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Seven Unexpected Benefits Of Being An Expat

I have often been reluctant to speak about the benefits of the expat life because they seem so obvious.  Benefits of being an expat

Discovering a new culture, speaking another language, experiencing the wonder of iconic places brings you one step closer to embracing the reality and complexity of our world. A priceless gift toward living a full life.

Living abroad evokes the breeze of adventure, the sound of mystery, the myth (and the reality sometimes!) of a luxury life.

Beside those perks, here are some hidden benefits of living abroad

1. Getting to know your unique way of grieving

Every change brings with it some gains but inevitably some losses. Changing country is no exception.

Whether you long for the rain (in Dubai), a crusty baguette (pretty much everywhere outside of France) or sharing a meal with your friends, you’ll notice this heart twinge or – when it’s more serious – an acute feeling of sadness, guilt or anger.

When you move abroad, you experience different types of loss: definitive loss (like the loss of your car if you had to sell it) and ambiguous loss (like the loss of attending a family reunion). This is what I call expat grief because those losses aren’t linked to the death of a loved one.

Each loss – as small as it may be – needs to be grieved. This is the healthy process to avoid more complex reactions, sometimes decades after the loss. Both adults and children have to mourn their losses even if children don’t seem to be so much affected.

Each person grieves differently. So getting to know sooner rather than later how you process loss in a healthy way is extremely useful. You can then apply what you’ve learned about yourself to other life situations.

2. Stimulating your brain agility

Need to figure out how much costs this T-shirt? The price tag is in a different currency. You have to make a quick mental conversion.

Need to phone your parents or your brother back home? You have to make a quick appraisal of the time difference.

Need to go out? You have to switch language to address people in the street.

Need to drive on the other side of the road? You have to be extra-focused because your brain can’t be on auto pilot.

Think about your children coming back from school after a full day of lessons in a foreign language. The mere effort to answer your question ‘How was your day?’ will trigger a headache!

You have to be much more active and alert than if you hadn’t changed environment.

Does this mean it helps you prevent an early onset of dementia? We’d love to believe it!

3. Having more expat friends!

You’ve decided to live abroad and you want to experience as much as possible the local culture, language and people.
You refrain from joining expat clubs or organisations from your own nationality because you want to blend in. But interestingly, the people you connect deepest with, are somehow people who are not from here.

Whether they’re from another region or state, coming from the countryside or from another city, or downright foreigners, you’re drawn to those people who also have an experience of being uprooted.

Breaking into another culture at the deepest levels, understanding its sense of humour, being able to grasp the innuendos, puns and wordplay takes years, even decades. If it’s at all possible.

So even if you have no idea about the beliefs, language or customs of another expat who’s living in your host country, you may relate much more to this person because you are both far away from your family, struggling with the local language, meeting the same restrictions to find work and lacking network.

Chances are, you’ll end up having more ‘foreign’ friends.

4. Becoming more aware of what you, your home country, your culture are about

In leaving your home country, you not only get to see other ways of doing things but you also discover how others perceive your country and your culture.

Both sources of information enable you to extract yourself and take some distance from your country of origin. In taking a few steps back, a new picture of your home country and of your relationships (with your family, your friends back there) starts to emerge.

It’s like looking at yourself in a mirror. When you’re immersed in your home country, you have your nose glued to the glass. When you move abroad, you take a few steps back and you can see the bigger picture.

5. Shaping up a UNIQUE family culture – A Third Culture

Your expatriation story is unique. The countries you will be living in, the length of your stay, the way you’ll have experienced the local conditions, the relationships you make, the traditions you give up or decide to adopt: this set of circumstances will make you shape a unique family culture.

It’ll be different from the culture of your home country. It’ll be different from the culture(s) of your host country(ies) too. It’ll be a unique third culture. Isn’t it amazing?

6. Freeing yourself from expectations in your own society

If you’ve never changed surroundings since your childhood then people know where you went to school, the occupation of your parents, the social class you belong to. There are implicit and explicit expectations about the kind of studies you’re going to follow, the partner you’ll choose, the job you’ll take.

When you change country, nobody knows who you are, where you come from or what your family heritage is. Norms and customs are different. School systems can hardly be compared.

Let’s take a simple example : your parents’ expectations about your children’s academic performance.

Had you remained in the same country and – even more – in the same town as your parents, your children would have regular contacts with their grandparents and get frequent questions.

‘How well did you do at your maths test last week?’

Your dad would figure out quickly whether it was a success or not. And chances are, his judgement – positive or negative – would be quick to follow. ‘I thought you could do better. When I was young, we used to …’

And then turning to you: ‘Did you hear that the Jones put all their grandchildren in private schools? They really care about their education.’

You’d have felt the blow of a thinly veiled reproach. The Jones are close friends with your parents. They see each other frequently. Grandchildren are for sure a topic of conversation. Comparisons are made, judgements are expressed. You know that your parents would suffer from your choices that they consider reflecting on them and their ability to pass down their values, hence the pressure that is put on you and the grandchildren.

But this is now off the table: you’re living abroad!

Who knows how the school system works over there? The distance makes it difficult for anyone to relate, grandparents and friends included.

7. Opportunity to be born several times in your lifetime

Moving abroad means that you’ll get a new name.

Why?

Because nobody will be able to pronounce it exactly like at home. The tonal accent will be displaced or missing, the sounds will be distorted, the spelling will be changed.

Moreover, you’ll change surroundings and living conditions: climate, house, language.
This is typically what happens during the natural birthing process.

