And then it’s time to move on again: the expat cycle

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For many expats their geographical location is more likely to be a ‘home for now’ rather than a home forever;  sometimes it may feel that you are always on the hop. So when the call comes to tell you the next move is imminent, proper endings can be neglected or even forgotten in the rush to prepare for leaving Luxembourg.

For most expats, be they couples or singles, with or without children, the business of packing up and moving on is just part of everyday life. Questions like “how long will you stay” are usually waved away with an airy ‘two, three years, maybe four’. Few expats know in advance how long they will stay, as extensions are not unusual, nor are sudden changes of plan. You have to be a special kind of person to be cut out for this way of life. Yet even if you are a true global veteran, you still experience the same pattern of commitment, letting go, readjusting and settling in. It’s part of the territory.

Committing to the change ahead

According to numerous bodies of research, there is a direct correlation between well-considered, pre-location factors and adjustment success. Remember too, that pleasing for the sake of pleasing is not a sound motivation, not even in the happiest of relationships; be they corporate or corporal. So you may want to ask yourself, either as partner or as assignee; “is my decision being influenced by outside influences more than my own desire to move on to the next adventure”? An honest answer now will save you a lot of grief later down the line.

And the same applies to the younger nomads. If you’re bringing a family, however young your children may be, are you helping them feel they have input into the next move? Even though they may not get to choose whether to move or not, they might still be allowed to have a say in how or when. Give them the opportunity to say goodbye in their own way and try to put yourself in their shoes. In the hustle and bustle of planning, it may not seem important to you that they will miss their walk-on part in the school play, but it might be critical to them! And there are ways to help the settling into a new place easier by combining old circumstances with new. Think about inviting one of your child’s close friends over for Christmas for example; ; this could help your child build continuity into their lives.

Reflect, every time you say ‘goodbye’

In psychology, the ‘Psyche’ is referred to when we speak about the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious. Just as we sometimes have a tendency to take our bodies for granted and use them as transport vehicles, we can also forget to pay attention to our inner lives, especially when we are stressed. 

When you move around the globe, your Psyche experiences loss, whether you like it or not. Having worked so hard to adjust and adapt to a new language, a new culture, new food, new ways of travelling; you are about to plunge it into a whole new learning experience all over again. It will grieve for what it knew (even if it was the devil it knew!) and feel exhausted at what’s coming up. 

Leaving an old home behind is a little like a small death. If you and the country had a good relationship, the grieving process can be healthy and clear. If the relationship was bad, the grieving process is less direct, and it can be hard later to place feelings of loss since “I was so glad to get out of there”.

Take time to dwell on the separation at hand, even if the removal men are camping on your driveway… it will let the Psyche know one process is ending and another is starting. Too often, we’re in far too much of a rush to stop and let the ending of something sink in properly. Maybe we’re afraid of the rush of emotion. On the other hand, sometimes we are just ‘done’ with a country, or a job, and we’re ready to go. But you will only know by taking a moment to stop and ask yourself how you feel.

For those with children, remember that they still wear their Psyches on their sleeves. Don’t let your discomfort about moving them, or yourselves, stand in the way of listening to their protests and their fears. Create rituals around saying goodbye to favourite places, favourite people. Eat some Quetschentaart or Bouneschlupp one last time!

Readjusting and settling in

“They waved their partners off to a new, often exciting, job; unpacked the bags and the boxes; settled their kids into new schools; then found the supermarket, the post office, a doctor, etc.; and arranged to get the phone, internet, TV installed and connected. After all that, they thought? “What the f..k do I do now?” Writer and blogger Julie Power

Expat guru Robin Pascoe, author of A Moveable Marriage and Broads Abroad, says that accompanying partner is the most likely of the whole family to skip straight from arrival into the culture shock phase, by-passing the honeymoon phase entirely… So, if you’re an accompanying partner reading this, schedule time to explore your new environment with wonder, rather than with stress. By all means get the phone connected and the internet fixed in the morning, but then schedule an afternoon off, just wandering around town, gently easing yourself into this new environment. No matter how efficient you are, adjustment will take the time it takes. And it will go in stages.

 “Relax, slow down, stop being hard on yourself, take time to smell the roses… and breathe, things will fall into place whether you’re pushing hard or not.” Robin Pascoe

And for the international assignee, who has yet another new work environment to get used to, another set of bosses, company directors and co-workers. There is a huge temptation to throw yourself straight in and work overtime to get a handle on things. But remember why you wanted to travel in the first place; to experience different countries and different cultures. Boardrooms are like airport lounges; one is pretty much the same as the other and you might as well be anywhere. Share the adventure of being in a new town with others: your partner if you brought one, or other internationals who have also made it their ‘home for now’. Stop and smell the roses, or at least the Rosé!

When enough is enough

And finally, whether this is your second, third, or seventh relocation: recognise when enough is enough; when your relationships are becoming flatter and more superficial, when your love of adventure has turned to apathy. “What’s the point”, the Psyche says, “of all of this connecting, disconnecting, and connecting again….” In the words of one of my workshop participants:

On the one hand it gets easier every move. You know what to expect, you might be a bit more relaxed, give it a bit more time. But on the other hand, it gets harder too. Making new friends can feel more and more pointless. I feel I have bits of myself scattered all over the world. And while Facebook and e-mail contact is great, there are few people that really know me down to my core. And some of those that do expect me to stay the same.

So take time to notice how you ARE feeling, not how you think you’re supposed to be feeling.  Remember to honour that sensitive, intelligent and uniquely adjustable organ that we call the Psyche… and thank it for all its hard work. You truly wouldn’t know where you were without it.

Lysanne offers a number of Houseboat Seminars for internationals and expats, as well as Skype and Face-to-Face coaching.  Her Dutch houseboat is cozy and offers a unique focus for exploring your personal experience. Location: Nederhorst den Berg – Netherlands. More information: Workshops

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Copyright 2015: Lysanne Sizoo
DISCLAIMER
These articles are based on a composite of my personal and professional experience and do not reflect any specific individual’s process. 


Lysanne Sizoo is an international psychotherapist and expat coach with more than twenty years’ experience working with people who are not native to the country where they are living, as well as re-pats. She has lived in Holland, Sweden, the UK and New Zealand and her son is a cross cultural TCK. You can get in touch with Lysanne about individual coaching and workshops at www.therapyinenglish.nu

Featured Photo: Unsplash/Lizzie Guilbert

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Lysanne Sizoo
Lysanne Sizoo has been working as an international counsellor and coach for the past twenty years. In 2009, she founded the first and only international counselling centre in Stockholm. She divides her time between coaching, lecturing and writing, and regularly holds workshops in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Zurich. She specialises in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

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