A New Way of Seeing: What Is “Natural” for an Expat?

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One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller

Have you noticed that many of us expats often balance on the edge between states of love and hate? At various times, and in various moods, we either love the differences of this land we call home, or we hate them. We can fall in love with the architecture, mountains, lakes and rituals whilst – sometimes on the cusp of the same moment – descending into dark mutterings about the differences that drive us insane.

This is the essence of our lives here. Some expats live 80% of the time in the “strange is cool” category, and others live 80% of the time in the “everything is crazy and wrong” category. The former mostly enjoy their time in this land; the latter slip into a spiral of depression and desperation to leave (and in quite a few cases, they do).

What is the difference between these two tribes (and the variations in between)? We all have, more or less, the same physical surroundings. This means that this land cannot influence our state of mind (no matter how much it may seem to!). This was made clear to me when I visited the expat community in Thailand this year; even without the mountains, lakes, cheese and chocolate, the expats experienced the same knife-edge balance. (And they have beaches!)

If it is not the specific land, is it an expat disease? But if it were, wouldn’t we all suffer from it? And if so, we would all experience the same symptoms, and maybe an expat vaccination could be developed! However, the only thing we all have in common is the most important thing: we are all human. We are conscious creatures who think (and think and think and think), and this creates the most intense and uncomfortable feelings. When we use this amazing power of thought to look upon our new land, we find that sometimes it doesn’t go exactly well! If we start to believe our thoughts about how our adopted land “should be” (whether Thailand, Switzerland, or elsewhere), the contrast between what we have and what we think we should have becomes painful.

Here is a tiny personal example: shopping. I want self-raising flour. There; I’ve said it! Birthday cakes would be a far simpler exercise with the stuff than without it. The lack of it on the supermarket shelves here drives me crazy! “It’s only natural to sell self-raising flour!”; “Shops should sell self-raising flour!”; “I can’t bake without self-raising flour!” What ridiculous thinking! Often I start to believe these statements in my head, rather than see them as a cultural throwback from my upbringing. I buy into the thoughts and thus experience a bad, bad mood! Looking at the statements rationally, however, the truth is revealed:

  • It’s not natural to sell self-raising flour because, well….they don’t use it here! “Natural” is a fluid concept.
  • Have you noticed how amazing the cakes are here? It does point to a nation quite at ease with plain flour rather than self-raising!
  • At the moment, it is true that I can’t bake without it, but a simple word with my Swiss friends or a rummage on Google would sort that out.

Our thinking is amazing, although have you noticed how the record gets stuck? We bring with us a ton of old thinking from our homelands, from our childhoods and from any conclusions we have made about life along the way. We conclude that this is a “natural” way to see the world. If we stay trapped in our thinking in this way, our lives as expats become difficult and rather miserable.

So, yes! Be natural! Truly natural! Acknowledge your darned humanness and the role of your thoughts! Be in the flow of life rather than in the comedy and tragedy of your personal thinking. Going with the flow brings about the beautiful discovery of the colour and vibrancy of life that utterly refuses to be placed in an artificial box devised by our minds. If we are open to the notion, life can continually delight and surprise us.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. – Lao Tzu

By Tammy Furey

Tammy is a coach, educator, writer and blogger who lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland with her husband and daughter whilst attempting (badly) to speak German, fold her paper recycling in the correct manner and finish writing her book The Gratitude Papers. Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com

Illustration by Masha Ellis

Masha works as a product manager in the finance industry during the day and dedicates her spare time to art, cooking and her traditional nutrition blog. She is Australian with Ukranian roots and now lives near Lake Zurich with her little girl. To find out more, follow her on Facebook or visit her blog.

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One thought on “A New Way of Seeing: What Is “Natural” for an Expat?

  1. There is a HUGE amount of happiness to be gained from a shift in perspective!! And seeing our differences as simply differences and not as my way is right and their way is wrong” is really important. Plus as an American who’d never even heard of self-raising flour before having British friends, I can’t quite relate to your conundrum! 😉 Sometimes I also feel that the closer you are to ‘home’ the harder it is to adjust, because familiarity is only a short plane or train ride away.

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