Thanks for joining me as we examine the Thorny Issues of Living Overseas. We’ve looked at practical tips for making the move. Check those out here and here and here. We’ve talked about some of the realities of serving in a cross cultural setting.
Today we’ll unpack the lies that hinder us as we live and work overseas.
When I prepared to move to Indonesia over seven years ago, I did my homework. I talked to people who had lived overseas. I’d read books about other religions. I asked for packing lists from people who were there, in that distant land where I hoped to live.
But still, those lies creep into the truth and spread their poison in the culture stress. Today and next time, I’ll reveal the lies and give my advice on how to keep them from controlling your experience.
Lie #1: Everyone else is doing better than you.
In the midst of cultural stress, sickness, confusion, it’s easy to think that the other expats around you have got it figured out. You may work with people with varying backgrounds, some having been there for years, others new like you. Though the more experienced people may not be dealing with the culture shock of a newbie, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still struggling, or didn’t use to struggle with those things. Don’t let yourself become isolated by an impression that just isn’t true. Everyone struggles in the beginning and throughout. It’s not just you.
Lie #2: You can’t become close friends with the locals because they are just too different.
Certainly, cultural differences can divide, and some countries and cultures seem more divisive than others. But don’t assume that it’s not possible to find a friend. Give it time. Ask the questions. Peel off the masks—both theirs and yours. The treasure of a cross cultural relationship is well worth the effort.
On the flip side, don’t feel discouraged if you haven’t connected, on a deep level, with someone yet. Be patient. Keep trying. In the meantime, look for ways to connect with old friends or new expats so that you don’t feel lonely. And continue to seek locals who may be open for friendships, even if they don’t express it in a way that is familiar in your culture.
Lie #3: You are missing out on the real world…the one back home.
Maybe you’ve given up a certain career, a nice house, time with extended family, and a sense of belonging when you left your home country. And it can feel like you’re missing out on real life as you live a pseudo-life of strange cultural interactions.
To combat this lie, learn all you can about your new country. Read its history. Examine its art. Listen to its music. Explore its islands or cities or mountains or forests. And give it time for this lie to dissipate as you realize that your old world didn’t have it all after all.
Lie #4: We always do it this way, and it's the only right way.
If you’ve moved overseas with an organization, you have two cultures to jump into: the local country culture, and the local organization’s culture. That second one sneaks up on you. It’s caused by the expats in the organization trying to figure out how to join their own values and goals with the real and perceived limitations of living in the new country. You, as the newbie, just don’t understand the ways things are and the ways things have to be. Or so the mantra goes.
Sure, allow yourself to figure out this second culture and respect the experience and understanding that others have. But in the areas where you have the freedom to make your own lifestyle decisions, take the time to figure things out for yourself—even if they don’t look exactly like the local expat way of doing things.
Next time, I’ll unpack four more lies you shouldn’t believe.
photo credit, grisei