3 reasons to love or hate life abroad

“Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing! You see things not as they are, but as you are” – Eric Butterworth,

….in the book “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux

1. The way you choose to experience your new life

You know that feeling when somebody asks you: “So how did it feel to live in India?” Or the Philippines, Nepal, Switzerland, Mongolia, Vietnam… you name it.

What am I suppose to say? Whatever I tell the person it is MY OWN interpretation of the country, depending on how I looked at it and the people I interacted with.

I bring MY OWN history and MY OWN view of the world into every country I travel to. Most of all, wherever I go, I bring myself. So what sense does it make if I tell you that the Philippines is a paradise island-state; people are friendly and foreigners are very welcome?

Your experience might be that of an expat breathing in the polluted air of Manila, having been robbed by your own maid and people seeing you only as a walking ATM.

So who is right? We both are.

Although this might not be news to you, it does put things into a different perspective. Because it means you can CHOOSE to either love, hate or feel indifferent about any place. Depending on what you really focus on, it can be paradise or a living hell.

2. Focussing on the good or bad in your new country

A Swiss client of mine lives in Mumbai. He’s married to a beautiful and smart Indian woman, has an adorable baby and they have a nice new house. The family of his wife is educated, open-minded and very helpful. He is very happy with his profession and opportunities open up on a regular basis.

However, his main focus is on (the truly bad) air pollution of Mumbai. It seems like he can’t think of anything else. In fact, it makes him question everything else in his life. His marriage, his job and, of course, himself.

 So the question is: ‘Why does he put all his energy and focus on the bad air?’

The quality of your life not only depends on being able to breath freely with your LUNGS. “To breath freely” is also an expression of lightness, ease, relaxation, peacefulness and relief.  However, the quality of your life also depends on being connected to certain people with your HEART (this can be anywhere in the world where one feels deeply connected to the people around you) as mentioned in the studies of the Greater Good Centre, Berkeley University.

My point is that wherever you go (as an expat for example) you will always find reasons to love or hate the place at some point of time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Often the REAL reason why somebody is unhappy in a place is hard to describe. Therefore often it is much easier to say ” the air is so bad” then   “I feel very lonely here at times” as mentioned by the psychologist Cathy Tsang-Feignin in her book “Keep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad”

3. Your connection to the people you care about

I once met an American woman in Manila who used to be based in Jakarta. She said she hated Manila and used to love Jakarta.

The air pollution is pretty much the same in both cities and – let’s face it – the traffic situation is horrible in most developing Asian cities. When I asked her why she loved Jakarta, it was because of the great friends she made there and had to leave behind.

What makes you love or hate a place is therefore often not JUST the air (unless you already have asthma or one of your kids gets it) or JUST the lack of trees or JUST the traffic.

What is relevant – despite the understandable need of being close to nature – is: WHO are the people you are close to versus the absence of close relationships? I have friends who live in New Zealand where the air is crystal clear and you can drink water directly from the waterfalls and there are hardly any cars on the perfect roads, but they feel totally isolated and lonely.

At the same time, I have friends who live in chaotic Lagos and love it (also see the InterNations survey  on “The best and worst places for expats” .

By “seeing the things as you are”, you have the chance to stop blaming the external world and other people in your life and instead give yourself a chance to look inside.

Once you start finding your own answers to those questions you can start changing. Then guess what? Everything else around you starts changing too.

photos by eWa ferens

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