outside of the Spanish-speaking countries (including USA), you can probably relate to this one. High quality tortilla chips are extremely hard to come by in many countries. You can usually find some brand (or if you are lucky, brands) of tortilla chips where you are living, but they are of a low standard that’s for sure. Even though your home country bought brand of tortilla chips might break a bit in your checked bag, it is still worth it to pack as you will definitely impress your other expat friends when you invite them over for a mexican-themed dinner. Corn tortillas are even harder to find and are a must to bring back for baking a nice batch of enchiladas.
It appears as if cooking spray doesn’t exist in other countries, only USA. Though to be honest, I have tried some host country alternatives. But, they are not the same in my opinion. As I like to cook and bake a lot, I find myself gravitating towards this product while grocery shopping at home. I usually buy two cans!
It is hard to find nice, quality salad dressings in other countries. Sometimes their version of salad dressing is definitely not to your liking, or they just don’t do salad dressing at all. It is a bit American to use salad dressing for a salad or dips, so I guess that is one reason they are not so popular in other countries. It’s true, sometimes they do import salad dressings from the UK and USA. But even if they state the same kind of dressing you like on the bottle’s label, it certainly will not taste the way you were hoping it would taste because of the generic brand that they are selling (a brand that you’ve never heard of and have never encountered before in your home country).
I just heard from an expat friend today that their expat friend used to fill their whole suitcase up with bottled water from their home country! Can you imagine?!? Must be some excellent tasting water!
With that last one being said, it is clear that everybody has a weakness that brings them to buy certain things while traveling back home.
You might say that the longer you stay at a school in a certain country, the less things that you find yourself wanting to bring back. But there seems to be always something that an expat wants to bring back regardless of their time spent abroad. It might not be the same things that they brought back with them their first year abroad, but there is typically something else that takes priority.
I have got to the point where I have a rule for myself: don’t buy anything that I can actually buy in my host country, even if it is slightly more expensive there and has a different brand name.
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