Adventure & AcceptYes, moving abroad or to a new city is an adventure! New home, new people, new culture, new food, new climate, new language. It is thrilling and scary at the same time. There are thousands of new possibility in front of us. But also new risks. Moving abroad is a big change – so what we can do to feel better and more in control of our lives? First of all, “accept” is a key word– which means not fighting or running away, but taking a deep breath and just going with the flow. Embrace the change, accept the fact that being in a new country or city will be stressful in the beginning. Simple daily activities can even be a challenge just because you need to discover everything from the scratch. So, accept that you are going through the transition phase in your life. It will get better! You will gain a feeling of security as days pass by and you learn new things about your new home place.
Being an expat & newcomerExpats or expatriates refer usually to people who temporarily live in a country different from that where they were born or whose nationality they have. Most commonly, expats “describes highly qualified employees” who take up a foreign assignments. It is never easy to begin a new life in a completely different setting with entirely distinct society, while leaving your usual support network behind! So, you have to go for the Right Reasons with the Right Attitude. Another essential success relocation factor is the emotional support for your family while adjusting to a new environment! The newcomers refer usually to people who relocate to a new city within their own country. They face very similar characteristics as expats.
Culture shockCulture shock is the state of disorientation that results from contact with a foreign culture and most expats experience it to some degree. Everything that we learned before as for example “essentials” like values, food, language, religion, lifestyle are different. The first phase of a culture shock is called “honeymoon phase” starts right after arrival when we are fascinated by new work, new food, new people, and we see our new life from the tourist’s perspective. The second phase is called “rejection phase”, and can be difficult. People often feel lonely, homesick, anxious, sad, helpless, depressed because nothing is the way it “should” be. The expatriate chooses to remain isolated from the host culture. The third phase is called “recovery phase”. They are slowly accepting the different way of life, they feel more comfortable and in control of their life. They stop comparing their host country to the home country altogether. The last phase is called “ adjustment phase” – expats familiarize with the new culture and they finally begin to feel at home in their host country. They gain a new sense of confidence and start enjoying a new life.
Tips: Expect the culture shock, plan for it and then roll up your sleeves and get through it. Read about the host country or city as much as possible, plan an orientation visit before moving in, learn the language, mingle with locals, participate in local social events, ask for a help, focus on the positive aspects. Don’t overestimate your own culture. Break out from your comfort zone. Write a diary.
Diverse culturesLiving and working in international environment revealed to me that it is important to understand where people come from. Certain cultures clash more with each other while sometimes certain things are irritating or difficult to understand (independence level, male and female roles, confrontation level etc.). Understanding your own cultural background is very important for your new life in a new country with its own unique culture. It takes some courage to revalue our cultures.
Tips: By understanding your own cultural blueprints and of course, the background of people from different countries, allows you to avoid frustrations and misunderstandings. Learn from each other and choose the best from both.
EntrepreneurshipMoving abroad is a great opportunity to shift your career and become an entrepreneur. Setting-up your own business abroad can be blessing (re-inventing yourself, career change, professional opportunities etc.) or not the best idea (official issues, rules and regulations, business mentality etc.). Personal traits needed for success are mainly inherent, but you can develop & strengthen the right mindset: self-confidence, self-motivation & discipline, courage, action, resistance, determination, working independently, enthusiasm and creativity. Skills that you can work on are: communication, networking, sales, planning, negotiation skills and time management.
Tips: Asses your motivation, strengths and weaknesses, define your business idea and market, define strategy for your product or services, find the name for your business, draft a business plan and get the necessary funding, design the marketing strategy, register your company and work, work, work until you make it! But don’t stop nurturing your professional identity! How about creating a portable career that moves with you?
Friends & FamilyYour new support network and happy life should be a balance of:
· Family & friends back home – which stays your “backbone”, people you can always rely on in difficult times.
· Partner & his/her family – you will rely on your partner emotional support, and the support of his/her family.
· Compatriots – people from your own country who shares same system of values, beliefs etc. In the beginning, they might offer you a strong feeling of security, but spending time only with them will slow your integration process and increase the risk of your rejection of the new culture.
