Can Anything Prepare You for Expatriation/Global Living?
2018-03-01 | By Deborah Valentine
First appeared in THEXPAT Journal Spring 2018 Publication
If education is the key to success – however you define it – then what is there to learn, prepare for, when moving overseas, or crossing borders? As the American tennis player Arthur Ashe once said: “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
What We Know
Our mission at ACCESS is to serve. To assist those arriving in the Netherlands in finding the answers to the questions they have about living in a new country: specifically, the Netherlands. Over the years, 31 to be exact, we have learned a thing or two about what can help increase the chances of success of a relocation. And, by success we mean; that people adjust to, settle in well, and make the most of the opportunity to live in, a new country. We have answered and responded to a myriad of questions, ranging from how the health care system works, to where to find a school, to what the options for dual careers (accompanying spouses) are. We know that, regardless of the preparation one undertakes before arriving, there will be questions – this is inevitable. The difference is that in preparing to live in a new country, educating oneself about the country of destination can ensure that the questions which arise do not ‘shock’.
Not everyone, of course, has the luxury of time to prepare for a move. But it is never too late to learn: to educate oneself not only about the country of destination, but about one’s own assumptions, expectations and perspectives.
Know This: “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”
It may seem obvious, but – time and again – we observe that people are surprised and taken aback by how things are done in the Netherlands, what their lives have actually become or what they struggle with the most. In regard to preparing for an international move, know this: it will be different to what you expect, are used to, or assume. And, if you are returning to your passport country or a country you have lived in before, well, the expected familiar will feel unfamiliar because when you return, your return is impacted by the experiences of where you have been – which can also colour your expectations, and impressions.
Knowing this, being aware of where you come from and how things will differ, goes a long way towards preparing you for everyday life. In some cases, it may be your perception that things are ‘better’ here; in other situations, the opposite. The fact is, there is uniqueness of living in every new place. And every experience you have from another country will impact your perceptions. Being aware of this is the first step in then becoming curious – for in curiosity lies the ability to ask questions; not make assumptions. To wonder ‘why’, in an attempt to understand.
Curiosity about yourself as well is important. What is important to me? What makes me happy? How can I start a new life here? What are my expectations? Are my assumptions preventing me from understanding? Will the language have an impact on me, on our children?
The world of global mobility has grown exponentially over the last 30 years. What was once the domain of diplomatic missions, developmental organisations and large global corporations is now far broader in scope. People are moving for many reasons. Borders are more easily transcended and (global) careers are varied. There are more people on the move, and with them a wealth of resources has evolved: from cultural training, blogs for sharing experiences, social media communities, books written by people who have navigated such transitions, coaches and trainers who specialise in assisting global families and careers, and more. Not all resources are equally relevant or accessible to all people, but they are there for those who want to invest in satisfying their curiosity while preparing for a move to a new location. Many of these resources are also available at ACCESS. Through our Training and Counselling Networks, we have a group of professionals who can help. We can suggest resources to be consulted, be they on or offline, in a group, a book or a blog.
As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Imagine what your curiosity about living in a new country could mean for you.
Deborah Valentine is the Executive Director of ACCESS, a not-for-profit volunteer-based organisation which has been helping internationals arrive and settle in the Netherlands since 1986. Her colleagues at the Helpdesk and at the expat centres of The Hague, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Leiden are there to help.