Expatriates – surviving or thriving? Depends on how you look at it…

Recently a few articles and books caught my eye.  All of them were targeted at expats and all of them used the word survive in some fashion.  There was either a title “How to survive as an expat” (Disclaimer: not the exact words); or an e-book on “5 Ways to Survive your move abroad (again, not exact words); or an article on “Survival tips on…”, etc, etc, etc.  All this written material  was intended to help expatriates and was offering help from the perspective of survival and having to survive.

Why do I bring this up?  If we look at the definition of the word survive, this is what we get:

  • To remain alive or in existence.
  • To carry on despite hardships or trauma; persevere.
  • To remain functional or usable.

How is that for a perspective?  How inspiring does it sound to you if you are an expatriate (or preparing to become one)?

My point here is that perspectives from which we approach our lives matter a great deal.  Perspectives can be empowering and inspirational – the ones that make us look at the world thought the glasses of possibility.  Perspectives can also be cautious and fearful — the kind that force us to look at the world through the glasses of prevention.

Looking at our expat experience from the point of view of having to survive is nowhere as fun and calling as looking at it from the point of view of thriving.  What do you think?

And how do you look at your expatriate journey?

People who enjoyed this also read:

A different take on expatriate motivation

7 Habits of a Happy Expat

Culture Shock revisited or is it all about going through the stages?

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

9 responses to “Expatriates – surviving or thriving? Depends on how you look at it…

  1. An interesting topic: how different people see the same thing in different ways. I ve always seen expatriate posting as being a new challenge, new was the exciting part: what am I going to learn, see, taste, hear or hold for the first time? Challenge was: how will I overcome difficult times during the adaptation process, make a home, friends, and grow from the experience? I lived in places considered difficult and came out with good memories of people met more than bad ones.

  2. Anna Maria Moore

    Very true! I agree wholeheartedly that our perspective can strongly shape our experiences. I was an expat kid and am an ATCK and I never thought of that lifestyle as difficult or traumatic, nor did my parents ever give me that impression. So it was only when I began to look at cultural studies and get involved in expat work that I learned about the “survival” aspect of it. And why not see it as an opportunity and an adventure? That makes things much easier and will make the assignment so much more enjoyable!

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  5. I think perhaps those article were named by people who’ve had pretty difficult experiences as expats, which is obviously not to say everyone has mostly difficult experiences with it.

  6. Punctuation Enthusiast

    The whole “survival guide” thing is often just a cliché, too, and often used in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way. One sees it in reference to all kinds of things, e.g. starting at university, share-housing, etc. It doesn’t have to be taken totally seriously.
    Perhaps if you suggest some titles you think would be preferable that would be of help, at least in introducing some options to people who can’t think of anything else (the use of clichés is often more to do with taking a unoriginal, or even lazy, approach to writing, than anything else).

    • globalcoachcenter

      I think more often than being used as a cliche or for lack of creativity, it’s being used as a marketing and sale tactic. The idea is to get people to buy it because if they don’t, they may end up in some sort of apocalypse. My issue with that word — and with that sale tactic — that it creates a certain kind of energy and collectively when we think “survival”, we get “survival”. Survival instead of enjoyment, instead of “thrival”, instead of … whatever other positive and life-affirming word we can come up with.

      All words we use in our thinking and our speaking generate energy and compel us towards certain things in life. Put differently — our life follows the way of our thoughts and our words. Collective thoughts and words have even a great power on the evolution of humanity. So, do we want our energy to go into survival? Or elsewhere?

      Just a thought. 🙂

  7. Punctuation Enthusiast

    globalcoachcenter, I totally understand what you’re saying about word choice.
    The true motivation behind that choice of title could obviously be a range and/or combination of things. I personally interpret such titles as merely light-hearted and not particularly original choices.
    I’m still curious: what would you suggest as a preferable title?
    My expat experience (as a TCK) happened between 1974 and 1985, and I wish that someone had given me (and my parents) *any* material at all, however titled, to help me deal with it.
    I do think that any guide to expatriating with children does need to responsibly address real psychological/emotional challenges, but that doesn’t mean the title needs to include the word “survival”.

    • globalcoachcenter

      Great question, Punctuation Enthusiast! I guess my choice of words would reflect the way I feel about the energy behind those words. So, I’d choose any of the following:
      — create (as in “how to create”, etc)
      — thrive
      — enjoy
      — grow
      — succeed
      — journey

      All of the above words come from my values — from what’s important to me. So for others those words can be different. The bottom line though is that these words are inspirational (they motivate “towards” something) rather than fear-based (motivate “away” from something)…

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