Moving abroad is an exhilarating yet challenging decision. When I left the comfort of my home shores in Australia for a new life in Germany, little did I know the profound impact it would have on my personal and professional growth. In this blog I share the trials and triumphs of my experience as an expat, and discover the invaluable lessons I learned along the way.
Lost in Translation: Overcoming Obstacles in a New Culture
Making the leap to a foreign land was driven by love, adventure, and the desire for fresh opportunities. However, the reality of the situation hit me hard. Everything was anew – the language, the culture, the job, the bureaucracy, my relationship, and friendships. After those initial weeks, I found myself feeling lost, isolated, and overwhelmed, questioning who I was and what I was doing. Home felt so far away! As someone who was supposed to be an expert in navigating change, I was humbled by the challenges I faced.
It was during this period of uncertainty that I made a pivotal decision – I reached out for help. Recognizing that I was caught in a victim state and exposed, I sought the support of a coach. I had a coaching background and we all need help from time to time. This marked a turning point in my journey. I began to reframe the presenting challenges and view them as opportunities for growth and self-discovery.
Straight Talk and Cultural Shifts: Lessons in Embracing German Directness
One of the key lessons I learned was the importance of embracing cultural differences. In Germany, direct feedback is the norm, and I was shocked by how cutting some of the statements could be. I would become defensive and even close down. My German girlfriend said at the time,
"There's no sugar coating feedback culture here."
That was partly true - Germans don't hesitate to speak their minds, even when it comes to criticizing actions or ideas. But I soon learned to appreciate this style of feedback. I became comfortable clarifying, challenging back, and asking for better ideas. It took some practice but it was a transformative experience that allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.
Culture is language, language is home
Another aspect I struggled with was the language barrier. Instead of focusing solely on grammar, I wish I had engaged in casual conversations over coffee to practice speaking. Even if people reverted to my native tongue, I pushed myself to communicate in the foreign language. It was like ripping off a band-aid slowly, but with each conversation, my confidence grew.
By overcoming the language barrier, not only did I open more doors to meaningful connections, but I also gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the local culture; so there is a real compounding effect by engaging in casual conversations.
The Evolution of Identity: Embracing the World as My Home
Additionally, I discovered the power of connection and community. Instead of isolating myself and assuming that nothing will ever replace my friends and family back home, I began leaning into the wonderful support network around me. Whether through local clubs or the expat community, I found solace in sharing my struggles and building new friendships. These connections became pillars of strength during challenging times.
These friendships have also brought me new and expanded worldviews.
It has taken time, however, I now see myself as a global citizen - home is still important, and always will be, but I feel more connected to the world, more than I have experienced before. I share more on Identity As a Global Citizen here.
I only wish that I had embraced this sooner!
Permission to grieve and know that time heals
The expat journey comes with its fair share of challenges, and I've experienced some tough moments along the way. There were times when I seriously considered heading back home because the expat blues felt overwhelming. But here's the good news: the longer you stay, the easier it becomes. Time has a way of healing and bringing newfound comfort. Giving yourself permission to grieve is crucial. It's okay to feel a sense of loss or homesickness. By acknowledging and processing these emotions, you release the pressure to instantly adapt.
And remember, a touch of humour can lighten the load. As we navigate the trials and triumphs of expat life, think of it like assembling an IKEA bookshelf – each piece might seem perplexing on its own, but with patience and a chuckle over those often confusing instructions, the bigger picture gradually comes together :)
Mastering the Expat Experience: Get Exclusive Insights and Life Hacks
Are you currently navigating the expat life and encountering similar challenges?
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By sharing my tips in this way, I aim to provide you with a comprehensive and digestible resource. Along with the email series, I'll provide a helpful Expat Experience Checklist that allows you to focus on each tip, one by one, based on what resonates with you the most.
If you know someone who might benefit from my story and the insights I've gained, please share this post with them. Together, let's embark on a journey of growth, resilience, and embracing the expat life to its fullest.