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“So, dear expat, what are you running away from?”

Personal Identity Coach Carina Harvey helps us explore why an overseas relocation has come to mean you’re boarding the emotional express train, rightly or wrongly.

what are you running away from expat?

“So, what are you running away from?’… During the first year having moved overseas, I cannot tell you how many times people asked me this question. Perhaps because I was single at the time I moved? People naturally assumed that I was literally trying to escape a relationship! Or perhaps because there is usually some kind of life change which triggers us to consider packing our bags and fleeing our homeland! Relationship changes, job loss, lack of finances, can all lead us to booking that one-way ticket to a foreign destination of hope and new discoveries.


My last year back home actually was a pretty turbulent one. I had, in fact, split up with an ex less than a year before I moved. I had also suffered redundancy from a career I had thought was pretty solid. Yet the resulting choices I had made were all at my own call. I could have chosen to look for an alternative role back home with the same business and having made the break from my ex, I felt very much like I was the one in control of my destiny. Perhaps this is why this particular question often narked me the most.


My intention to move overseas was to do something I’d been wanting to do for years, and to transform my life for the positive! Yet as a single woman in her 30s (at that time) landing and without a job in hand, this I discovered, was not necessarily how it was perceived.


The first year for anyone relocating is the toughest. Ask any expat. Whether they have travelled alone, or with a partner, transferred with an existing employer or landed without a job. Those initial twelve months are most certainly a challenge to a degree, and for some more than others. Settling into a new country with all its differences in culture, language, onboarding and administration, much of this unforeseen, can be nerve-wracking and even at times, upsetting.


Now I am in many ways, pretty open-minded and flexible. Yet at the same time there are certain areas of my life I’ve always had pinned down and somewhat, well controlled. Being a London girl, my identity was pretty much driven by being a city career girl by day. Suddenly living in a new country with initially no work, and then what I found to be a less dynamic job, just this one change in my persona left me feeling completely lost.


Recent surveys suggest that 35% of new expats felt a shift in their sense of identity and belonging, and more than 40% said the move had changed their priorities in life. Whilst packing your bags is exciting and possibly one of the best things you might ever do in life, it is undoubtedly the most altering having a significant impact on you or me, as a person. Couple this with the lack of having your ‘back home’ network of friends or family, and the world suddenly becomes quite an uncertain place.


In those earliest months, I severely questioned my reason and motivation for taking this leap. It felt uncomfortable and it felt lonely. “Perhaps I had been attempting to get away from my old life? And maybe I should accept that was my life?”


Despite being quite a social person, making friends felt like hard work. Frequently advised to go out, say ‘yes’ to everything and join new networks, which can be super fun and exciting! Often you just want the comfort of spending time with someone who knows you well and you don’t have to repeat the same context to, over and over.


Looking back, I perhaps wasn’t always the best at saying ‘no’. So many connections made during my first year were not there for the right reasons. Unsurprisingly they are not in my life now.


I know what you’re thinking, isn’t it a wonder this ‘misery’ ever stayed?!..


But stay she did.


You see my motivation to relocate was to seek out a new experience and to understand what life might be like elsewhere. Growing comfortable with myself again and learning to reconnect with who I was as a person, and not the expectation of me from others, was what helped me to ground myself once again and realise the person I am irrespective of the soil (or sand in this case!) I am based upon.


Having been here for over 8 years now, I often meet individuals experiencing their first year as an expat. Here are three key pieces of advice I share:


1.    No matter your reason for moving overseas, focus on enjoying the present and know that you chose this path to explore and create new opportunities for yourself.


2.    Say ‘yes’ to the things which feel right, and ‘no’ to those that don’t. If something stops feeling right, it becomes a ‘no’.


3.    This time will feel challenging. Don’t sugar coat this and make out to yourself that it’s not difficult. Embrace the fact that it’s hard and appreciate yourself for being so courageous for making the move and give praise for your resilience.


Above all, please remember that every single expatriate has technically ‘run away’ if you really boil it down. Even if they were running out of the door because they didn’t want to pay high taxes anymore, it’s still something they’re leaving behind and hence, seeking pastures new.


No matter how much adversity or change you’ve experienced in your life pre, or post move, just know that ‘running away from_____’ doesn’t have to be your narrative. Let any life change you’ve undergone be your learning, determining your resources and your resilience. Allow it to educate the person you’ve become, act with certainty in this fact, and be sure to enjoy the present.


“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present. 

Bil Keane


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