NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches
We’re back — four intrepid souls who swap guests posts each month from the far corners of the globe. We are:
North: Linda in the Netherlands at Adventures in Expatland
South: Russell in Australia at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary
East: Me, in Japan at Expatria, Baby
West: Maria in Canada at I Was an Expat Wife.
The great philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Let the examinations begin! Our theme this month is self-knowledge, or what expat life has taught us about ourselves.
At I Was An Expat Wife, I learned that tolernce is much easier in theory than it is in practice. At In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, Linda realized that the more she learns about expat life, the less she actually knows. At Adventures in Expatland, Maria learned that within her timid exterior — deep, deep within — beats the brave heart of a gambler.
Please do read our stories, and share some of your own in our comments sections. We’d love to hear what expat life has taught you about yourself.
And now, on with Russell's post wherein he learned to trust his gut and remain true to his values in his search for a fulfilling expat life.
All expats are not the same.
But we do all have a vision of why we became expatriates and what we want our expat life to look like.
My own journey wasn’t the result of some high-faluting international assignment with a global corporation. I was not packed off to the tropics with wife in tow, dog under one arm, and a big house and eager manservant waiting for me at the other end. Joining the increasingly mobile ranks of professional transplants from around the world was simply not to be read from my tea leaves.
Dare I say that my expat journey was more personal? It was a self-initiated search for a different way of life. It was a self-funded move to a well-researched location in the hope that it could provide unique and exciting experiences, opportunities and adventure not readily available in my home country.
I yearned for a better work-life balance away from the intensity of London commutes and traffic and noise. My entire being cried out for a more natural environment with mountains, ocean, freshwater lakes, and abundant wildlife. I wanted to enjoy my job but I wanted to love my home life more. I craved a wholesome existence, focusing on family, downtime and fun. The lifestyle I sought was an active, outdoors and environmentally-focused one. Most importantly, it would bring a peace and calm to the intensity of my pre-expat life and would wrap me and mine in these core values that I so passionately believed in - and that were the driving force behind my expat move.
The problem was that it didn’t take long before I lost sight of these values. Within two years of my first international move to a place where my value system was almost entirely fulfilled, I was challenged with job insecurity and role dissatisfaction. On the basis of career, and contrary to my gut instincts screaming at me to pull back, I moved my family cross-country to a second expat home and completely skewed my long-held values in the process.
Looking back, I realise I’d reverted to the old ‘me’, the person who put the lure of an interesting job before the possibility of an exhilarating life. When faced with uncertainty and unease, I’d farewelled my intrinsic beliefs in how this expat life should be and replaced them with a single goal: to find a better job.
Arguably, I paid for the price over the next few years, unhappy with my decision and based in a city that didn’t tick the boxes and satisfy the soul. In ignoring my instincts and those niggling doubts, I’d landed us in an environment that was neither particularly exciting nor very stimulating. Life outside work was staid and routine when we should have embraced this new city. The outcome was always going to be the same. We were destined to move once again.
I learned much from this experience. I started to trust my instincts and believe that my core values were important to me. My next (and current) destination tied me back into many of those values I held dear: the improved location; better work-life balance; outdoors lifestyle; laidback way of living. And this much became obvious – I needed to always put these values first and remain true to the vision of what my life is and what I want it to be. By doing this, I would guarantee a match between what was dear to me and a location that could provide this.
Expat life has taught me that there are a range of ideas and desires that we expats go in search of – these are our core values. Whilst not all of these values can be found in every destination, some are absolutely non-negotiable. By trusting in my instincts and listening to my core beliefs in this final expatriate move, I had regained my focus on, and belief in, what was important and necessary for international expatriate happiness and fulfilment.
Expatriation continues to teach me that not all expats are the same - we want different things and have different needs. I learned that on my own expat journey, I will stay true to myself and believe in core values and goals. They are the key to a successful life lived abroad for, without them, an expat life is not all that appealing.
Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Russell VJ Ward
Russell is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in Australia writing about his search for a life less ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com. He can also be followed at twitter @russellvjward.