Many of us will feel an urge at some stage in our lives to uproot to another country. To leave what we are familiar with to go in search of a more fulfilling lifestyle.
As we leave the West and try to set roots in Asia it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the different cultures and environment around us.
Below are some practical guidelines to embracing our new life abroad and the challenges faced.
These ideas are based on my experience of living in China as a UK citizen. However, many of the issues explored will also apply to other westerners living in other parts of Asia.
The “foreigner” carries an air of mystery with them to most Asians. Depending on the concentration of expats where you are based, curiosity from the locals will follow you around. Whether your differences are physical or in terms of your personality and culture learn to embrace your uniqueness. You are an ambassador that represents your culture. Make the most of this opportunity to display the positive aspect of your character.
Back in your native country you many easily blend in with the rest of society. In Asia, you have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Celebrate this uniqueness from others.
Forming friendships is an important part of adapting to a new lifestyle. Understanding the culture of the surrounding people will help you to appreciate the attitudes of their actions. Learning the local lingo is an integral part of developing meaningful relationships. It takes time to learn a new language but if you immerse yourself fully with a keen interest then you will bear the fruits of your labor.
Many expats will reach out to others of similar cultural background and form their own social groups. Being in a new environment together can provide a wonderful opportunity to emphasize and bond with fellow countrymen. However, be careful of becoming overly dependent on these communities. We also need to make the most of the opportunities to explore relationships within the local culture.
Growing up in a western society we learn to adopt certain mannerisms that are accepted as the norm. We expect standards of behavior which to us are a matter of common courtesy. In Asia, it is easy to find offense and feel insulted by the locals. Different cultures have their own unique standards of common behavior which the westerner may find rude and impolite.
Depending on the location in the country it is common to observer behaviors in public such as spitting, littering, smoking indoors (toilets, restaurants and lifts for example), pushing, queue-jumping and children urinating in the street.
Many parts of Asia are now adopting western standards and certain behaviors are becoming less tolerated. However, these occurrences can still be experienced, and they can paint a negative perception of the surrounding people.
We need to appreciate that behaviors arise from the culture of the environment that people are brought up it. It is not necessary inherent to their nature. People are not necessary being rude — this is just the habit of their actions. We can learn to accept the differences of other cultures. Through our own actions we can show the positives of a more courteous approach.
An Attitude of Adventure
When venturing into the unknown we need to have the right attitude. We need to able to break from the habits of our lifestyle and the creature comforts of home. We should explore, taking pleasures in finding uncharted territories and experiencing new horizons.
This attitude of adventure is part of what initially fueled our motivation to explore a new lifestyle abroad. Embrace this mentality as it leads you forward in your journey to finding fulfillment in your life.
As we adapt to our new life we gradually learn to create a home for ourselves here. We settle into a new career, develop stable relationships and a find a suitable lifestyle. As years pass our western attitudes and cultures integrate with those of the East.
It is vital to not get too caught up and forget who we really are. From time to time we need to reflect on our roots and our upbringing. Visiting home is an important part of the process of reminding us of where we came from. It also allows us to appreciate how far we have developed in our attitudes as we benefit from the experience of living in a new culture.