3 challenges of the long-term expat refers to expats who have lived for many years in the same country for a variety of reasons. For the purposes of this article, I am only speaking about those expats who may be married or in a long-term relationship with someone in their host country, and have chosen to remain there and raise families due to the working spouse’s career and familial responsibilities. I am writing about them as these are the people I am most familiar with, as they consult me for counseling.
These expats are in a unique situation, as they typically don’t fit into either the traditional expat role, or the local community, yet have one foot in both. There are both perks and challenges to being in this situation and here I will address a few of the challenges and how to overcome them.
Challenge # 1: What to do when short-term expats complain about your adopted country.
It can be difficult to listen to complaints when you have decided to make the best of the situation. I suggest being direct whenever possible. Many expats complain about where they’re living as a way to connect with other expats. Be as involved as you’d like to be in the expat community, be a support for newbies and a pillar for others to lean on if it suits you. But do be direct about not liking to be around negative rants. You can explain why if you’d like, just be sure you establish your boundaries. Most people will respect you for it and may even to decide to turn down the volume on their griping so they can feel more positive.
Challenge #2: I don’t identify with being an expat or a resident.
It can be tough to have a foot in both worlds, yet not feel fully engaged in either. You can however, turn this around to your advantage. To do this involves looking at the ways you are like both groups. You may speak the local language, know something of the local festivals and customs first hand, and be well able to navigate your way around your adopted country. You may also have the added benefit of having family in your adopted country, which few other expats have.
On the other hand, you know what it’s like to live in a country other than your own. You are also familiar with the customs of your home country and can share those with other expats. You may enjoy double the number of holidays than most people around the world! In other words, be willing to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Challenge #3: How do I raise my children to be bi-cultural?
Your children are growing up in one culture, yet you want them to share the values of both cultures. Most long term expats handle this in obvious ways by going “home” over the summer so the kids can become familiar with the their grandparents and other family members. It’s important that they be bi-lingual so they can communicate with your family. And children who grow up speaking more than one language have a much easier time with languages throughout their lives.
Bi-cultural children also tend to be more adaptable and flexible than other children.
It’s important for both parents to model respect for different cultures and convey how fortunate the whole family is that they have such rich experiences. You may even find you start to believe it!
Dhyan Summers, MA is a licensed psychotherapist and the director of Expat Counseling and Coaching Services, providing counseling, coaching and marriage counseling online to expats around the world, using Skype and FaceTime. To book a free 30-minute session with Dhyan, visit www.expatcounselingandcoaching.com and hit the Book a Free Session button.