· Internationals – people from different cultures and backgrounds who understand and share what you are going through. You are in the same “boat” with them.
· Locals – befriending locals is positive on your transition & acculturation process. They can be your guide, but have in mind that making friends from this group can be somewhat difficult task.
Tips: Accept that your relationships with your old family and friends will change. You need to create your new social network – the sooner, the better! Think of your own hobbies and with what kind of people you would like to hang out. Approach different groups and clubs that match your interest and hobbies.
Global nomad & Get employedGlobal nomad refers to people who are living an international lifestyle. They develop some sense of belonging to both the host culture and the home culture, while not having a sense of total ownership in either. Elements from both (or multiple) cultures are blended, resulting in the third culture.
Pros: Global nomads know how to respect, observe and learn from cultural differences. They don’t assume that our way is the best or only way. They develop flexibility and tolerance that are cross-cultural skills par excellence. Another great aspect of being a global nomad is a multi-dimensional world view. Being bilingual or multi-lingual is valuable too.
Cons: The darker side of the global nomad experience is a painful emotional issue as rootlessness, which is the belief that you belong everywhere and nowhere. Another issue is the struggle with intimacy – global nomads step into situations with other global nomads and rapidly form strong relationships with them but they have to be prepared to drop a relationship at a short notice.
Because global nomads have ached at the loss of locations and friends we love, they tend to be highly compassionate and empathic folks. They understand isolation, they understand discomfort around being new, and they understand the feeling of not belonging. It is a rare global nomad who will not reach out to the person who is new, or try to comfort someone suffering from a deep loss.
Get employed –make an overall strategy followed by an action plan, which you should divide, into small, feasible steps. Pay attention to networking, remind them about your job search, update your CV, customize it if needed and keep your LinkedIn and other social profiles consistent with you CV. Keep your mindset positive. Design a reward system for yourself. “Spousal career concerns” are top reason why relocation fails, so find a consultancy for your spousal career development.
Happiness & HumorHappiness – there is no “one-size-fits-all” theory that will make all of us happy. For most people, family and close meaningful relationships are top values. Living abroad causes a serious shift in that sphere of life. On the other hand, expat and newcomer life is a great opportunity to increase your chances of being truly happy.
• Be curious and positive – a whole new world just opened up for you!
• Accept others as they are – don’t judge them, don’t try to change them!
• Learn and enjoy this opportunity of a new beginning in a different place!
• Don’t lament about what you left behind but look at what is opening up for you.
• Know that feeling sad at times is part of the game – but don’t let that feeling takes over you and makes a victim out of you.
• Share your feelings with friends, family or coach. Share your experiences of expat journey with others.
• Stay clear of criticism, sulking, and stonewalling – don’t blame someone else in your misfortunes.
• Face difficult situations without running away from the problems. Be in control of your own life.
• Be able to live in here and now. Look and copy children – they are happy 100 percent in here and now. Step with them into the moment of happiness!Humor is so important while an expat! It makes frustrating and stressful situations a lot easier to handle. It almost creates an instant vacuum effect where all your anger and stress get sucked out of you and replaced with a feeling of lightness and a belief that it’ll all work out somehow. Since exasperating situations tend to happen a lot more often when we live in a foreign-to-us culture, humor can become a tool to use on a regular basis.
Tips: Next time you find yourself in a frustrating place, think of your favorite comedian. What would they laugh about here? Share your stories when you were able to treat frustrating situations with humor!
IdentityOne of the premier worries that we have to face in expat life is losing one’s identity. Moving abroad will have a big impact on our identity, on how we view ourselves. The list of concern can go on and on: who am I going to be there, what will I relate to…if anything, what relationship will I form, what about my financial independence – if accompany our working spouses? All of these questions relate to who we see ourselves as – and how do we keep our identity in unfamiliar environments. I believe the key here is our relationship with ourselves. Moves and transitions produce feelings of doubt in our own abilities: feelings of guilt, feelings of low self-esteem, and feelings of “not being good enough, smart enough, etc.” No matter what we call these feelings, they are all about the same thing – we stop liking ourselves and we start with self-criticism.
