What Type of Person Does Well
‘Living Abroad’ in Foreign Cultures?

On this “Living Abroad” page you’ll find:

When in Rome, do as the Romans do . . .

Culture is the “lens” through which we view the world. It consists of the beliefs, values, expectations, attitudes and behaviors we were taught at home and in school, and seen others model for us as we were growing up in our particular culture. We knew that those who didn’t follow the accepted norms to “shape up” would be punished by being made fun of, teased, ridiculed, or excluded from the mainstream of society.

Our culture is central to our world-view. It helps us to make sense of what we see, and to communicate easily in our society.

So when living abroad, we may have the impression that other cultures are not normal, because they follow a different version of ‘normality’ than the one we are used to.

Some people are so committed to the culture that they grew up in, that they find it extremely difficult to accept a different version of “normal” when they travel to other countries. These people may even feel overwhelmed and disturbed by the differences they encounter in the new culture. Many cannot adapt and have to return home to the culture they are familiar with.

It becomes much easier to fit into a new culture, when we can allow other cultures to have their differences, to define what is normal and works for them. If we hold rigidly to our version, as the only right definition of “normality” for all cultures, that can cause a lot of stress and conflict with people we encounter in the new culture. This kind of stress is called Culture Shock.

When we move to other countries to live and work, it might be useful to remember a wise saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

The Phenomenon of Third Culture Kids

When children are raised across cultures, attending different school systems, they come into contact with different value systems, different norms and different behavioral expectations.

As a result, their socialization may take on an eclectic nature, that is, incorporating pieces of other cultures into the mix as their own. It is common for them to feel like they really don’t belong to any particular culture. In a way, they have developed their own culture. They have become Citizens of the world.

This phenomenon is so widespread, that these kids are placed in a category all their own, called Third Culture Kids. They have a special ability to adjust and adapt across cultures, that makes them extremely flexible, and therefore suitable to working and living in foreign cultures. Some of the traits they are known for are listed below.

The 7 Personal Success Traits of Expert Expats

Certain personal characteristics help us to effectively manage cross-cultural differences when living abroad. Do you have these traits? If not, how can you develop or enhance these personal traits?

1. Adjusting to Change
Do you thrive on change, love a good challenge, are street smart, have a sense of adventure, and an insatiable curiosity about everything? Chances are, you’ll be energized and stimulated by an ‘international experience’.

Change is a constant in a new culture. If you easily get upset when your routine is interrupted at home, you may find it too uncomfortable to embrace a new culture.

Those who spend time living abroad need to be flexible, open minded and receptive to new ways of doing things, new ideas, new values and customs, without having to convince others to switch to their ways of behaving, thinking and acting.

2. Emotional Stability
Are you emotionally stable, self-reliant, able to deal with stress, tolerant of ambiguity – especially to perceived deviations from the norm in your home culture?

One aspect of this is being self-sufficient, not needing to rely on anyone else. Or being able to quickly find people you can connect with when you need help.

3. Intuitive Awareness and Cultural Sensitivity
Are you ‘street smart’? Being aware of the dangers in your immediate surroundings, and being able to react quickly to protect yourself, to make split-second decisions when necessary, takes a person who is instinctively in tune with themselves, and their surroundings no matter where they go.

They are calm, patient, persistent, tactful, able to negotiate skillfully in a new environment, especially when living abroad in a different culture. This requires an intuitive cultural awareness and sensitivity, which can be learned through taking cultural sensitivity courses.

4. Inner Resilience
Do you have a sense of humor, a positive self-image, and self-confidence? Having a sense of humor is invaluable. It will help you adapt in the most difficult circumstances, while living abroad, because you’ll be able to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously.

People who develop this trait generally have an independent nature, and have cultivated resourcefulness, and versatility in approaching any project. It’s second nature to you to build your own contact network, problem solve using your creativity, and to improvise when necessary

5. Communication Skills
Are you interested in learning other languages? Are you aware of non-verbal communication skills, such as body language and facial expressions? Manner of dress and etiquette are another part of this unspoken language.
Here’s how to improve your Cross Cultural Communication Skills.

6. People Skills
You have people skills, and can remain calm in conflicting situations. You have good writing skills, and are able to comprehend and understand with verbal facility in a new language.

You are a good listener, able to stand back, observe without judging, and adjust your behavior appropriately according to the situation at hand.

The best way to learn about the culture is to observe others, ask tactful questions of your hosts, and listen carefully to what they say. This is the key to successful intercultural communication.

These personal adaptability traits can be cultivated, and the coping skills can be learned.

7. Resourcefulness on the Job
The following skills can serve you in most work situations: bookkeeping and accounting, the art of negotiation, conflict mediation, and of course your computer skills?

Do you know how to take inventory and order supplies? What do you know about interviewing and hiring people to work for you? Training, motivating and supervising employees, are all part of running an office or what is termed “office or project management”.

How persistent are you? Or do you tend to give up when things go wrong? How good are you at repairing things, making do, recycling and reusing old equipment?
If you are the kind of person who is never deterred, can’t take “No” for an answer, and believes ‘where there’s a will, there’s always a way’, you have what it takes to make a very successful adjustment overseas.

Related Links on Living Overseas
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