Some thoughts around expatriation

Living abroad; wonderfully exciting and yet it has its challenges.

I for one really appreciate the fact that I can invite people for an outdoors meal a month ahead, and be pretty sure that it will happen. No need for a back-up plan in case of temperature drop and rain! And it is very practical to just put up my warning signal on the car, and park on the pavement while I run to pick up something. In Norway I would have had a ticket before even having closed the car door..

But then again, it is rather annoying when I have to chase people to get things done. Or when I can’t follow a conversation because everyone speaks at the same time. The latter can actually be very tiring.

For those of us that live in southern France with nationality “northern Europe somewhere”, we may have some funny conversations when talking about the weather. I find it amusing when I inform someone in Norway that we have 36 degrees and they answer “ah, how wonderful, enjoy!” No! It is not enjoyable when it’s 32-36 degrees for months and I am boiling hot while working, food shopping, cleaning house, and trying to fit in three walks a day with my dog without actually torturing him.. (I hear them now; « yeah yeah, sure, tough life, why don’t you come back and help me shuffle some snow.. »)

Weather aside, there is an emotional aspect to living abroad, the most common being missing family and friends. There are other challenges too. The other day I met with an expat here in France who was worried about her children’s schooling as well as loss of understanding of their parents’ culture. Her children are almost becoming too integrated, and she is afraid that they will lose out on the positive sides of her country of origin.

Another challenge may be to feel confused and uprooted; “where do I belong?” After a while abroad, we typically pick up some of the local cultural habits and ways of being, yet the core stays the same. So when going back to country of origin, we are “different”. And staying in the new country, we are “different”. Strange feeling.

So how do we make the best out of long or short-term expatriation? I have several suggestions in the previously written article on culture shock, but here are a few more:

  • From personal experience; it is important to be conscious of what you like in the country you live in – it could be anything; the people, the language, the weather, the food, the way things are organized.
  • Make use of what is available, e. g I love the fact that one can get wonderful natural soaps and cremes, to a decent price. I also love the sights and the nature here – and make sure I really SEE it and spend time outdoors.
  • The lady I mentioned above, had a great idea; she swops information about culture and politics with a local person. Win-win.
  • Link back to your own culture, fill the gap you may feel by planning regular trips back, inviting family/friends to see you, read books or magazines in your native tongue and get some videos from your home country.
  • Get a coach or a mentor. (Feel free to contact me!)

It is important to integrate, to see and enjoy the advantages here and now, whilst recognizing that as expatriates we have a different cultural background that colours they way we interpret our surroundings. Some things are difficult to accept and live with; acknowledge that and respect your feelings around it.


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