Ex-Pat Living: 10 Things I Learned By Taking A Risk

“It was an intense, in-your-face invitation to the unknown.
There’s a truly magnificent side to the unknown, but we aren’t taught how to welcome it, let alone explore the breadth of its possibilities.”
Expat Risk: Do I Have What It Takes? Without Courage, Maya Angleou

Do You Have What It Takes?

If I had known what would happen before I went, would I still have gone overseas, to Azerbaijan?

If I had known how unprepared I truly was, would I still have made the move when I did?


If I hadn’t said yes, what Life Lessons would I have missed?

It’s been said, “that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.”

I tend to agree. Azerbaijan was that kind of intense invitation to the unknown.  The experience was more valuable to me, at that point in my life, than any amount of classroom time ever could have been. I had to experience it for myself.

“We were vividly present in the midst of a disorienting cloud of city grids,
metro stops and incomprehensible dialects that  shape-shifted with every border crossing.
We were alive. And every so often the intensity was punctuated with time-crushing moments that were
so staggeringly beautiful and strange that even now I’m not sure they occurred at all.”

Among the thousands of memories, what are the 10 most important things I actually learned from this risky venture?

Patience:  In places that have survived for thousands of years, my timetable of months means little. Slow down, it will still be here tomorrow.  Put things in…

Perspective:  Hearing the British pronunciation of common words as partici-pay-tory, and obli-gah-tory, made me aware that even though we shared English, their language wasn’t just American spoken with a really cool accent. That bit of perspective taught me a good lesson in…

Humility:  This came around more often than I care to admit. Once, an Egyptian client called as I was leaving for a government meeting. He had a request but my secretary advised I would call him back later. He complained unkindly to our Board of Directors, to which I felt “honor-bound” to respond, to share the other side of the story, my reason. Because I felt I had to prove something, I made a bad situation worse by not having a little…

Open-Mindedness:  I should have thought first about how my actions, intended or not,  might be interpreted by my client. It was only through the eyes of others that it became clear that my “busy-ness” as a female in my business could be perceived as an affront to some men from other cultures. Had I been more open-minded I could have seen this as a cultural moment, not personal. I made it personal and it tarnished a relationship. Only afterward did I see…

The Value of Friends:  Later, when it was time to repatriate to the US.  I needed a place to stay, and I was taken in. Understanding the preciousness of friends, not things you can buy, helped me realize…

What Money Means to Me:   Having to choose, on one cold week in Baku, between cat food or bread, highlighted the importance of having enough, but sharing anything above that. That illustrated…

The Necessity of a Plan: Things don’t happen overnight, and resolution is not instantaneous. After my divorce, I had to rebuild my life in order to just be able to return to the United States. That this took a full 5 years taught me the value of…

Resilience:  Losing my mother, my marriage, and my ability to go home (no house, no driver’s license, no credit cards, no bank account) was a crash course in testing my resilience. Not one I completed with honors, for sure. But, if any wisdom came from all that, it was that…

Anything That Isn’t Fatal,  Isn’t Terminal:  The more I gained in patience, perspective and humility, the clearer it became that I was not dead, at least metaphorically I mean. I had come through the worst of what I thought life could throw at me, and I had survived, and I learned again…

The Meaning of “No Man Is An Island”:  I found it’s possible to go live in the woods all alone. But that’s all you’ll ever be… alone. To survive and prosper, to really thrive, we need each other. And that means it’s not a one-way street. We need to let people help us, and we need to pay it forward occasionally to those we may not even know.

And the questions? How would I now answer those questions?

If I had known what would happen before I went, would I still have gone overseas, to Azerbaijan?

Truthfully? Tough call. Knowing what I lost, it’s a lesson I might prefer to avoid, if I could.

But I look at it like this, the pluses do outweigh the negatives. Nothing happened to me in Baku that wouldn’t have eventually happened somewhere in the states if I had stayed. But, on the positive side, I learned what I needed to survive and, I have a lot of really wonderful, quirky memories to keep me warm in my old age. That definitely would not have happened if I had stayed home.

So I’d say, even knowing all that I know now, yes I would do it all again.

If I had known how unprepared I truly was, would I still have made the move when I did?

This one is easier to answer. Yes… In a heartbeat.

Part of who I am is being an inventive problem solver. (Stopping rain with candle wax?) That’s what made the adventure in Azerbaijan so memorable. Having nothing, and creating the world. I can say I really did something. And that fuels confidence ever after.

If I hadn’t gone, what Life Lessons would I have missed?

The writings here are full of Life Lessons that I learned- just pick your favorite!  To me, though, the best lesson, what those 10 concepts above say to me, is that by rising to meet a challenge, I am a better and more compassionate soul than I was before I went.

I am more aware of my own worth and can give to others because of what I accomplished for myself, and if only in my own mind.  I certainly would have missed that had I not said yes to the opportunity.

So, what about you? What’s your story?

Do you have challenges that you haven’t said yes to? Or, do you have your own Life Lessons from an opportunity or risk you succeeded at?

I’d love to hear your stories and share your take-away ideas.



(Thank you to  for the providing the beautiful quotes above, in http://www.salon.com/2013/11/12/the_craziest_okcupid_date_ever)

2 thoughts on “Ex-Pat Living: 10 Things I Learned By Taking A Risk

  1. Great list. If I had had a clue how difficult it would be to move to NY, just in time for a recession, with no job….! Good thing I didn’t know. I think it takes a lot of patience to re-build your social capital.


    • How true! I like that idea of “re-building social capital.”

      I also think what passes for ‘patience” with us is really just quiet toe-tapping. We’re not being patient in the real sense of the word. Mostly we just bide our time and let frustration simmer. To me, I think there is a lot of acceptance in patience as well. Yes, No?


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