Falling in love with people and places. An expat perspective.May 22nd 2019
Many of us have had the exhilarating and uplifting experience of falling in love. Your heart seems to swell and your stomach is a flurry of butterflies of excitement at what the future holds. Every touch sends electrical impulses running down your arms as your whole body seems to tingle and you can’t help but smile, in a way you have never smiled before.
Believe it or not, our bodies actually respond physically when we fall in love. The brain is filled with dopamine and serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormones, and we begin to see the world from a different perspective. Our cognitive functioning is all out of whack and, our memory, attention or perception can become heightened or numbed. We may find ourselves leaving our keys in the fridge in absent-mindedness or we may have a heightened sense of awareness and notice things we may never have done before, like a tiny bird building his nest in a tiny corner of the roof of your house or the twinkling sparkle of dust in your sunlit bedroom.
Whether we fall in love with a person or a place, the physical responses are similar. Touching the hand of your handsome visitor can feel as exhilarating as the feel of the cool green grass between your toes on a summer day. This heightened appreciation for someone or something new makes us feel happy and like we have found a new home.
This is only the beginning. Anything can happen from that moment on. The love may dissipate or it may grow stronger as we veer and navigate around mountains and lakes, life’s ups and downs.
Falling in love is a little like going on the best holiday of your life; everything looks so new and exciting and we have the pleasure of enjoying the best parts without truly understanding the true reality of what it is like to live and breathe it every day.
When we make the decision to move to a new country, we often fall in love with the idea of the upcoming adventure and the attractiveness of being able to enjoy those little charms every day and perhaps look forward to reporting them to our dear friends and family. We believe moving to a new country will make us more knowledgable, wiser, and, if nothing else, it will be an exciting adventure which we will never forget and will hopefully open up new opportunities that would never have been available to us otherwise.
It is scary and challenging in the beginning when you arrive in a new place and you’re there for the long road. Therefore, it is important to start a new life with realistic expectations that will set you up with a grounded perspective and serve you for as long as you end up being in your new home or with your new love.
We are often surprised at how difficult it can be when moving to a new country. It can be very lonely without your family and friends around you. Staying in touch as often as possible will help you get through the hard times. A familiar voice or face is sometimes all you need to reassure you that you’re on the right track and everything will be okay.
Needless to say, living in a new country can be hard and there are a unique set of challenges that you can face as an expat. Firstly, don’t underestimate the difficulty of learning a new language, and secondly the confusion that a new culture will bring to your understanding of the world and what is happening around you. It will challenge your ideas and perspectives and force you to reevaluate the most basic ideas and beliefs.
The HSBC Expat Explorer Survey do a poll every year of expats from around the world and ask such things as the economic climate and health of a new country. The 2018 survey results show Singapore to come top as an overall expat destination. But why? Does that mean we should all flock to Singapore? To put it simply, no.
Some countries will score high for aspects such as career progression, saving money, employment opportunities, however important considerations such as integration and work-life balance may score very differently. We can think we understand the elements which are important to us personally and select our next destination on that basis, but we may find ourselves surprised with the aspects we come to love and hate after we have been there a little while.
So how useful are these surveys? Well they do give us some understanding of what drives and influences the country and its people, and it will give you some tools you need to manage your expectations and prepare yourself appropriately, like going into a battle with a sword or having prepared your questions and answers for an interview; extremely useful to say the least but that doesn’t mean you don’t get a few surprises when you’re there.
So why do some people leave and some people stay? The answer isn’t straightforward and is very different for each individual. Some will love their new home, while others will miss their old home so much that they simply feel like they can’t bear another day there. Some will view their new home as an opportunity and find learning a new culture exciting and exhilarating while others are simply open to new experiences, whatever challenges they present. Others will treat their new adventure like a serenity prayer. Whether one believes in the religious symbolism, the sentiment behind it is still inspiring. The following verse by Reinhold Niebuhr, an American Reformed theologian, has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve-step programme:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
If you’re struggling to settle in your new home, try and open your mind and have courage once again. You don’t have to love it but you do need to enjoy tiny discoveries, accept the wisdom and let the past go.
A perfect factsimile of your old life into your new life will only cause disappointment. Care about where you are and be open-minded enough to discover that place’s unique charms, and don’t try to possess them or control them. No place is perfect and it’s all a matter of perspective. Find the secrets of the place you call home. There’s no value in trying to make your new home revolve around you and your current beliefs and reality.
Allow yourself to be open minded and let yourself adjust to your new environment and culture. Facebook groups for expats in your new country can be very useful to find friends, get support and find opportunities in terms of social events and employment opportunities. For other tips to help you settle in please see ‘10 Top Tips to help you deal with Homesickness’
Some people feel they leave a piece of their heart every place they stay. The truth is, whether you stay or go, whether you hang up your coat or stay for the whole ride, a piece of your heart will be left behind and you will find yourself missing things you didn’t know you loved.
As human beings our hearts are deeper than the deepest ocean and larger than the biggest planet, so have courage to leave a piece of your heart in different places around the world. That’s the beauty of change. And it won’t change how the cool grass feels between your toes or the touch of your loved one when you finally get home.
Whether you’ve fallen in love with a person, place or idea, true love is a deeper appreciation that will stay with you forever. And if you have to leave it behind, it will only make you stronger and wiser and more connected to the world we live in.
We can help ease the pain of moving to a new country, both your personal and practical needs so contact us for a private discussion.