As we move around in the world of expats, we have found out that it is much more than moving countries every four years.
An expat is defined as someone that lives outside of their native country. The term gains different meanings along the way, as well as a lot of social and political connotations. Some people will never accept being called “immigrants”; they will always call themselves “expats”, even if for the Expatriate Archive Center the definition of an expat is: ”someone who has been living in a new country for up to four years; if you stay more than four years you are an immigrant.”
In any case, being an expat is much more than living outside of your native country. Often it is also about “creating” a new family and with that a new life. And this is not for everyone, because it requires a very specific mind-set.
In these twelve years working with this specific group of people, and having the experience of being expats ourselves, we can say that expat life can be very exciting and dramatic at the same time. This is because the levels of adaptation are different for every member of the family, depending on age, occupation and way of dealing with change.
Let’s make this a bit clearer.
One day, one of my coaching clients said: “I’m happy for my wife. She had this amazing opportunity and we also wanted to leave our home country. The kids are also happy in the new school and with new friends.“
“And you?” I asked.
“Well, I’m at home organizing everything and making sure that we still have some of the old routines”.
It is not difficult to realize that this family has two rhythms and two different mind-sets under the same roof. One is the new experience and exploration, and the other is trying to keep the old routines and security. This is a great way of starting a conflict, and also amplifies distances between people.
The routines of this couple are also very different. One partner already has personal connections, things to do, and things to learn, while the other is still finding their way, maybe looking for a new group to join and new things to do.
And I believe that this is the most important part of expat integration and the wellbeing of all expats: connection and integration.
Poor or no connection is one of the main factors behind depression and isolation.
In the expat world it is important to make sure that every member of the family has the opportunity to create a personal experience with the change, and is not only living the experience through their partners.
For that is important to create programmes of integration and amplify connections with the local environment, i.e. not only staying in the “expat community”.
If you are in this situation, there are three things that you can do now:
Ask yourself: What do I want to learn that is new? And go for it.
Ask yourself: What do I want to be doing now? And do it.
Ask yourself: What type of people or community do I want to be part of? And join them.