4 Valuable Attributes of Expats
Expatriates, or “expats” for short, are people who live outside of their native country. My expat journey started in April of 2013, when I moved to Bahrain. Though I am half Egyptian and half British, I was born and raised in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and having lived and worked only in the United States, culturally identify as an American. I came to Bahrain in my late 30s with around 13 years of professional experience in the US.
This list is based both on my personal experience of nearly seven years as an expat professional, and my observation of and interaction with other expats. Obviously, expats are not the only people who possess the traits listed below, and not every expat ranks highly in these areas (we’ve all seen the exceptions to the below, and they usually don’t last long or are very unhappy). Here are four valuable attributes that experienced and successful expats tend to have developed both before and during their time abroad:
1. We have strong communication skills
I’m not talking about language skills, although being multilingual is definitely valuable. I’m talking not only about being able to effectively communicate with people who aren’t native speakers of your native tongue, but being aware of and navigating cultural communication differences.
People of different cultures communicate differently; for example, some are more direct than we’re used to (to a degree that we may consider rude), and some are far less direct to the point of unintentional obfuscation and/or circumlocution (for fear of being rude). Body language differs too, from head nods to hand gestures, the latter of which can actually get you in trouble (“okay” sign, thumbs up, “peace sign” with inward facing palm, etc.). All of this of course means that we communicate differently, which is something we have to be aware of in order to be effective communicators.
2. We’re highly adaptable
Even Americans moving to Canada (and vice versa) can face some culture shock, and even more so moving to the United Kingdom or Ireland. Although we share many cultural similarities and the same language (although that’s debatable in some parts of all three countries), we still need to adapt to things that are very different than in the United States, especially when moving even farther afield.
Getting a mobile phone, opening a bank account (especially for Americans opening a foreign bank account), grocery shopping where familiar foods and/or brands aren’t available, renting/buying a car and/or learning a new public transportation system, finding your way around town; all of this can be frustrating and challenging, especially when you don’t speak the language and you don’t yet have your residence ID. And don’t forget the reason many of us moved to begin with…we’re starting a new job!
From the first day, expats have to begin adapting to our new home in addition to our new job, and our success and happiness depends on our ability to do so. And on that note…
3. We’re curious by nature, thrive outside of our comfort zone, and embrace change
While high salaries, tax benefits, and/or lower cost of living lure many expats to live and work abroad, this is often not the case for Americans (and Canadians, though to a lesser degree for tax reasons) due to our standard of living. Many of us do it because of our natural curiosity; we embrace change and new opportunities, which we enjoy because we thrive on the excitement and growth that being outside of our comfort zone brings.
Leaving our comfort zone and navigating change can bring out the best and the worst in all of us, and with the right mindset, attitude, and a solid dose of self-awareness and self-reflection, we can experience significant personal and professional growth.
4. We appreciate diversity
This one is fairly obvious, but expats typically enjoy diversity. We enjoy the growth, learning, and experiences that come with being immersed in different and diverse cultures, and seek out these experiences through our new social circles and through expanded travel opportunities made available by being in another hemisphere.
My expat experience has contributed significantly to both my personal and professional growth, and has provided me with rich experiences I will never forget. How has being an expat changed you? I’d love to hear from you.
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