I can't remember when it was that I saw pictures of these sculptures by Bruno Catalano. They are called Voyageurs. Sculptures of people on the move. People who have left their home to live in another country. People who came back changed. People who were confronted with a different worldview and a new reality, who could no longer live the life they used to live. People who were broken. Some parts of them were just gone.
People who have never been expats may describe the expat lifestyle as glamorous, fun, adventurous, a never ending vacation. And after your time is up you come back home, usually they think their home is the best place to be, and you fit right back in and the hard days are finally over for you. They welcome you back, but they may expect you to show up like you used to before you left.
If you are the expat there are generally two ways how your expat journey can turn out:
you can absolutely love your time abroad, thrive, grow, laugh and just fit in OR you are struggling to adjust. The cultural clash is too big and you are having a hard time to deal with this new place.
In each way however, the whole process will mold you and shape you. You will change.
In general when we look at the expat experience, we see a lot of growth potential. Expats are more resilient. They may have a more realistic view of the world, because they have seen it. They can adjust to new situations real easily. The have great people skills, not to mention intercultural skills. They are human chameleons. They are global citizens.
But this may come at the price of losing parts of ourselves.
If you talk to expats who have gone through repatriation, they will tell you how challenging and frustrating it can be to move back to a country they used to call home and how painful it often is to be stripped off an identity and start all over again.
You not just have to personally re-invent yourself once you move to your host country, but you have to personally re-invent yourself once you repatriate.
And this metamorphose may cause that some parts of your old self are just gone. Vanished. Lost. Which means that contrary to what most people would assume, namely that the expat experience broadens and enriches, it can also be the reason why a person loses parts of his identity.
Now where do we go from here?
Well, it depends.
If you have never been an expat it is up to you if you want to embark on this journey. After all, you don't have to, right? And for those of you who are hesitant, who feel pressured to take this leap of faith, I encourage you to speak to someone who is not involved in the process so you can think everything through and reach your own conclusion. I often read and hear from other expats and world travelers how wonderful this lifestyle is and that EVERYONE needs to leave their home country and follow this way of life. But we are all unique and maybe for you it is best not to leave?
And if you are the expat and you feel like parts of you are missing and you hurt inside, I'd invite you to think about the following:
Yes, the process of personal reinvention is painful, but maybe there is also a big chance. Merriam Webster provides us with an interesting definition of the verb to reinvent:
"to invent again or anew, especially without knowing that the invention already exits"
Do you see the last part? - Without knowing that the invention already exits - That would mean that the parts we are missing and we are looking for have always been there. I leave the interpretation to you.
The powerful sculptures by Bruno Catalano remind us that the expat experience can shake us to our inner core. However, being forced to personally re-invent ourselves may lead to a personal development that would have never been possible without this opportunity of living in a foreign country.
COACHING because having someone by our side who supports us during the process of personal reinvention can make all the difference!
EXPERIENCE IS A GOOD SCHOOL, BUT THE FEES ARE HIGH.