Reinventing your life as an expat - Part 1

Reinvention, what does it really mean? Do you discard everything that is familiar? Do you get the chance to start from the beginning with a clean slate? Do you reshape what you already have, or do you completely redo it differently? Do you revive what has been dormant? The answer is "yes." Of course, your circumstances surrounding your life will guide you in the entire process of reinvention.

When I first arrived in the Netherlands, and after the initial stages of culture shock started to wear-off, I felt as if my life had come to a halt. I had no job, no friends and no social support system. I missed my family back home and had no idea who I was anymore. I joined some expat groups, and yet they did not seem to give me a hint of what was going on within me. Some expat women appeared happy and had it all in control in their lives - whereas I felt like I was on a train heading for destination unknown. 

One day, I shared with an expat girlfriend how misplaced I felt in my adopted country. Needless to say, she shared the same feelings of confusion and isolation. After talking, and sharing thoughts and experiences. I started to dig deeper and look further into what I was feeling. It all boiled down to a feeling of having a lost identity.

Who am I and what should I be doing? It feels as if you have to start all over again with really basic questions: Who? What? Where? Sometimes it feels as though you are sliding backwards - when in reality, you’re starting the process of reinventing yourself. In order to do that, you have to go back to the basics and ask those questions.

There are many reasons that individuals choose to reinvent themselves in some capacity at some point in their lives. For others, it’s a product of necessity, when we are forced to change by external factors, which force us to go into survival mode. For expats, reinvention is a "must." We discover we have to repackage all of our skills, talents, experience and knowledge, and present it back into the world with a twist, and put your own personal stamp on it.

It is natural and necessary in both life and business to reinvent ourselves so we can continue to grow and achieve results that exceed our capabilities. As expats we are forced to reinvent almost every aspect of our lives when we choose to pick up, and plant ourselves down in another country. There are many reasons why people become expats: job openings, starting a business, a life change, or the ever-popular following your heart strings. Whatever the case may be, you will be making a number of changes.

The single most important step in the process requires an objective assessment of your life. You have to be ready to ask yourself questions, and break through unconscious limitations that we impose on ourselves that hold us back.

Everything you have to do now is a process that would not take a second glance in your home country. You have a new culture to become familiar with, a new house, new job, (or adjusting to a life without a job) or enrolling the kids in school.     
We heard the phrase, "with every new beginning is some other beginning’s end." So when we start our journey for reinvention, we must do a general spring cleaning of our mind, body and spirit in order to make room for all the new growth and development we’ll be creating.     
For most expats it is a strong desire to have a career, however, many expats are faced with not finding work due to incompatible qualifications, or not fully being integrated in their new country. This alone will take a toll on your mental health creating a level of unhappiness which can lead to identity issues.   
You will find yourself asking, "Now what?" You will not only be asking yourself questions, you will be looking for the answers from others with the hope that  someone will present you with the answer in a nicely wrapped package, leaving you with the task of opening the box and reading the card that says, "answer found inside." Now, if it was only that simple.   
The process of reinvention for an expat can be stressful, and at the same time liberating and exciting. You must go through the process; there are no short-cuts, no cutting corners. The key is to stay excited and focused about the journey and have fun and see the lesson in each step. When you start to reinvent yourself, your stepping into a tunnel, the only way out is through.

Next in the series
 Reinventing Your Life as an Expat - Part 2: Tips & Strategies for a successful journey


Maria Habets


Maria Habets

Maria is a Communications Consultant//Life Coach. She has a Master's degree in Psychology and International Business from New York University and Columbia University in New York. After relocating from the...

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