How we can be in control of this transition? Grab a peace of paper and write in the middle of it “I am”- you will see what words come to your mind first and what are the parts of your identity in the present. Compare that list with a list “I was” – I bet it would be different! In your new place, you will create new roles for yourself and also your internal values might change. I often see with my expat clients and friends that moving abroad causes this shift in values. For example, when you are far away from your family you slowly start to realize the importance of your family ties. You might notice that your new culture has a different set of values. If there are many changes in the identity elements, we might feel disorientated with who we are. Am I still me? Am I still the same person that I used to be? As a result you might also experience a temporary loss of self-confidence. So what to do about that?
Tips: It is a process and therefore temporary. It will pass and you will feel confident again. You are not the only one facing such a situation. Meet with other internationals going through the same process. Share your experiences with others. You have an active role in how long it is going to last. Think of yourself as “in charge” of your own process. Be pro-active rather than reactive. Take a stock of what has changed in your identity and think if there are any elements (roles, relationships etc.) that you want to take up to replace the old ones. Think of becoming your “new self” as an adventure that will allow you to grow as a person, make plans and take action. Start a journal to stay in contact with yourself (or call me, I have plenty to share).
JudgmentIn our day-to-day expat life we often judge our new culture and its people from the point of view of how it compares to our own. That especially becomes true if we are not dealing well with Culture Shock and nothing is going right. We judge and compere ourselves to others, we compere achievements, appearance, education and intellect, and we even compare social behavior and social acceptance. However, each comparison is actually misunderstandings between people, it prevents us from truly knowing each other, and make it much harder to build bridges and friendships. The process of judging doesn’t only make you feel bad, but it also robs you of an opportunity to open your mind and soul to an experience that can change your life. It stops you from enjoying new things from an “uncluttered” — from judgments — perspective. If you keep judging a culture and its people, you’ll never “make friends” with them and, thus, you’ll never adjust enough to live a happy life as an expat.
Tips: So stay judgment – free. Consider everyone and everything as it comes into your life – new, exciting, and full of possibilities to explore.
Kindness to YourselfActs of kindness are something that we probably engage in on a daily basis. We are used to being kind to our family members, our friends, strangers in need, pets, the environment, etc. Being kind towards others gives us a good feeling. Yet how often do we extend these acts of kindness towards ourselves?
Very often we don’t know how to be kind to our own, sometimes fragile, selves. Especially as expats – when we go through more change and learning every time we move than most people do in their lifetimes – we tend to push ourselves really hard. We often expect to be fast and perfect in learning the culture and the language; in adjusting and bringing normalcy to our families in a completely different environment; in garnering that feeling of belonging; in excelling at work; in finding work; in creating relationships and friendships, in… this list can go on and on. And when we find ourselves to be less than perfect and less than fast, we embark on a journey of self-criticism, self-pity, and declining self-esteem.
When that happens, take a step back and think: Am I being kind to myself? What would be different now if I decided to swap criticism for kindness? How would that feel?
Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean giving up on whatever you’ve set your heart to do and be. It just means giving yourself some space, a supportive shoulder, and a lot of positive energy to continue your journey.
Listening fullyMost people never listen or don’t listen carefully. They hear but they don’t really listen. Usually this is what happens when someone is telling us a story: we engage in our own internal listening. We either remember that something similar has happened to us and we begin constructing an answer in our heads about our own story; or we find ourselves bored and thinking of something else; or we remember about something we need to do and begin to worry about it. We are never really 100% there – focused on the words and the energy of what’s being spoken.
Listening fully is essential to understanding and establishing connections with people. And understanding and establishing connections with people are essential to creating a successful and fun experience as an expatriate. Next time you are engaged in a conversation, try this exercise: put your entire attention at another person and every time you notice your thoughts going elsewhere, bring them back. What do you hear? What do you observe? And what do you hear between the lines?
