Time for another entry under Expats A to Z, a series of posts about the little things that can make a difference in how we approach some of the challenges and experiences of expatriate – and repatriate – life.
I’m talking about those qualities and traits we can nurture within us not only to simply survive, but thrive amid constant change.
You know, the characteristics and features that can help smooth the way.
I’m not writing this series in alphabetical order because I like mixing things up.
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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P is for Patient
This can be a hard one, especially if you’re not of a particularly patient persuasion.
(Yeah, I’m looking at you there in the mirror, Ms Impatience personified.)
It’s something I struggle with on an almost daily basis, but in this instance I’m talking specifically about practicing patience in the face of overwhelming, ongoing, cross-cultural transitions and change.
You know the story. You could be in the throes of full blown culture shock in those early stages of entry into a new and different culture. Or in that period when you’re no longer the newbie but still not a seasoned member of Team Comfortable in the place you now call home.
You might be firmly ensconced in your current country, feeling savvy and aware and a part of things, only to experience the occasional sharp sting of reminder that you’re not and never will be entirely of this culture.
You could be in that nefarious netherworld where you don’t yet feel entirely settled but you no longer feel fully – heck, sometimes even loosely – connected to where you’re from, or where you were, or where you wish you were.
Perhaps you’ve said goodbye one too many times to cherished friends and honored acquaintances, and can’t quite summon the energy to start over – yet again – with a new crop of fresh faces. Farewells can be particularly disheartening when the exodus of members of your ‘tribe’ involves your closest comrade(s)-in-expatria (which may include locals as well), or the number of friends heading off is rather large, or when you’re the one doing the leaving.
After all, loss is loss.
You could be a Third Culture Kid in the midst of transitioning to a new school or university, or an adult TCK trying to make sense of your peripatetic childhood.
And I – along with many others – can vouch for the fact it can also happen when you’re repatriating to a birth or passport or ‘home’ country, however you may define the latter. (Believe me, for some – second or third generation expats, for example – these labels can get complicated.)
Change takes energy. New requires focus. Different demands attention.
Our identity is subtly shifting. It may be in total flux. Or worse, we feel as though we’ve lost it completely, and we’re scrambling frantically to find the scattered pieces of the mosaic which is or was or will be us.
Identity development is the search for congruence (i.e., agreement or alignment) in who we are by integrating and resolving differences among who we see ourselves to be, who we thought we were, how others see us, and who we’d like to become.
It also happens to be a slow and, at times, exhausting process, all while juggling the demands of creating the latest version of our life. Whether that becomes a better or fuller or simply more comfortable version remains to be seen.
The point I’m making is we’re all somewhere on a change continuum of a sort. Ignoring or wallowing in or railing against it aren’t healthy options, although they may temporarily help us feel a little better.
There’s no way around it, we just have to go through it.
That takes patience.
Patience isn’t giving up. It isn’t sitting back and doing nothing, and it’s certainly not running around trying to do too much, too fast, either.
What patience looks like is doing the best we can at any given moment. No more, no less. Whatever we can muster.
It’s showing up daily to what is our life now, and hoping that with experience and the passage of time – and a whole lot of effort and acceptance – it’s a place we want to be, and a person we’re glad we’ve become.
[Image credit: Vlado portfolio 1836 on freedigitalphotos.net]