To enumerate all of the personal and professional challenges I have faced in the past decade moving across 3 continents (and while considering yet another move) would probably be a suitable topic for a BOOK, not a blog post. Most of it has been thoroughly enjoyable, and as a result I have grown more than I would have had I never had the idea that I wanted to work overseas, but then again I might also have had a lot fewer wrinkles and grey hairs by now too…
Suffice it to say, you too will probably find a move to another country “challenging,” to say the least. And I’m not talking about the logistics of visas, determining what to take, what to sell, and what to leave behind. I’m not even talking about the obvious missing of friends and family and making new friends and professional relationships.
I guess I want to talk about the “little” things that might not even occur to you, that can add up and take their toll, if you’re not careful and don’t have good stress management tools at your disposal. Often I find these things crop up when one makes assumptions (usually of the cultural communications type) – and we all know how the saying goes about making assumptions! (or maybe I shouldn’t assUME that, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to explain any further here…!)
You might want to try to imagine how it feels to be a skilled communicator, and yet have to explain yourself several different ways and many different times over the course of a conversation, and still not be sure whether your message was really understood.
If you are a very organised individual or are used to working in a very process-oriented environment, you might be surprised if meetings don’t start on time, or are re-scheduled several times.
If you are a woman, you might find it difficult the first time a man refuses to shake your hand or find it awkward to wait to see if he extends his first, or find yourself ignored in a meeting you called.
The differences could be subtle or overt, sytemic or conscious. You might not even realise until afterwards why a certain situation felt strange. Particularly in an era where, for example, products/services/people cross borders relatively easily, it might be easy to think that – on the surface at least – things seem relatively homogeneous. And let’s face it, these differences and misunderstandings could happen ANYWHERE – even in your own home or the place where you’ve worked your whole life.
But chances are they will happen more often when you’re living abroad. The beauty of this is that you will have a chance to reflect on your own values and assumptions and analyse their importance and relevance in your new life. How you deal with them will be subject to your interpretation and experience and outlook on life – if you’re the type who can chalk anything up to an “experience” and see the positive side, chances are you will adapt nicely to your new home. If, on the other hand, you find such experiences discomfiting even at home, you might want to think about the additional effect this might have when very little seems otherwise supportive or familiar.