Listening fully also means listening to what’s not being said in words. It’s listening to what’s important to that person, to what makes them tick, to what upsets them. If you make an effort and really listen to someone next time, you’ll be surprised to find out how much you can actually learn about that person.Language – Knowing the language goes hand in hand with knowing how to listen. Each language brings with it a certain way of interacting. As you listen, you’ll be learning these ways and, in addition to connecting with a person, you’ll also be connecting with their language. Showing a willingness to learn the language may be more important than knowing the language. A mere greeting in someone else’s language or the ability to say “thank you” or “you are welcome” projects respect, humility, and openness.
MemoriesExpatriates can consider themselves among the luckiest people on Earth because they get to generate the most exciting memories during their international assignments. Memories of new places, new people, stimulating challenges, exploration of the unknown, etc. And, if we are like the majority humans, for the most part we will remember the good parts and forget the not-so-good-ones. Memories are important not only because they remind us of the fun we had, but also because they help us remember the journey we undertook to learn about the new place — and in the process, we remember what we learned about ourselves. The journey is just as important as the destination (if not more sometimes), and so by collecting and preserving the memories of places and people, we also collect and preserve the memories of our learning and discoveries about ourselves.
NegotiationsWhen I say negotiation I don’t mean the one that has to do with business deals or peace agreements, or dispute resolution. Instead, I am using the word to explain the delicate process of negotiating the change – and a journey of making lots of very new and, sometimes, difficult choices. When you arrive to another country, even city and emerge yourself into another culture, you begin to notice that certain things are done differently. People might be routinely late to appointments whereas you are used to always being on time. People may drop by your office unexpectedly whereas you are used to scheduling these impromptu meetings. People may expect you to spell their responsibilities out for them – when you are expecting a healthy dose of initiative. All these changes may throw you for a loop – and worse, they may really mess up and confuse how you perceive yourself and your ability to succeed in the new environment. After all, if you are constantly frustrated and if you are struggling to understand why things are not working the way they should, you’ll find yourself arguing with your saboteur a lot longer than you ever want to.
Tips: And that’s where negotiating across cultures comes in, also called cross-cultural communication. The main characteristics of this negotiation process are: respectful communication and understanding of global cultures, analyzing your relationship to your own culture blueprints, learning about your host country core values, and after compering those two cultures –acquiring practical intercultural skills by adapting your individual behavior to local conditions.
Open-mindedThere exist many wonderful quotes about what an open mind is and what it comes to represent to different people. I will mention a couple of them:
“An open mind is a mind of curiosity, wonder, learning, infinite possibilities and a beautiful desire for understanding.”
“A person open to all things and ideas is by default wiser than the one that is not.”
“When you are open to everything, nothing is impossible.”
And while these quotes are probably enough to confirm that open mind is very important in order to be happy as an expat, I would still like to explore what it is that closes our minds. Making assumptions and passing judgments – these two attitudes are often to blame for keeping our mind closed rather than open. Assumptions -We live our lives by making assumptions. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are not. After living in a culture for a long time (or for our entire life) we are full of assumptions that have been created by our experience with that culture. When we move, we automatically assume the same about the new place. For instance, if in my “old home” colleagues didn’t bother me when I closed my office door, then I am going to assume that things should be the same in my “new home”. And why not? Should not people know what a closed door means? You see how this idea about “what people know about closed doors” becomes an assumption based on previous experience? And if we take this assumption to be the truth (which is what we do most of the time), then we encounter a lot of frustration in dealing with the new situation. Instead of keeping an open mind and inquiring about the meaning of a closed door in the new culture, I may assume that it’s the lack of respect and the lack of manners that makes people come in freely when I have my door closed. Passing judgements – The new country we’ve ended up in has been in existence long before our plane deposited us there. People here are used to being and doing things their way. No matter how much it may bother us and no matter how much we disagree, a judgmental attitude will get us nowhere. Remember we don’t own the absolute truth of how to be. There are many different truths and realities out there. And when we have an open mind – free of judgments and assumptions – we are more able to see the different truths and realities. Tips: Keeping an open mind is critical. The expatriate who views the new culture with an attitude of openness and respect will have a far better outcome than one who is suspicious and critical.