I was recently talking to my friend about how many people we knew had moved abroad and she asked me whether or not I thought that she could cut it abroad. That took me by surprise because I hadn’t really thought what it does take to be able to live abroad. I mean I was living abroad so I knew that I must be cut out for it, but whether Melanie was, is another question.
I mulled it over for a while and came up with the following qualities that – to me – one needs in order to be happy as an expat.
o Be independent. This is by far the most important thing. If you are someone who visits Mom and Dad every other day for dinner and your best friend is your older sister, moving to another country is going to be really hard for you.
o Deal with stress. Should be obvious: living in a foreign country will not make your daily life easier, in fact you will probably be stressed out quite a bit. If you are someone who tends to lose their cool easily and flip out or become emotionally distressed, perhaps the comforts of home (your old one that is) are better.
o Possess dedication and perseverance. Same as above. If you are not absolutely dedicated to beginning a new chapter in your life abroad, you may not be able to pull it through.
o Have moved before in your adult life. Perhaps not necessarily to another country, but to another city at the very least. This will help you determine if you will get horribly homesick and whether or not you are able to adjust to new surroundings well. If you have lived in your hometown all your life, even went to a university in the vicinity of your home so you wouldn’t be too far away, moving from Tempe Arizona in the US to St. Petersburg Russia is probably not going to work out for you.
o Have an open personality. Moving abroad usually means going to a country quite far from your home country with possibly a different language and definitely different customs (because, if it’s not different, why go, right?!). If you are someone who prefers to stay in and watch television and is not quite comfortable talking to strangers, perhaps you should rethink your plan of expatriating. Living in a foreign country is tough, and if you feel lonely it may make things even harder. Which brings me to my next point:
o Be able to cope on your own. Although an open personality is important to make connections and potential friends, you may be alone quite a bit at the beginning of your stay. No one is able to make friends with someone in a period of 24 hours, and depending on which culture you have moved to, friendships may take a long time to form.
o Have patience. For yourself and others. It is not possible to expect of yourself and of others that things will go smoothly at first.
o Have good friends. This may come as a surprise, but I noticed that even though my friends and family were not physically near me while I was abroad, and that communicating via e-mail is not the same thing, simply knowing that they were there for me was comforting. During the times when you do feel lonely or confused (and sadly these times cannot be avoided), thinking of funny things you did with your friends is truly chicken soup for the soul.
o And last but certainly not least, be curious! Having an unquenchable thirst for new cultures, customs, languages, places, and their people is a wonderful gift! I can’t imagine what it must like to not be interested in knowing how the Fins celebrate Christmas or whether or not Muslims get hungry during Ramadan!
Needless to say, I realized that Melanie is not, in fact cut out for living abroad!
Anyone have any other qualities that you think are valuable in order to be able to lead a successful expat life abroad?
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.