Ex-Pat Living: What are the Markers for Success?
As we’ve been talking about repatriating, and all the issues that go along with leaving an adopted home to come back to a strangely different home than we left, and being different ourselves, I got to thinking about what makes a successful expat in the first place, and what qualities cause/allow some to thrive and others to barely survive or, sometimes, even flee?
In my travels I have seen plenty of scenarios, watching others come and go for a decade.
Here are a few examples. Take Dave and Sheila who, though raised in a small community of less than 2000 people today (imagine what it was 70 years ago!), jumped in with both feet and owned their place in the expat community, and everyone was grateful for the pleasures they brought to our lives.
Another, a public servant brought his family to Baku and stayed after his tour of duty was over, starting a lucrative business. His wife stayed for a while traveling, taking art tours and so on, then went home to resume life in the states caring for aging relatives.
A corporate couple made friends, partied and worked hard, but eventually the wife spent more and more time flying to Dubai to shop and escape the lack of comforts and accommodations, then she just faded away before anyone realized she had repatriated for good.
In each case the husband’s* business decision brought the family to Azerbaijan. (*Note: These examples could just as easily have been the other way around as well; I knew several females who were transferees. For the sake of continuity, I’ll stick with these three families for the examples).
- With Dave and Sheila, they came on their own dime, with no support and no transition training, although prior work in nearby Kuwait and Saudi Arabia gave them a good background.
- The Public servant had the benefit of strong support, being required to take language training and culture briefings, plus they had been stationed in the region for several high ranking posts before and had a strong affinity for the area. The wife had done many charity projects and had success heading a student exchange group in a previous post.
- The Corporate couple had not been in the region before but did have company support. In the early days both husband and wife worked for the company, she in HR and he as the country manager. He established a base for the company and she built the office and staff. Once her staff was established, though, she stopped working rather than create a conflict of interest.
I think there are some observations that can be made about these examples. I don’t mean to generalize and say all will fall into these patterns- these are only observations for thought and discussion, why or why not:
1. ) In each of these cases, the husbands came with a clear mission and responsibilities. Each of the wives participated with the same mission, finding their part in that plan.
2.) The husbands were able to maintain this structure even through transition to retirement or maturing a business office. The wives had a more difficult time as the mission changed and their role changed in relation to success.
3.) Each of the husbands had his world with him- family, home, work, colleagues. Each of the wives looked for satisfaction in additional ways- ladies lunches/groups, projects, alcohol, travel, shopping, more frequent visits home and even just staying home stateside, dealing with a split family for a time.
Inexpensive plastic surgery, exotic body treatments, affairs, drug use- any of the escape mechanisms available stateside were also available as expats (male or female). Extra income made some of these pitfalls more available. This is the side we don’t like to acknowledge but will admit that temptations and self-soothing exist.
What Can We Do To Prepare for Success in Our ExPat Life?
These are “differentiators” that I saw:
Dave & Shelia had strong home ties, people who could help solve problems or send supplies to ease the transition issues. They also understood the region and their place in it. They chose to be entrepreneurs and problem solvers, working with local people to build businesses (yes, plural).
The Public Servant built ties in the area that sustained them in retirement. They had a long term family plan and worked for years to make it happen.
The Corporate Couple had the roughest transition start, but they were sympathetic to each other’s needs and dealt with issues one by one as they came up. Fortunately money was available for travel and excursions for the wife. Had the budget been tight, had they had children, it could have easily frayed the relationship. Oddly enough, not having children was part of the problem- not feeling part of the community.
To me, one of the strongest similarities in all these stories is that each family knew who they were- entrepreneuer, financial planner with a goal, up and coming executive. They kept the mission in focus and didn’t make the challenges personal.
Deciding when to come home was more difficult. Each had settled in along different pathways. When enough was enough was sometimes dictated by strong health issues, the desire to have children or to have children in different schools. The differentiator here is communication, being able to say “I would really like to do X” and listening to the conversation for real and potential hurdles.
It isn’t necessarily any easier being a single expat just as being an expat family has its pros and cons too. This is a fascinating subject, one I am so glad is being discussed freely among movers and returners.
This is a great time to be exploring the world, as the internet can bring resources as close as your fingertips. Just please don’t tie yourself to the interweb world at the expense of the “real” world.
One “mistake” I see now that I made, one that Naomi Hattaway (Box 53b and Project #WorldColors/#WorldColours) , and Anne Lowery (Part Time Traveler and on Facebook ) have shown me through their photography, was burying myself in my work and not taking advantage of opportunities to take more photographs of people and places. I was abroad before the internet was widely in use and photos were still film based. Some of the few photos I did take, got lost before being scanned. More is the pity in that sense.
So, what Life Lessons have you learned? What would you like to have a ‘do over’ for, if you could? I’m interested in hearing your perspectives on this and other life lessons you’ve observed in your journey.