Ahh moving abroad . . . that’ll fix it. A fresh start. A new leaf. A change of scenery. That’s what I need to break me out of the unhealthy rhythms and dysfunctional habits I’ve been carrying with me for years. Right?
The people reading this are having at least three distinctly different reactions right now. The starry-eyed “Soon-To-Be’s” are like, “Exactly what I was thinking. Makes total sense.” The half-jaded “Been-There’s” are saying, “PFFFT. Keep dreaming chump.” And somewhere out there someone just giggled and thought, “Yeah, not so much, but it gets better.”
I wish it were true. I really do. I wish that packing up and moving to a new place meant that you could leave your baggage at home. But you can’t . . . at least not most of the time.
(Just a side note to anyone who actually did discover that moving away fixed all of their issues . . . you should maybe not say anything just now . . . the rest of us don’t like you.)
I call it FLIGHT INFLATION (capitalized for emphasis), and it’s a reality built on two simple principles:
- Issues can fly
- They expand when they land
The cross-cultural life can be the great inflator of personal problems. It can also be painfully deceptive, early on. The excitement, the adventure, and the newness can serve as a great cover-up for a good long time, but rest assured . . . if it’s in there . . . it will come out.
Let’s get blunt for just a minute so there’s no mistaking what we’re talking about here:
If addiction is your thing — drugs, booze, porn, attention, name it — an international move is not a substitute for recovery. You can expect that your triggers and temptations will be stronger than ever. Even if your vice seems unavailable in your new home, addicts are masters at finding what they crave.
If your marriage is in the toilet — You may very well need some time away with your spouse, and a trip abroad could be just what the therapist ordered . . . but LIFE abroad is NOT a break from reality to gather your thoughts and talk things out . . . it is a NEW reality altogether. It’s a reality that mixes all of your past frustrations with a whole new set of frustrations. That’s dangerous chemistry.
If you have anger issues — That’s one place in your passport country where your life can be compartmentalized. Blow up at work, and no one at church will ever know. Kick the dog, and he’ll keep it a secret. Life abroad is (and I generalize here) more community driven — less prone to personal space and segmented social spheres. Who you really are is harder to keep secret in a bubble when everyone you know is all up in your business.
Whatever your issue is — Withdrawal. Gossip. Anxiety. Depression. Control issues. Procrastination. Doubt. Shame. Laziness. Misphonia (that thing where mouth sounds make you crazy . . . what? . . . it’s a real thing . . . stop judging).
Seriously — whatever it is — life abroad doesn’t fix it.
Anonymity, isolation, lack of support, cultural stress, feeling out of control (this list goes on for a while) are all factors in the swelling of our issues abroad. Consider the fact that you are often expected to complete high stakes tasks with other anonymous, isolated, unsupported, highly stressed, out-of-control people, and FLIGHT INFLATION starts to make sense.
But this is not a doomsday post (could have fooled me, right?). So hear me out.
If you’re a starry-eyed “Soon-To-Be,” don’t freak out.
- Everyone has issues . . . for real . . . everyone.
- Do everything you can to address them before you go. And set up a plan to keep addressing them.
- Don’t be naive. Going in with your eyes open sets you up to do this right.
- Sidenote — If your issues are actually going to crush you abroad, it is MUCH better to discover that before you go.
If you’re a half-jaded “Been There,” there’s good news.
- You’re also half unjaded. Resolve not to go the other half.
- Say it with me: “Life abroad does not get to rob me of my _______” (marriage, sanity, sobriety, dog).
- Become a master of seeking wisdom.
- Sidenote — If your issues are already crushing you, finish this sentence, “It would be better for me to ______ than to lose my ________.” Then do whatever it takes.
And if you’ve been there, come through it, and learned something along the way, here are some requests for you.
- Share your wisdom. Humbly and with great empathy. Please.
- Don’t get cocky. Issues come back.
- Be an advocate for people with issues. They could use someone who understands.
- Sidenote — Consider that people are NEVER the best version of themselves in transition. Help them navigate.
(Originally published at thecultureblend.com.)