ABC of expat woman's life: I - Identity in transition

Whether you like it or not, moving abroad will have a big impact on your identity. Would you like to understand why? Read the following article and find out how you can be in control of this transition.

Our identity is comprised of different elements that shape who we are. The ones closest to the core of our being are internal ones like our gender, values, and beliefs. The external ones have to do with our place in our society and refer to our roles and relationships, the community we live in etc.

When I first came to the Netherlands 8 years ago, the first thing I started to say when introducing myself was "My name is Dorota and I am Polish." I would have never said it before living in Poland, but now I felt the need to stress this part of my identity.

If you grab a big piece of paper and write in the middle of it "I am" what words come to mind first?

Now, when you look at your list what do you see? Which parts of your identity are present? And if you had made such a list back when you were still living in your home country, would it be different? I bet it would.

Let’s face it. Moving abroad has major impact on how you view yourself. You will create new roles for yourself and also your internal values might change.

I often see with my coaching clients that moving abroad causes this shift in values. For example, when you are far away from your family you slowly start to realise the importance of your family ties.

We are then like fish out of the water; while in the water certain things are as obvious as breathing, but when we lose it we realise how important they are in our lives. Some of the values are culture-dependent, and you might notice that your new culture has a different set of values.

If there are many changes in the above-mentioned identity elements, we might feel disorientated with who we are. Am I still me? Am I still the same person that I used to be?

As a result you might also experience a temporary loss of self-confidence. So what to do about that? Below some tips to help you go through the process:

 It is a process and therefore temporary. It will pass and you will feel confident again.

 You are not the only one facing such a situation. Meet with other internationals going through the same process. Share your experiences with others.

 You have an active role in how long it is going to last. Think of yourself as "in charge" of your own process. Be pro-active rather than reactive.

 Take a stock of what has changed in your identity and think if there are any elements (roles, relationships etc.) that you want to take up to replace the old ones.

 Think of becoming your "new self" as an adventure that will allow you to grow as a person, make plans and take action.

 Start a journal to stay in contact with yourself.

What tips would you like to share with your international friends?

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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