The expat journey is not only to another country but one within ourselves
By Viktoria Vidali
When we journey beyond our countries of birth to foreign lands, we place ourselves in different cultures among people who speak a language we don’t fully understand. In the process we learn many things: what amenities we need to be comfortable; what foods are agreeable; what kinds of social connections are important to us. Of necessity, we also journey within ourselves.
We examine our assumptions, reactions, and awareness of life, all of which are based on past experience. With much new and unexplored, it often seems like we’re on a roller coaster, where one moment we’re WAY UP (I love it here and am so happy I made the move) and another we’re WAY DOWN (What was I thinking? If things don’t improve, I’m going back home). During these low times, we share our feelings with friends or read blogs like this one to see if we can find some keys to making the day-to-day easier.
Once you label me, you negate me. ~ Soren Kierkegaard
Human beings are prone to labeling others. It’s so much easier than working to appreciate people with real understanding and compassion for who they are and why they behave as they do.
For all of us living in South America, Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano should be required reading. For North Americans, similar books would be Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick or Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Culture is developed through what people have lived historically. Not knowing a region’s history limits an expat’s ability to penetrate below the surface of labels. Great writers and artists help us with this difficult but enriching personal effort and teach us what it is like to walk in the moccasins of our brothers and sisters. While there may be cultural tendencies, it’s always good to remember that the exception justifies the rule, especially when it comes to people.
A second key is patience: patience with ourselves as we struggle to make sense of it all.
Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself. ~ Saint Francis de Sales
Liken yourself to a gardener who is training a climbing vine. Instead of grabbing the plant and forcing it into a desired position, a wise gardener allows time for the plant to adapt to its new growth path, making gentle adjustments along the way. Poco a poco.
A third key is changing the way we see the expat journey from one of judging its success in terms of whether we decide to stay in our country of choice to one where success is measured by how much we have come to know ourselves. We may eventually determine that we don’t like living abroad. How could this be decreed a failure when we have gained so much? Casting aside self-judgment allows us to lighten the psychological burden, enjoy the novelties, and be ready for wherever our destiny leads us.
Employing these keys is sure to open unknown aspects of ourselves.