I have now lived abroad for more than 5 years and I can confidently assure it has had a major impact on who I am and how I perceive myself.
At first, I believed it was only because I was becoming older, getting close to the big 3–0.
However, my past month and a half in France has made me notice that my thirst for evolution is much lower where I grew up than on the other side of the world.
Of course, I am not saying I have given up on my goals while in France, but the way I have approached it and the results have seemed somewhat off-par.
And that’s when I remembered the huge difference: Home is comfortable.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course.
But living abroad confronts you with a whole lot of challenges you just cannot face in your homeland. Those are known as “culture shock”.
What is the “right” way?
Confrontation with a different culture makes you double-check every decision you do on a daily basis.
The very first culture-shock I had was in 2010, my first time in Asia. I was well-aware you didn’t greet girls with kisses on the cheeks like in France but, force of habit, I got close to a girl to say Hi and she pulled herself backward.
Oh! Gosh, that hurt! I wasn’t interested in any personal way in her and just wanted to say Hi but that’s just not how you say so in Korea.
I was a junior in Korean culture and that brought me down to earth.
What had felt normal for my entire life was considered rude in Korea and I felt awful for making this faux-pas. The “right” way somewhere was the “wrong” way somewhere else.
Now, how about if you were in a new country for years? How many faux-pas do you think you would do?
Let me answer that for you: countless. Even being aware of it, you will always somehow forget for a split second and do something wrong or weird in that new country.
But that’s also a good thing!
We can pick what we accept
Since you are constantly doubting your choices by living abroad, you create some sort of automatic weighing process.
You check the pros and cons and then throw away what doesn’t fit who you are and what you stand for.
After all, it’s not because it’s better in a country to do one thing that it is the best choice for you or even at all.
But then, it also works the other way around! You can pick whatever you appreciate of the culture and make it a part of you. Living in the country gives you the time and environment to let that evolution grow slowly.
You can even experience drastic changes in your personality if you learn the language of the country!
The Habit of Questioning
Doubting whether your actions are accepted in a country quickly becomes a habit so well entrenched in you that you start asking deeper questions.
Am I truly happy? Why did I move here already? How am I not higher in my company now? Why did I change in that way? Was that a good thing?
Just like most expats, I have had all the above questions and many more and then all merge into one question:
What am I doing with my life?
There’s one good news for expats though. By questioning yourself so constantly, you can approach the above question with a neutral mindset instead of the negative one usually chosen for this question.
You start looking for who you are and why. You then go deeper and deeper into those questions, thus learning more about yourself along the way.
That process then transforms into a drive often stronger than people who haven’t lived abroad.
Yes, of course, there are definitely people who don’t need to go abroad to have a strong drive! But living abroad simplifies the approach and gives that opportunity to anybody.
In the end, it contributes to making you become self-aware and a better person.
Unfortunately, not everybody can go live abroad, right? Well if you can’t and are living in your comfortable home, I’d advise on learning a new language and start exchanging with as many people in your target language!
You’ll get fewer shocks but you definitely will still get quite a few.