Circa end 2010: the year my professional expat life started
Going away parties, check.
Addresses saved on the MacBook, check.
Tears shed, lifetime supply to the Kleenex box company, check.
Tickets booked, two 32 + kg overweight suitcases + a backpack to sum up my belongings, check.
More tears shed at the airport, more tears shed when going through customs, more tears shed in the bathroom, more tears shed on the plane…
No more tears when in the sky, because, well the air is extremely dry! Check, check, check!
7 hours later and as tired as heck from the Montreal – Paris Charles de Gaulle flight, sweaty, clammy, but still very excited for what is to come; the unknown; such a vast uncontrollable state. Definitely Check.
As the plane landed in Paris, I told myself, this is it. I am now considered a young woman professional expat.
Fast forward to 2014, having lived and worked successfully for 2 years in the central region of France, having met wonderful new friends, new families, and colleagues, I sit in my living room, in my new home city of Melbourne, Australia on this mild morning, and I try to put the words to describe the feeling of what it is to be a young professional expat. I must say, that although you initially accept the challenge of becoming an expat for professional reasons, it is in my opinion, a much more deeper, rewarding personal growth experience.
I realize now almost after 3 years having lived overseas that one of the most reoccurring themes in my expat life in France, was perception. How we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves, as overseas working professionals are much different.
Perception is what you make of it.
At first, your loved ones, your family, your friends, your own colleagues will consider you to be fearless, adventurous, and courageous. Others will tell you that they are so pleased that you are leaving, as they will be able to live through you because never in their mind nor in their capacities do they feel they would be able to do what you are doing. As some of your friends are getting married, some are buying homes, some are going on to study higher educational degrees, or even some are having babies.
I call these the positive reinforcers. They make you feel good about your decision to attempt this new chapter in your life. They are supportive.
Others will ask you why would you leave your job, your security, and put it on the line to start over? After all, you don’t know ANYONE over there. What will you do all alone? Won’t you get scared, lonely? How will you make friends? The culture is much different over there…
I call these the negative reinforcers. They make you doubt yourself and project their own inhabitations and limitations on how they view your situation on you.
The key, in my opinion, as a young professional leaving for work overseas, is for you to understand whom you truly are.
I call this your personal perception. This perception of yourself is forged with positive and negative reinforcers.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Not many people, do the leap of faith and change their path to live and work overseas. And that’s alright as we are all different. What is important is that you are aware and accept your own values, your own goals, and your own limitations.
You must make the mental decision to ground yourself with this belief system as if you do not, the negative reinforcer comments will drastically and very quickly change how you see yourself.
Of course you will need to make new friends and of course you will live alone in your BUT over time with patience and with perseverance, you adapt. You discover. It is all part of what I call the social adaptation process. And as you are adventurous and courageous, you will succeed. There is no alternative.
The social adaptation process, I believe, as it was in my case, the most vital part to the expat life. Yes you may have travelled as a tourist overseas a couple times here and there however immersing yourself with the locals and understand their habits, their way of doing things, is crucial to your expat success experience. As you are able to pick up social culture cues, you most definitively will be much better suited to adapting what you learn in your new working environment.
So how did I come about meeting new friends and beating the blues of loneliness?
I started by telling myself every morning that I am approachable, that I will attract positive people and events into my social sphere. Practicing positive reinforcement mantras work. By doing this every morning, I set myself up for success.
I also set out with the objective of approaching at least one new person everyday and striking up a conversation. I had an objective and I was thinking positively. Another key ingredient is curiosity.
My goal was to never stay too long alone in my apartment. I needed to be out and about and discovering new areas of the city and meeting locals. I also always had in my bag a note pad and pen. Every social cue that I pondered, I wrote down. When I saw someone interesting that I wanted to approach, I started the conversation with the social cue that I noticed previously. This approach was a great way to engage with new people. Who doesn’t like to talk about their own culture?
Even today, when I travel or work in different parts of Australia, I use this tip to get the conversation started, albeit this time with an English Aussie accent.