Five Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat

1. Do What You Really Want to Do

If you keep waiting for the “right time” and the “right opportunity”, you’ll be waiting forever. There is never a right time to make your dreams come true. Life-changing decisions always require an effort and create some hassle.

InterNations Expat Blog_Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat_Pic 4Are you dreaming of living in a particular country for a while? Or are you merely longing to travel and see the world? Then stop dreaming, wake up, and get to work.

Is there any way you can take a sabbatical from your job? Would a shorter break — such as an extended language-learning vacation, a “work and travel” scheme, or a volunteer position — also be enough? How much of a financial cushion do you need, and what would a realistic savings plan look like?

As for the nay-sayers in your life who keep objecting to your preparations — just remember that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact than for permission.

2. Learn to Let Go

Yes, “Frozen” in-jokes are so 2013. Nonetheless, the advice to let it go is timeless.

You literally can’t take along everything you want when moving abroad. You need to pack light and let go of plenty of things. It’s time to raise a detailed inventory and get rid of the unnecessary stuff that has been accumulating for years.

bye bye-cloud text on blue sky backgroundBut letting go of tangible possessions isn’t the hardest part. Letting go of family and friends can be way more difficult, although you’re not saying goodbye forever. Don’t give into the temptation of avoiding any potential awkwardness or displays of emotion — don’t just rush out of town, but make time for a proper farewell.

After all the goodbyes, when you have finally arrived, the letting go isn’t over yet. You still have to let go of your fears, doubts, and insecurities. Only then can you make the best out of life abroad.

3. You Got to Keep Your Balance

Life is a balancing act, and focusing too much on one thing can easily trip you up. When you have just moved abroad, finding your balance is often more difficult than normally — and also more important.

For instance, expats who move for the sake of their career may give it their all at first: their new job is literally the chance of a lifetime. But you can’t do a good job if work is all you do. Poise

Obviously, productivity isn’t a bad thing — especially not if you love what you are doing. But remember to balance it out with other aspects of your life.

Don’t be that person who neglects the family that moved with them! Your loved ones may have sacrificed a big part of their own lives for the sake of your career and you shouldn’t repay them by setting up camp in your shiny new corner office.

4. What Is Now Normal Anyway?

Everyone who has gone abroad for more than just a nice summer vacation knows how much culture shock shakes up your idea of what’s “normal”.

After all, you’re now living in a foreign country, and they do things differently there. So far, so good. At first, while you are in the honeymoon phase, every little difference seems exciting, and you’re endlessly curious about everyday life abroad.

Memory LaneBut after a while, all the changes you need to get used to start wearing you down. You begin to consider them a little weird, then downright irritating, and find fault with just about anything. You will probably paint an overly rosy picture of how much better life back home is.

Finally, though, the fog of frustration will be lifting. You’ll be able to look at both your old and your new culture and appreciate their differences (and similarities) again. Welcome to the new normal!

5. Get By — With a Little Help from Your Friends

Funnily enough, you don’t have the slightest problem with asking for directions on vacation, and you’ll readily admit that you barely understand half of what any native speaker tells you in the local language.

However, when you are settling in abroad, showing that you are out of your depth becomes a source of embarrassment. You are used to being an independent, functioning adult, and you’d like to demonstrate how much you have learned about your adopted country. Silhouette of helping hand between two climber Something as simple as a trip to the dentist or a conversation with your landlord shouldn’t be a nerve-wracking experience.

Sometimes, it helps to swallow your pride and remind yourself that asking for help isn’t anything to be ashamed of. As you’re missing your usual support network, start building a new “team you” that includes both locals and other expatriates. You’ll be amazed at how happy most people are to offer their help.

Is there another “life lesson” from living abroad that you’d like to share?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

One Response to “Five Life Lessons You Learn as an Expat”

  1. Expats get to know different culrures and attitudes and how each enriches the world;. but also how dull and even dangerous it can become when any one of these is allowed to prevail or dominate.

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