Recently I introduced Expats A to Z, a new series of posts about the little things that can make a difference in how we approach some of the challenges and experiences of expat life.
You know, the characteristics and features that can help smooth the way.
I won’t be writing this series in alphabetical order, because I like mixing things up.
And quite frankly, it’s a whole lot more interesting when you don’t know what’s coming next. More fun for me as well.
I do hope you’ll follow along and share your own thoughts and experiences.
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O is for Open
I’m often asked some really interesting questions about expat life.
I not only do my utmost to answer them, I also take note. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that what one person wants to know is often what others are interested in as well.
And those are also the kinds of things that still others could benefit from if they knew to think to ask about them, too.
I’ve been approached by readers and visitors to this blog who often leave a question in the comments section or contact me behind the scenes. Sometimes folks read one of my articles or guest posts elsewhere and drop me a line via email.
I’ve been approached on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and had several people come to me by way of typing in ‘expat life’ or ‘moving to the Netherlands’ or similar phrases in Google or another search engine.
Occasionally I’ll get questions like ‘where can I get a 3-bedroom apartment for X amount per month?’ or ‘how many converters/adapters will I need?’. That’s when I gently redirect to expat information websites.
But often the questions tend to be along the lines of:
What’s the most important trait necessary to be a successful expat?
What one thing can I do to ensure my family has a good expat experience?
How can I have a great/fulfilling/exciting time while living abroad?
What’s the secret to building a life overseas?
What three things can I do to make the adjustment to expat life easier/smoother?
What’s the single biggest thing I should know as an aspiring or soon-to-be expat?
Each of these questions falls into the category of what I refer to as a ‘go with your gut’ query. There’s no one right answer as we’ve all had different experiences.
It’s akin to posing that infamous early 17th century toughie ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’
Ask a dozen people any of those questions on expat life and you’ll get seventeen answers. Yes, I realize the math doesn’t match, but then again, few people can limit themselves to just one response.
That’s because there are so many nuggets of wisdom and bits of info that we’ve gathered along the way.
We want to share them, but not because we think we know everything. That’s a laughable thought, really.
If nothing else, living in a different country/culture teaches us that we can’t possibly know everything that will come our way. Just when we think we’ve got a handle on some aspect of living abroad, we may encounter something unexpected. Perhaps even get blind-sided.
Sometimes it’s a wonderful new perspective we hadn’t thought of. Other times, it may be a bracing dash of cold water on dreams and illusions.
We learn that we’ll always be learning something new or different or unusual, to make life easier or better or more interesting, and hopefully make us more thoughtful, respectful and a tad wiser.
The truth is that we learn by trial and error, by experience, by researching answers and asking questions ourselves. Sometimes we experience it first-hand; other times we witness it with others, learn about it in a conversation or read about it from someone else who’s been through it.
We share because in doing so we are connecting with others, imparting hard won knowledge, excitement, even the occasionally necessary warning.
We encourage, extol, marvel and shake our heads.
We offer what we know about the good, the not so good and the just plain odd
Even the horrible, the painful and the bittersweet.
So in answering these questions, I’m going to go with my gut. You know, the answer you’d give your best friend or family member if you only had 30 seconds to reply and couldn’t take it back or add a single word.
If you take all you’ve learned and distill it down to one sentence, what would that be? What matters most?
In my humblest of humble opinions, the single biggest thing you can do is this: be open.
Open-minded. Open-hearted. Open eyes, open arms.
Open to the new, the different, the difficult, the mundane, the wondrous.
With the big and the small and everything in between.
Forever and always, and then some.
[Image credit: Vlado, portfolio 1836, freedigitalphotos.net]