By Darrell Forte
There is a life-cycle to being an expat. Learn what each part is and see how it affects you.
Pretty much everything in life has a beginning, middle, and end. Expatriation is no different. At TCI, we call this expat life-cycle THIS EXPAT LIFE… Yeah, the three dots at the end are included for dramatic effect — it flows this way:
Stage 1: Prepat – The aspiring expat
Stage 2: Expat – The expat living abroad
Stage 3: Repat – The expat returning home
There you have it, the beginning, middle, and end! Each of these stages of the expat life-cycle has its particular excitements and challenges, so let’s take a minute to explore each stage.
Stage 1: Prepat
No one can argue that it’s exciting to imagine your life taking a new turn. The mystery of what’s really around the corner and to know that you, yes, you, were brave enough to make that choice; yeah, it’s a really cool feeling. You start dreaming the dream, imagining all the awesome possibilities in your future, and this drives you to want it even more. You set your life out on an adventure!
Dreaming the dream is always the easy part; getting to the part of living the dream is the challenge. There are two major challenges:
- A change in life framework, the vision of the life you currently have, and
- The transition process
Regarding Item 1. This is very personal. As much as some have given the idea of becoming an expat some thought, they perhaps have never imagined the reality to become a possibility. It’s like thinking about one day winning the lottery. It’s fun to dream about, but not really considered a possibility to come true, ever. So getting past yourself and realizing that this life is truly just a plane ride away is challenge number one. Perhaps you feel rooted where you live. Perhaps you do not know how you would support yourself if you lived abroad. Perhaps you are concerned about what your friends and family would say. This list could go on and on. The solution? Talk to people that have already done this. Talk to expats. They had the same concerns you have. Get different perspectives and then form your own.
Regarding Item 2: The transition is what may scare off some from even getting started or delay them for years in making the move. Yet, when you give it some thought, what makes transitioning so hard is the uncertainty. That uncertainty causes the paralyzing anxiety many prepats deal with. The good news is this: The way to deal with paralyzing anxiety caused by uncertainty is to get rid of the uncertainty. Educate yourself. I promise you, it may well surprise you how much you will learn.
Stage 2: Expat
What’s exciting? YOU DID IT! You can hardly believe it, but you did. Everything is new, different, yet the same. Now you start comparing all that research you did on real estate, and food, and quality of life, et al. with what life really is like living in the country. Some things are spot on, others are not. You are making new friends; you are discovering just how much local expats are happy to help you, and are motoring on. You are figuring out how things work in your new home country and how to make them work for you. All in all, it’s just flat-out exhilarating!
This part is personal as well. For some of us, adapting to new things isn’t a big deal. We actually love it! To others, it can be difficult. It is here where you really have to know yourself and perhaps accept things about yourself you didn’t know because you were never in a situation where the issue arose. Here are a couple of tips to help you through:
- Don’t ever compare your new home to your former home. That’s like a divorced person telling their new spouse that they need to do things like their ex. Really, really a bad idea. Accept your new home as it is.
- Don’t access things as “better” or “worse” than your former home; just view them as different and learn to appreciate the differences. Perhaps you are used to shopping at a certain large department store at your former home. Instead of looking for that store in your new home, (BTW kudos to you if you find one there), simply find out what stores people there go shopping.
- Never blame your new home country for disappointments or shortfalls in your personal expectations. Basically, going to a seafood restaurant and being disappointed that they don’t serve pork doesn’t make much sense.
Long story short, effectively managing our personal expectations is our major challenge as an expat. One last note: I do not care how much research you do, you will always have surprises when you finally move. The list of “things I wish I knew before I move to …” is never a super shortlist. Learn to laugh and march on.
Stage 3: Repat
There is no requirement that one must repatriate, but there’s no requirement that you shouldn’t either. If and when you repatriate is completely up to you, but truth be told, most people go back home. Going back home is indeed exciting also! You are a different person from when you left, and home may very well be as well. Depending on how long you were away and perhaps how many places you lived, moving back home may make you feel like an expat there! I do give one word of advice here. Reasons for going back home are many and varied, and they are personal to each person or family. But whatever the reason, don’t try to fit the “new” you into your “old” life. Build a new life for the “new” you and enjoy!
This is very personal, just the same. If for some reason your expat home didn’t connect with you, going home could feel like your favorite old gloves that slip on just right. If it connected with you, and if perhaps you returned home after many years out or due to an obligation, readjusting could be more challenging. Strangely enough, my words of wisdom to being a successful repat are essentially the same three points as noted in the Stage 2 Expat section above. Don’t compare your expat home to your original home. Embrace and appreciate the differences between the two, and never blame your original home for the shortfalls that your “new” self now sees.
This Expat Life… Summary
There are three common threads that run through this article that we want to cite for clarity:
- Your success as an expat depends very much on you and your personal mindset
- There is much to learn to have a successful transition, and
- You will need people to help you through this journey.
I invite you to join the TCI Expat Community. Our very purpose is to expose, educate and encourage you through this process from start to finish. See you soon.
Editor’s Note: TCI is a full-service provider of expat education and transition services. Our private platform allows our global expat community and our Expat Alliance of in-country expats and experts to interact so that all can successfully embrace the expat experience. Learn More…