Living abroad is like being born anew!

When this change happens in adulthood, you have the unique opportunity to consciously experience it and to remember it.

Who ever thought they’d go through such a drastic new beginning?

Now over to you: what’s the hidden benefit you treasure in your expat adventure?

 

Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos

Expat Wife – A Redefinition Of Couple Relationship That You Never Expected

‘Push… once more’, said the midwife.

Vickie, in pain, winced, gasped for air and braced for the effort.
Suddenly, she felt a release, the first in eight hours of labour.
A cry and the midwife held the baby in the air.

‘Here it is, she announced triumphantly.Expat Wife
A beautiful girl!’

What are you going to name this little wonder?’ she asked, smiling while placing the baby on Vickie’s chest.

‘Laura’, answered the mum proudly.

That was 35 years ago.

Image result for paragraph separator‘Looo’a. Looo’a.’

The bank clerk repeats louder ‘Loooo’a?’ looking at her a bit unsure.

Laura frowns.

Since she moved to this new country, accompanying her husband for his job, nobody can get her name right.
It started with the real estate agent. He had them sign the house lease and misspelled her name.
It continued at the local school where her children go. It’s the same struggle with her neighbour.

No matter how carefully Laura articulates, people always pronounce her name differently.

Within a few hours – the span of a plane trip, she got a new name.

At the same time, Laura lost her ability to communicate, to get by in her neighbourhood, to find her usual ingredients to cook a meal. With the local currency, she struggles to figure out pricing and these are just a few examples.

The change is brutal.

From a world where she was a capable adult supporting herself, making informed decisions, interacting with her peers, she now finds herself in a foreign environment feeling extremely vulnerable, like a new-born baby.

Moving abroad is like a new birth.

With a new name and a brutal change of living conditions, there is a clear parallel with the physiological birthing process.

But in this re-birth process, if Laura has become a child, who are her symbolic parents?

Laura is fully dependent on Michael, her partner, for her visa, for money, for housing, for health insurance. If it wasn’t for him, she wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the country.

Symbolically speaking, her husband fulfils the role of her mum.

Really?

You may question the redefinition of such a role! Can a man be considered … a mum?
Actually, this already happens in case of a young child raised by a stay-at-home dad while the mother goes out to work and earn money. The child calls his/her father ‘Mum’ because the mum is the person – regardless of gender – who takes care of them for their daily needs.

This redefinition of role in the couple relationship is no small change. Depending on the couple structure, it can be a make or break situation.
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Laura is lost. The first few months in this new country are very disorientating. She doesn’t speak the local language. She feels in turn excited and frustrated, brave and helpless. The trip to the supermarket is her outing for the day.

She’s desperate for an adult conversation! She’s waiting all day long for Michael to come back home. As soon as he arrives, she wants his full attention, eager to unload her frustrations.

Michael isn’t prepared for such demands.

Laura used to be so independent and self-assured!

Michael lost his mum when he was three and was raised by a stepmother who favoured her two girls, Michael’s younger half-sisters. To cope with the painful emotional situation, Michael escaped into sports and work, becoming a workaholic.

He sorely missed his mum and found in Laura the caring nature he always longed for.

She was perfect in that role when they lived back home.

Suddenly becoming now the primary caretaker of his wife – materially but most importantly emotionally and symbolically – is more than he can bear.  He sees Laura struggling. That makes him feel guilty.

The increased pressure at work is a convenient excuse to spend more time in the office.

While Laura grows more and more frustrated, Michael becomes less and less available, fueling a downward spiral in their relationship.Image result for paragraph separator

We’ve looked at the symbolic motherly role that landed on the shoulder of the leading spouse in expatriation.

Who is then in a fatherly role?

Francoise Dolto, a respected psychoanalyst and children specialist, observed that the father is the one who is responsible for separating the Mother-Child dyad.

Through the father figure, children understand that they’re not everything for their mum and this relationship allows them to avoid a merge altogether.

When the father is physically absent, it’s the society at large, and in the expat case, the society of the host country that will fulfil this role.

The attitude of local people and the policies enacted towards newcomers will thus have a direct impact on the accompanying partner.

But for Laura, there’s an additional element. Michael was sent on an assignment by his company overseas. His corporation also plays some part in a fatherly role.

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Laura looks at her agenda. Empty.

Her kids are enjoying themselves at school with plenty of activities. Her husband is buzzing with meetings, projects and visits.

She’s at home. Alone.

Here she is, in this new country where she can’t understand a word and her credentials are not recognised.

During all the process, from the moment her husband received the proposal till now, Michael’s company never showed any sign of interest in her.

She feels neglected and ignored. Just like when her dad remained weeks away from home, travelling for his work and not even asking for her.

Luckily, Laura had a big surprise when she arrived in this new country: people are extremely friendly!
They usually smile at her and even random strangers greet her in the street.

That’s such a contrast with her home country where people are so busy, stressed and preoccupied that they often don’t even make eye contact.

She can’t understand the language but this positive attitude from the locals warms her heart. It feels so good.

She’s eager to communicate and has decided to take a language course. She wants to make friends and get more support.

How will this resonate with her real father relationship? This remains to be seen.

Over to you: How did the move change your relationship as a couple? How did the country you moved to, the attitude of locals, and the country’s policies affect you?

 

Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos

Reproduction of all or part of this article is permitted provided clear attribution is given to Anne Gillme and linked to Expatriate Connection

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