“My profession? I’m the partner of an expat”
As they move around in the world of expats, Peter Koijen and Ligia Koijen Ramos from In2motivation, an Amsterdam-based personal and professional development company, have found that the expat life is much more than just moving countries every four years.
The definition of an expat
An expat is defined as someone who lives outside of their native country. The term has gained different meanings along the way, as well as a lot of social and political connotations. Some people will never accept being called “immigrants”; they will always call themselves “expats”, even if the definition of an expat is: “Someone who has been living in a new country for up to four years; if you stay more than four years you are an immigrant,” according to the Expatriate Archive Center.
In any case, being an expat is much more than living outside of your native country. Often, it is also about “creating” a new family and with that a new life. And this is not for everyone, because it requires a very specific mindset. After twelve years of working with this specific group of people, and having the experience of being expats ourselves, we can say that expat life can be very exciting and dramatic at the same time.
This is because the levels of adaptation are different for every member of the family, depending on age, occupation and their way of dealing with change.
One day, one of Ligia's coaching clients said: “I’m happy for my wife. She had this amazing opportunity and we also wanted to leave our home country. The kids are also happy at the new school and with new friends.“ "And you?" Ligia asked. “Well, I’m at home organising everything and making sure that we still have some of the old routines”.
It is not difficult to see that this family has two rhythms and two different mindsets under the same roof. One is the new experience and exploration mindset, and the other is trying to keep the old routines and security. This is a great way to start a conflict, and it also amplifies distances between people.
The routines of this couple are also very different. One partner already has personal connections, things to do, and things to learn, whilst the other is still finding their way, maybe looking for a new group to join and new things to do. And we believe that this is the most important part for expat integration and the wellbeing of all expats: connection and integration. Poor or no connection is one of the main factors behind depression and isolation.
Integration is important
In the expat world, it is important to make sure that every member of the family has the opportunity to create a personal experience concerning this change, and is not only living the experience through their partners. This is why it is important to create programmes of integration and amplify connections with the local environment, i.e. not only staying in the “expat community”.
If you are in this situation, there are three things that you can do now:
- Ask yourself: What do I want to learn that is new? And go for it!
- Ask yourself: What do I want to be doing now? And do it!
- Ask yourself: What type of people or community do I want to be part of? And join them!
Peter Koijen and Ligia Koijen Ramos are life coaches and motivational speakers at In2motivation, offering personal and professional training courses to optimise individual and group motivation and performance. Follow In2motivation on Facebook to find out about future events!