Whether you’ve lived long term in one country or dozens, residing in nations that are different from the one you were socialized in challenges the beliefs you hold about life, people, and especially, how things should and shouldn’t be done. This isn’t to say that who you are at your core melts away or that the values you were brought up with vanishes, rather cultural immersion broadens your perspective.
The fact of the matter is we are victims of boxed learning and as a result, we think our way of life is the norm. Consequently, there is an inclination to judge others by our own beliefs, norms and mores, and values. However, when you travel afar and come to the realization that you’re just one in seven plus billion people on the earth, you begin to the question what are the infinite possibilities.
It is this questioning that leads an expatriate to reinvent “the self” whether she intended to or not. As you immerse yourself into different societies and cultures, you not only learn more about the world, but you also learn more about yourself. Long term travel alters you, often making your more open in both your heart and mind. It is this openness that challenges you to evolve as you meet and interact with both locals and other expats in your host country.
In addition, you will find that you are not only a minority, but an anomaly. For example, back home your way of life was shared by the community to which you belonged. However, in your host country, your beliefs and customs may be viewed as a deviation from said culture’s beliefs, values, and norms. As a result, living in a foreign country requires you to cultivate a new normal and it is during this process that you begin to ponder.
Why is there so much variation among people? Why is it that you believe what you do? Where did these beliefs and values you hold come from? Are they more or less valid than those held by societal members in your host country? Why is it that you’ve done things one way and not another way? And eventually, you realize that things aren’t all black and white and that how you thought things were may only be valid within the confines of your mindset — your socialization, your life box.
*Originally published October 12, 2014 here.