“I feel lied to. I just don´t get it. Everything out there said that this country was one of the top ten places for expats to live! And I am miserable. You can keep your cheese and chocolate – I want out of here!”
Maybe you´d replace cheese and chocolate for Røkt Laks or even Kabsa. It doesn´t really matter because frustrated is frustrated, no matter where you are. Your struggles are exacerbated by the fact that everyone and their uncle seems to think that life’s just peachy where you are.
You think back to the late nights you spent researching the country(-ies) you were considering for the next assignment or major move abroad. You were serious about getting reliable information, so you sought out big reputable media sources to understand your best options.
In the wee hours, you inevitably come across a top ten list just for expats. (It is hard to resist a good “Top 10” list!) Now I am going to get real with you. Top 10 list for expats are dangerous. Here´s why. (tweet that!)
4 Reasons Why Top Ten Lists for Expats are Dangerous
Nr. 1 – Give you a false sense of certainty
You sit in your apartment wildly asking the Interwebs to assure you that it´s all going to be ok. You get lists from top global firms trying to answer whether “It is going to be great there.” or “That´s not a good place to go.” This is exhausting and unstable ground.
Instead, start your own list: Contact five or more expats and locals from the area and speak to them about their daily lives. If you don´t know anyone in that country, hop on a Facebook group for expats and ask around. Inquire with your potential employer if they can put you in contact with employees who have spent time there. Ask everyone you can what they love about the place, what´s hard, and what they wish they had known before making the move. Take copious notes. This is a list worth digesting.
Nr. 2 – Romanticize an area
I came across an article from a high-profile magazine that rated Switzerland Nr. 1 for expats in 2014. They explicitly say it is “the best place” to be an expat, and mention the scenic views, money, chocolate and neutrality.
I can assure you after well over a decade of living in Switzerland that there is much more to daily life than fancy watches and chocolate.
Romance is great – but like any good relationship – when you live abroad you need to accept the not-showered-and-haven´t-brushed-my-teeth-yet side. It can´t always be roses. (tweet that!)
Get intimate: What does the day-to-day look like? How long are the commutes? What is the weather like at its best? At its worst? How long does that last? How do families spend most of their time? What are top three complaints among newcomers?
Nr. 3 – Assume one-size fits all
There is no magic city or country which comes with a guarantee that you´ll be happy. Your fit with a place is based on an array of unique factors:
- national cultural (preferences and tendencies)
- job prospects
- family status / needs
- your perceived status in the local society
- ability to pursue projects important to you
- language skills, and more!
Better indicators include your intercultural competencies, current state of resiliency, level of expat fatigue, readiness for adventure, excitement about adapting, just to name a few.
Nr. 4 – Lead to a feeling that something is wrong with you
When you´re not happy in one of the “Top 10 expat destinations,” you’re are at risk of telling yourself, “I should be happier here,” or asking, “What is wrong with me?”
Don´t be fooled. Your unhappiness is not a sign that something is wrong with you. Nor, to be frank, is anything wrong with the local culture at your destination. (tweet that!)
Instead, it´s sign that something has to change.
Sorry to break it to you but (no matter how much that would make life easier!) you can´t “make” other people change. Change has to come from you. Shift the focus away from what´s making you unhappy. Instead ask, What needs are not getting met?
Finally, don´t forget you are in making your way in another culture! This stuff isn´t simple nor does it come easy for many of us Earthlings.
So ditch these lists. Nothing is wrong with you. If you’re unhappy where you are, then there´s likely something important missing that you need.
Instead, shift your focus to a different type of list: Name everything that is working. Then, write down what needs are not yet being met. This is an important first step in making the most of your life abroad.
Here is to clarity.
p.s. Feel a little stuck? If you are in a location that doesn´t feel like it is on your “top ten,” reach out to so we can talk about how you can make the most of it. Schedule a free session right here.