Expats at Home Abroad
People move away from their home countries for a variety of reasons, including war, violence, and natural disasters, but the primary ones are work, family, or study, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The International Organization of Migration’s (IOM) report from 2022 reveals that the United States has been the primary destination for international migrants since 1970, with the number of foreign-born people jumping from less than 12 million in 1970 to nearly 51 million in 2019. Germany is the second main destination for migrants, with its foreign-born population increasing from 8.9 million in 2000 to almost 16 million in 2020. While nearly 40 percent of international migrants come from Asia, with India being the largest source of migrants, Mexico and Russia ranked second and third as sending countries.
Not all the travel is in one direction, though, as estimates of the number of Americans living overseas ranges from 5.1 to 9 million. The Association of American Citizen Overseas (AARO) believes that at least 5.4 million Americans lived abroad in 2023.
Living internationally has many life-enriching and perspective broadening aspects. The lure of a better life can become a reality for many in terms of educational opportunities, higher income, freedom, and lifestyle changes.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain
There are, nevertheless, challenges to living in a new country, such as adjusting to the climate, cuisine, and culture, facing loneliness and homesickness, and possibly even a language barrier. Additionally, expats must face numerous bureaucratic and institutional encumbrances. “Americans who have moved overseas face legal and regulatory impediments that make life abroad difficult,” according to AARO.
Traits for International Thriving
What personal qualities are needed to thrive abroad, whether the time there is relatively brief or possibly permanent? The following traits are recommended for cultivation whether one has expatriate status or is firmly rooted in their homeland.
Curiosity and Interest in People: It helps to like people, as support and friendship are vital for success overseas. Being curious about people’s reactions and learning what makes the locals tick will go a long way in being able to enjoy and cultivate a meaningful life. These qualities can also be employed in learning a new language to be able to form relationships and enjoy the culture.
Motivation and Perseverance: When challenges come from living in a strange land, such as with learning the language, it is good to remind oneself why the relocation happened in the first place. A positive vision for moving abroad is preferable to a negative one. If someone has a passion to pursue, people to help, a life to build, or family to be with, then daily or prevailing hurdles will not be dissuasive.
Flexibility and Patience: Expectations around time, space, and social mores vary widely across countries and regions. It is helpful to adopt an attitude of openness to people and circumstances by suspending the desire to critique and judge, at least to a later time. By “not sweating the small stuff”, the expat will be able to navigate the myriad of differences between the host culture and their home culture.
Preparedness and Financial Aptitude: Being prepared for emergencies is a good habit to cultivate and can include having extra water in storage containers, a first aid kit, an emergency evacuation bag, and multiple currencies and varied ways to pay bills. Being good with budgeting and saving, will help the thriving expat plan for tax bills, a visit to the “home” country, or for local investments.
Self-Awareness and Sense of Humor: Living away from home will regularly take a person out of his or her comfort zone and remind them of their limits and foibles, giving opportunity for laughter or self-loathing. At the same time, being self-aware can enable a person to play to their strengths so that they do things that bring success and fulfillment, whether in work or leisure.