How do you know if expat life is for you?

Someone recently asked me this:

“When you were first offered an expat position, how did you know it was for you? How did you know that you’d be happy living away from home in another country and another culture?”

I had to think before I answered and even then I didn’t really know the answer.  Sure, I know the “how I know” now having been an expat many times over, but how did I know it then?  Was it a hunch?  A longing?  Hunger for an adventure?

Probably it was a combination of all the above coupled with a few other things yet the question made me think.  How can a person who grew up in a mono-cultural environment (if that exists nowadays, that is)  know if an expat position that’s being offered to him/her is their cup of tea?  How do they know it’s for them?

There are things out there in the world that are for us and there are those things that are not for us.  For instance, I know that bungee jumping is just not my thing no matter how excited many of my friends may be about it.  The same applies to life journeys –some journeys are for us and some are not.  But with journeys it may not be so easy to know especially if we have not tried.  So how would one know if an expat living is their thing before they embark on it?

Here are my thoughts and I’d love it if you can comment with yours below.

  • I think that for those people, who thrive on change, this desire for change may be a hint that expat life is definitely something to try out.
  • I think that those people who crave adventure are also lucky to know in advance that they will most likely enjoy it.

What are other ways to know?

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12 responses to “How do you know if expat life is for you?

  1. Another helpful consideration is this: Do you find yourself drawn to friendships with “outsiders” or “foreigners” that are around you in your home cultural context? Are you curious about what’s different or “strange”? Have you enjoyed helping an “outsider” to feel more at home in your culture? If these things have been fun or intriguing to you in your home culture, then you’ll probably do well as an expat.

  2. I think if you are the kind of person who sees the glass as half full rather than half empty and recognises and accepts that in order to gain some ‘positives’ you might have to put up with a few ‘negatives’, then you will be excited at the prospect of an expat posting and will be more likely than others to succeed in one.

  3. Pingback: How to Tell if Expat Life is For You « Expats in Mexico

  4. This is a great question! It’s hard to pinpoint a clear answer, especially for a change that is unexpected. I haven’t lived anywhere else long term, but I absolutely love traveling and I think the “go with the flow” attitude is key in knowing whether you could adapt to any culture. If you’re someone who won’t budge on little things that aren’t going your way, moving abroad will probably prove tough for you. I’ve referenced your post in my blog (http://expatsinmex.com/) for expats like myself interested in moving to Mexico, please take a look – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  5. Nathalie Picard

    I had two expatriation experiences, and I don’t remember having any hesitation to accept the experience, although both my husband and I grew up in France. Why was that? I can’t really tell, the perspective to change and live something different was just so exciting that my heart was beating and the yes was there before I knew all about the conditions. The two experiences were very good experiences for the full family. I would recommend expat experiences to be no shorter than three years. Three years is what it takes to settle in your new environment, build a social life, understand the culture, and feel home.
    I have many friends who had an expat experience. For most of them, it was a positive experience. For some of them, the adaptation was difficult at the beginning but they enjoyed it after a year, for a few it was a failure. I observed that the main reasons for an expat failure were:
    - The spouse was not able to build a social life or get a job. The language, the localization (rural area in Hungaria) or the visa conditions were an obstacle.
    - The individual was really attached to his food habits. Food can be a cultural value that is difficult to modify for some people.
    - The expat employee had a high amount of travel and was not often at home. The family felt isolated and not supported in a foreign country.
    - The expatriations were too short and too frequent (Marketing function). Children were stressed by the repeated change of environment (temporary accommodation, new home, temp again, new home in a different country..), language, school and the loss of their friends. Children forget and adapt fast, but 2-3 years is what it takes for them to recover from the moving stress and get the time to enjoy the experience.

    • GlobalCoachCenter

      Thanks so much, Nathalie, for sharing your experience, I agree with all of your reasons wholeheartedly!

  6. Almost nine years before I had the possibility to work in Jeddah / Saudi Arabia. The first kid was 6 years old, the second one 3 months. A job offer in Germany, where I’m from, and that one in Jeddah.The job seems to be good the income not so much more like that one in Germany. But we were thinking about, we were scared, unsure, full of doubt. I make it short, we left and said, let’s try it for a year and then we’ll see how it is.
    And believe me, it was hard, especially for my wife. Saudi is extrem, extrem difficult but on the other side extrem interesting. We lived for 5 years in Jeddah, thereafter we left for Suriname. What? Where is Suriname? That was also our first question. We are living here almost 4 years and we like it, but on the other side, we know we will leave again, because we didn’t find our final destination up to now. We like to visit our families in Germany, to spend our time with them, but we it’s not our place.
    You don’t know if expat life is for you, you have to find it out, you have to take the risk. You had the example with bungee jumping, I also really like to see it, but it’s nothing for me, so I don’t do it. If you like to do something and you are “only” scared about the risks and the but’s, then you should really try it. Live your dreams, don’t dream your life. Yes it’s difficult at the beginning, yes there will be tears, yes there can be the time that you hate it, but give yourself the time and then you’ll see. Leaving again after a short while would be wrong, stay for a year and if you are still not satisfied, then you can go home, but then you know that’s not your way of life.
    Nowadays I’m really satisfied that we took the chance, it’s not always easy, but we like the way of life and I hope it will go on like this.

    • GlobalCoachCenter

      Thank you, Wolfgang, for this great story and for the wisdom of “if you like to do something and you are “only” scared because of the risks…, you should try it.” Definitely ditto!

  7. Just wanted to add something to your point that “those people who crave adventure are also lucky to know in advance that they will most likely enjoy (expat living).” Craving adventure does often help speed up the path through the stages of culture shock, but once that’s been worked through, the naturally adventurous often find they have itchy feet and start craving adventure again. This is definitely something to bear in mind for those considering a long-term/permanent move.

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