Expanding To Fit The World

Lake Ontario shoreline

See each day as though it’s your first – live each day as though it’s your last.


I recently wrote in my Expat Focus column about how living in a different country changes you fundamentally. I don’t just mean you get a suntan and a new-found appreciation for insect-repellant; I’m talking about the kind of changes that are impossible to undo, so that if you were to hop in a time machine and travel back to your previous life, you’d find yourself unable to just slot back in and continue as you were. Maybe this is why some people become serial expats.

We spend our entire existence relearning what we knew instinctively as children – that if you just let your imagination run free, you’ll have a richer, more fulfilling experience. Expat life teaches you the value of liberating yourself from the shackles of stereotype and those preconceptions that colour your behaviour and perception, no matter how much you tell yourself you’re being open-minded.

Now, more than ever, I make an effort to really be present, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. When I look at people I try to really see them, study their features and imagine their stories, not the one-dimensional image my brain wants to log for easier processing. I try to listen to what they say, instead of hearing only what validates my  beliefs and tuning out the rest. The realisation, the need, to do this is in part thanks to the mindfulness techniques I picked up during a research study I participated in for CAMH – but it’s also a result of my expanding worldview. And that’s thanks to my exposure to different cultures, countries, languages and beliefs.


cultural chameleon


Experiencing the world as a cultural chameleon helps me see it through the multi-faceted kaleidoscopic lens of awe and appreciation, and increasingly that old tendency to judge and assess is replaced by acceptance and overwhelming, tear-inducing, heart-bursting gratitude.

Earlier today I came across this short film – it encapsulates what I’m trying to say beautifully. Have a tissue ready and enjoy.


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By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Us expats need to free ourselves of stereotypes in order to understand what’s going on around us in our everyday life. You realize soon that if you’re going to analyze everything from behind the lenses of your original culture, you’ll not last long.

    1. True, and what few realise at the start is that it’s a full-time job stopping prejudice from creeping back. Great to see you here, thanks for your continued support in our plush new surroundings 🙂

    1. Aahhh, thanks Michelle – I imagine our tea/coffee would go cold waiting for us to drink it if we ever got together for a chat! Sometimes these ideas and feelings are so difficult to pin down that I wonder if I make any sense at all to anyone listening. But reading experiences from other expats helped me realise I wasn’t alone in having these thoughts so I’ll just keep at it. When someone “gets it” like you just did, it helps to solidify it that little bit more.

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