Why Choose To Be an Expat?
That’s a pretty good question! WHY CHOOSE TO BE AN EXPAT? Why, after all, would you want to leave the place where you know how to make sense of subtleties, and reside in a place where you function — for quite awhile — as the odd-ball who misses all but the most blatant signals?!! Sure, we know that some people are FORCED into situations like this, through no choice of their own. But when you actually have the choice: to remain “normal”, or to become an “odd ball“, why launch yourself into such a challenging situation? Especially if you’re older than 30 or 40; you’ll be putting to the test the adage that old dogs can’t learn new tricks, and you’ll be sweating it the whole time!
I was interviewed recently by Bea Stanford of Insego, and she asked me about why we chose to live and work in India. You can CLICK HERE to read the full interview on the Insego website. But I just wanted to mention a few things here about expat life, ethnocentrism, cultural adjustment and cross-cultural communication, in case you don’t go over to Insego to read my interview.
Thinking about the challenge of becoming a ‘cultural insider’, I’d like to make a point about what “bi-lingual” and “bi-cultural” really looks like. I believe that attempting, as an adult, to become bi-lingual and bi-cultural is a very demanding ambition. However, I actually believe that it CAN be done! But let’s be clear about what we mean.
I’m not saying that you’ll become the same as the local residents who have spent their entire lives in a particular cultural context. Nope. You won’t speak quite like them; nor will you find yourself thinking and responding quite like them. But being bi-lingual and bi-cultural implies TWO cultures and TWO languages, right? Isn’t that the point? We move from MONO-cultural to BI-cultural. The person who is becoming bi-cultural continues to carry around their original language and many of their deepest values and cultural perspectives. They learn to respect and appreciate a new way of seeing things, and they learn a new way to express themselves. But if they’re really BI-cultural, then they’re different from the mono-cultural people that surround them.
There are some good reasons to CHOOSE to be an expat. One of them is the challenge and the intrigue of learning and of watching yourself change and grow. There are many, many things that a person can learn while remaining in their own cultural context. But what happens to expats (the ones that are trying!) is that they do much more than “learn”; they actually CHANGE. They become different people from who they were before. They’ll always be a little ‘odd’ when compared to local residents. But if they choose to take on the attitude of an honest learner, they’ll eventually be much richer than they were before they came.
If you’re interested, please take a look at some of my earlier posts where I wrote about Becoming a Cultural Insider, or the one about being inadvertently RUDE by saying “yes”. These will give you a little taste of the challenge that expats face.
Again, if you want to read that interview by Insego, just click here.