We’ve all been on a holiday that we didn’t want to return home from. The climate was perfect. The food was wonderfully different. The hotel was luxurious. The people were friendly and we all felt, looked, and appeared more relaxed and invigorated.
When we hear of expatriates who love life overseas so much that they don’t want to come home, we can be a little sceptical. A holiday is so good precisely because it provides a break from our everyday routine at home. Our scepticism might be a mistake though: an expatriate assignment seems to be an extremely attractive and addictive experience to more and more people.
An Expatriate Assignment Provides New Perspectives
Talk to anyone who only ever reads their news from one newspaper and you will start to notice a trend. That person will tend to see current events only from one perspective, which will probably coincide with that of the paper’s editor. To test this simply pick up a copy of the tabloid newspaper of your choice and read the first five pages. Then pick up its politically opposite number and do the same. It can often be as if the two papers exist in parallel universes.
Applying that thinking to where you live adds context to the seemingly addictive nature of an expatriate assignment. If you never leave your hometown or county you will find it much harder to see your home and local people from a broader perspective. Your view of other countries will certainly be more restricted.
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Do you want to understand Germany? Don’t read about it, go and visit the country for a week or more and meet the people. Read their popular press and have conversations about world affairs with German people. You will almost certainly experience a completely different set of views than those you experience in your hometown.
Perspective is a healthy tool and one that makes living in another country a truly fascinating experience.
Expats Are Ready for a Challenge
Living in other countries can be a challenge, and perhaps the first skill all successful expats learn is to listen more than they speak at first. In countries like India, Australia, and China you very quickly understand that at first, it’s more important to listen and absorb. Your opinions are far less important than understanding the opinions and viewpoints of the local population.
In the United Arab Emirates, it is often said that from a bureaucratic perspective, everything takes longer and the simplest process can be very frustrating. This is a cultural characteristic caused by the importance of hierarchical structures, and the instinct to pass decisions upwards. It’s normal but requires expats to be flexible enough to both understand, and then find ways to work within this process.
Those seeking a more culturally immersive experience will find these challenges much easier and are ready and more eager to take them on. Tackling challenging situations can become addictive for many and living overseas is an effective way to feed that addiction. An expatriate assignment enriches and upskills those who choose to broaden their perspective.
Tackling challenging situations can become addictive for many and living overseas is an effective way to feed that addiction. An expatriate assignment enriches and upskills those who choose to broaden their perspective.
An Expatriate Assignment Brings Home a More Global View
Assignees do occasionally come home. Either at the end of their careers when retirement calls, or when they simply feel the call of home so strongly that it is finally irresistible. Whatever the reason the “ex-expatriate” is often an individual able to see the world through a much broader and more empathetic lens.
The late 19th-century poem that spawned the metaphor “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes” was inspired by the author’s plea for empathy. By living within another culture and making even a small effort to understand it, an international assignee will carry that understanding with them for the rest of their lives.
The Challenge of a New Role
One of the biggest attractions of an expatriate assignment is the responsibility and scope of the new role. Assignees often have much more independence and decision-making authority on assignment, and their jobs are more likely to be full of variety. The prospect of returning home to a mundane job with much closer management makes the next new destination even more attractive.
Is an Expatriate Assignment for Everyone?
Each person will find they have different reasons to find an expatriate assignment so addictive. Those of us who draw the most positive experiences from it are more likely to have actively engaged with the local population and culture, developing not just our careers, but enriching our view of the world.
Money, change, novelty, exciting new people, and difference, are all important parts of the expatriate experience. However, what makes expatriates stay overseas is either a subconscious, or conscious craving to see the world through different eyes, and embrace change.
The clichés of the past can finally be put to bed. The 21st-century expat is someone who doesn’t just dip their toe in other cultures. They are prepared to dive in, head first.