The minute we enter education we’re on the assembly line of modern life, primed for our encounters via a series of checkboxes that must be ticked before we can progress to the next level. Our performance determines our place in life and society. What is school if not a system of judging an individual’s right to life through labor? Does our current education system teach us to think critically, to examine, question and explore? Up to a point, but there’s no arguing that where there’s a conflict the principal drive is to meet quotients and targets.
After years of exposure to this way of thinking it can be difficult for people to perceive the world and their place in it in any other way – but there are those who see things differently.
Are the skills and strengths needed to be a successful expat learned or innate?
It’s my belief that expats are a breed of people less likely to accept the choices handed down to them by life. People like Lindsay De Feliz, who gave up a successful corporate career, marriage and luxury lifestyle for a life as a scuba diving instructor in the Dominican Republic, (read all about it in her book What About Your Saucepans, reviewed here) and Jack Scott the London hack who carved out a life in a muslim country with his partner Liam and wrote about the experience in the runaway bestseller Perking The Pansies.
Then there are those who strive for an existence more in tune with their philosophy like Jo Parfitt who’s developed the idea of a portable career into a book and a lifestyle (read my review of A Career In Your Suitcase here) or Russell Ward, who documents his Search For A Life Less Ordinary on his blog of the same name and whose dissatisfaction with the 9-5 led him to drastically realign his work choices.
Expats are among those who realize there’s more to it — no one HAS to do something they don’t want to do for the rest of their life. They’re more inclined to consider the previously unconsidered, to look beyond what they know to find answers, to take a leap of faith.
Does travel broaden the mind or does a broad mind lend itself to travel?
What type of people become expats? Risk-takers? Extroverts? Not necessarily – some grow up ‘in the system’ having expatriated with their parents, others dip a toe in the water with a 12 month posting and realize five years and three relocations later they’re up to their necks. As an introvert with a mental health condition I doubt I would have made it onto the ‘Most likely’ list, but I’m here and I’m thriving.
You don’t even need to have journeyed widely – travel has a way of opening even the most tightly shuttered minds and once you feel the rush of fresh ideas it’s hard to give it up. They don’t call it the ‘travel bug’ for nothing.
What expats have in common is an ability to weather the storm and a willingness to adapt to changing situations. While most people have these attributes to a greater or lesser degree, they’re skills that take time to develop and are not instantly bequeathed by the right situation, hence stories like this.
Linda Janssen knows what I’m talking about, she’s written an entire book on the subject of emotional resilience, the psychological strength that enables people to see the difficulties of expat life – identity and career crises, constant change, cultural obstacles – as challenges rather than torture. Her book, ‘The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage Adapt & Thrive Across Cultures’ (my review coming soon) is an insightful conglomeration of collected wisdom harvested from those who’ve ‘been there’ (many thanks Linda for including my input within its pages), and speaks to a burgeoning community of ‘pioneers’ – the World Bank estimates 215 million people are living outside their country of birth.
Expat – it’s a state of mind
Expat life is about rolling with the punches – in contacts between cultures, beliefs about superiority or inferiority due to limited and partial world view, are invariably wrong-headed and destructive. Aspects of life in a new location may initially seem alien, even ill advised, but looking beyond pre-conceived ideas and striving to understand them is what marks out the successful expat from those ‘doing time’ abroad.
Culture isn’t static; change is continual, and flexibility is necessary for successful adaptation. I think expats are born not made, not necessarily to become expats, but with that ability to freewheel their thoughts, to think ‘outside the box’. Just think how many expats-in-waiting there are who may never test their mettle on foreign soil, but who find ways to break new bounds on home turf.
When life doesn’t promise anything except possibility it seems a shame to turn your back on such a generous gift. What have you done, or planned to do, to embrace the unknown?
Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com