Being a Foreigner is a Privilege

Tourist not Welcome. Graffiti in Barcelona.

Being a foreigner is a privilege.

Why would this thought even come to my mind?

Why would this be even significant?

How do I benefit from thinking like this?

I think everybody who has an opportunity to travel abroad for work, for pleasure, for exploration might consider this: being a foreigner is a privilege.

When I talk about the privilege I do not mean entitled, I mean privilege as responsibility, and being humble.

First: coming to a new country we automatically become foreigners. Whether we like it or not. We show this by a different set of habits, traditions, perceptions, that we look at the world around us. This can certainly create some particularities in different situations. It is about how we handle them.

Having lived in Ukraine for half a year, a man from the USA needed to have his car checked. He came to a service station, where he was welcomed, and his concerns were addressed. Everything was great except the mechanics, who worked on his car never smiled and never made eye contact. A Westerner found this behavior uncomfortable and thought there was something wrong.  In fact, there was nothing wrong. The man gave the situation a little thought and just moved on with his day. Next time he made an extra effort to find the words of appreciation. As a result, he received a faint smile back and a tight handshake. The rapport has been established and this foreign man is not so foreign anymore, but one of the highly valued clients.

Take away: be friendly and extend an extra effort to make other people comfortable around you.


Second: coming to a new country we need to remember that we are representatives of our own culture.

People do profile other people. Living overseas for a while, I could identify, watching other people, where they come from. Manners, ways of talking, body language can reveal, in general, a person’s background.

It is always beneficial to be kind and considerate even though life can be quite challenging at times. As people, we all want to feel safe, healthy, and at peace. It does not matter where we come from, we are all longing for happy lives.

In Dubai, I met a woman. We never talked about our backgrounds. I heard her speaking French to other women and I assumed she was French. We communicated in English though. One day, we talked about our kids and I mentioned that I talk Russian to my son. She looked at me and uttered a bit confused: “I thought you are an American, but kind of a different American”. As I found out she was not French either. My dear friend Francesca is from Italy. For me she is a wonderful representative of her culture: bubbly, energetic, generous.

Take away: be a proud representative of your culture and reveal the best side of your personality.


Third: when you are in a foreign country make friends with the local people and be appreciative of your experiences.

When we choose to be in a good mood, everything else around us falls in the same vibration. Remember, it is you, who came to this country, you are a guest here. For whatever reason, you traveled that far, it was your choice to be there. Do not expect people to pave your sparkling path for you. It can be an arduous work to settle into a new environment and build your little nest for the period of your assignment.

In Turkmenistan, Galina is an office manager. Her job is to manage the office and do a lot of technical stuff. She was the first person I met when I arrived in Ashgabat. The first months were difficult for us with a baby in my hands. Galina had the answers: where to buy American food; diapers/nappies for the child; how to make peanut butter; where to find clothe dryer; which hairdresser to go to; which gym is safe; etc. These are the realities which are not important for people in Turkmenistan. They do not eat American food; many of them cannot afford diapers; they do not use clothe dryers, and going to the gym is not part of the Turkmen culture yet. For me, these are certainly important components for my comfortable life. Galina went far and beyond to help in accommodating my lifestyle to a culture in Turkmenistan.

Take away:   make sense of everything you experience in a new culture and life will smile at you.


Life is a journey of joy. Embrace it.

Much love.


Coaching for world travelers.


  • Robert

    Hi Lena,
    Very good comments on a very old problem. No matter how often you encounter a new culture it you will always be an outsider. The trick to getting respect and kindness is to first show respect and kindness. That is hard to do if you believe you are superior to the culture. I have often encountered individuals with this attitude and they usually never adapt to the culture they are in. The cultural biases that we develop throughout our lives are often a hindrance to adaptability. I had to learn that paying someone to do my chores (house keeping or driving) only proved that I had money. It did not garner more respect. Talking with them and trying to understand the way they deal with things and what their understanding is of the world went a lot farther. I hope your readers have a wonderful time with their expat time.

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