Always, never, everybody … and debunking expat myths

I distinctly remember being told many ‘facts’ about expat life as I started my journey, most of which began with ‘Everybody feels like…’ and ‘You’ll never…’ and ‘Don’t expect to find….’. I have learnt not to trust these all encompassing statements and yet I find many expats struggles firmly rooted in many of them.

Words like never, everybody and nobody are not very helpful in any sentence let alone one that minimizes, exaggerates, makes assumptions or negatively describes parts of the expat experience. Not everyone experiences everything in the same way, nor are there any 100% certainties to be had in any location – except that you will have your very own experience there.

Expat myths can cause anxiety, fear, defensiveness, cultural misconceptions, misinterpretations and even guilt and frustration if we believe everything well-meaning expat experts have to say. Take all definitive and factual statements with a grain of salt and trust – then verify. Thanks for that one Mr Reagan….

The following myths are taken on board, believed and lie beneath many expat challenges and struggles:

  • Expats get plenty of money, support and benefits – what do you have to worry/complain about?
  • You don’t need to learn the language, dialect, accents….
  • What are they complaining about – it is a first world country!
  • The employee needs to learn the language but the family doesn’t.
  • Accompanying spouses who have left careers behind to become expats always adjust – it just takes time.
  • They are our best and brightest employees – they can handle anything.
  • You should always live in a gated community or have security as an expat. (Seriously)
  • It always takes a year to settle anywhere.
  • Medical care in XXX is primitive and dangerous.
  • Avoid driving in XX as it is too dangerous.
  • Everybody there is always… happy, angry, sad, rude….
  • Country X is just like country Y.
  • Sometimes it is easier just to stick to the expat community – especially if you are not there long.
  • We are a global organization so support our many expats from the home office.
  • If you’ve done it once it makes it easier the next time.
  • You always know when it is time to go home (re-patriate)
  • Once an expat always an expat – you will never settle down after being an expat.
  • With enough company support, expats can live anywhere.
  • Resilience is helpful but not essential.
  • Traveling is so awesome – how lucky are you!
  • Everything is so cheap there!
  • At least you must never get bored!

And on the list goes.

Uncovering, exposing and challenging these gems in their many and varied forms goes a long way towards overcoming the firmly held, yet often unconscious beliefs of many expats.

Coaching question: What are some of the expat myths you have heard that have concerned you or colored your experience in a location? How true did they turn out to be?

Beware of expat myths that disguise themselves as definitive facts. Every expat experience will be specific to their incredibly individual circumstances.

Written by Marie Brice, Zencompass Coaching

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One Comment

  1. Doris
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    So true, Marie, thank you for sharing!! It’s so important to remember that everybody’s experience is different.

    “I’ve done this before, I speak the language – it’ll be great!” was one of my own myths that came crashing down a few years ago when I moved to Mexico with my then-boyfriend. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but it took a few months for me to adjust and figure out that yes, I’ve moved countries before, so I knew some of what was coming. Yes, I speak the language so that made many things easier. But no, this move is in no way like any other! This was the first move that wasn’t MY idea or for MY studies or career; I was “trailing.” Thinking I knew exactly what was going to happen:

    Big mistake. Huge. Thank you Pretty Woman for that one. ;-)

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