We're Not in Kansas Anymore:
Why is everything in this place just so...different?
When moving to a new place, especially a new country, you cannot expect things to be the way that they were “at home”. And most of what is different are things that one generally cannot control. This is a critical point, both at home and at work. As expats we cannot control the social, cultural, business, and other norms that exist in the place that we land. We cannot expect that the people in the new place, or the community itself, will adapt to us. We have to adapt to those people and to their place. Too often, we see families who are struggling on their expat assignment because of this basic principle. They want the new place to be like the old place. Like Dorothy, they want to click their heels and say “there's no place like home” and then, magically, living in Paris will be just like living in Chicago, only with better baguettes.
As ridiculous as that last line might sound, every expat feels that way at some point while on assignment. It is inevitable. Before you go on assignment, you have possibly lived within a small radius for a significant amount of time, with the same people, doing life the same way. Then, all of a sudden you are lifted up by a metaphorical tornado and dropped into the Land of Oz. This can leave us thinking, or saying out loud, things like:
“Why can’t they just drive like ‘normal’ people here?”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if people would just behave like people from my country?”
“They call this barbecue? They should see how we grill meat where I am from!”
The key is how we react. How do we approach these feelings of frustration and lack of control? Do we allow ourselves, our spouses, our children to wallow in this frustration? We’ve seen couples who do that, whether consciously or subconsciously, and almost without fail they were less than pleased with their experience overseas. So how should we react when we find ourselves frustrated? In every conversation that we have had with couples who would consider themselves “happy” or “successful” as expats, and in our own experience living abroad, the response is the same - you have to approach life as an expat as an opportunity to learn, not as something to be controlled. As one of our expat couples said so wisely “you have to expect that it (the expat experience) is going to go differently than you are planning in ways that you have not anticipated.” We would never want to discourage anyone, but if predictable and controllable is what you are looking for, then don’t choose to live as an expat - no matter how good the money or opportunity may be!