Expat Authenticity: Lost and Found
Being an expat challenges your authenticity. On the other hand, being an expat helps you find your true self.
Every time we relocated to a new country, I faced the need to establish myself and find a way to fit into the community, environment, surrounding world.
It was different in every place we went to. As a vacation traveler, you would go to places, enjoy sightseeing and come home. As an expat, you’ve got to be able to somehow communicate and function in the community of people you find yourself in.
Being Authentic vs. Flexible
I have been thinking about how true we can be to ourselves when we are in a foreign culture for a longer time. Often times we are not thinking, acting and feeling in the alignment with our state of authenticity. This brings disconnect and discontent with ourselves. It seems like we have to wear a mask and play the roles that are foreign to us. We have to act somehow, that is not what we would normally do or we have to accustom our values to accommodate the environment’s status quo. We are explaining this as us being flexible and adjusting to a new culture, yet eventually, we feel depleted, frustrated and unhappy with where we are and what we have to do.
We’ve been in Oregon, USA for almost three years already and I am still feeling like an outsider. Being an experienced traveler, I learned to stay connected to myself and rely only on myself for my well-being. However, for a long time, I thought that there is something wrong with me and maybe my ways turn people away from me. I thought I must change and adjust to being accepted.
It is true in a way, we must change and adjust every time we come to a new culture, but the question is: how much do we need to alter ourselves to be accepted and welcomed? The answer is we don’t need to lie to ourselves and turn into a different person we don’t want to be.
The Choice of Staying True to Yourself
I am a teacher. I taught in International schools and now I teach in the USA. My teaching style and my personality make me a successful teacher only because I chose to be true to myself. I came to this belief through many trials and tribulations. Fret and worry about what others would think or say about me as a teacher was my everyday topic of family dinner discussion. I don’t do that anymore. If my students and parents are happy – this is all that matters to me as a teacher. I would appreciate any feedback and recommendation, but I am willing to change only to the extent it’s comfortable to me and beneficial to my students.
Every culture has certain demands and expectations and we cannot meet all of them. For example, in Dubai, the teacher in pre-school used to raise her voice to keep the kids quiet and focused on their work. When I came to the classroom, the kids would not respond to my calm and quiet voice. One day I got a cold and I lost my voice completely. For, almost a week, I had to whisper. My communication with the children and parents became brief yet deeper and kinder. My environment learned to notice the emotional cues and signs and to listen to the quietness in the air. This brought a sense of order and mindfulness, that I always long to create in my classroom.
Authenticity Reveals the Way to Acceptance
Did I have to change myself as a teacher to meet the expectations of the environment for a teacher who can only keep kids engaged by the overpowering loudness of her voice? I did not. I showed a different way to manage my classroom and create an inspiring learning environment for all. My assistants from the Philippines and Pakistan didn’t believe that was possible. The result, however, was obvious. The kids, who were perceived as not ready to speak English as a foreign language, felt comfortable to engage and play with English speaking friends. The parents stopped complaining about kids not wanting to come to school. And the teachers finished the school year celebrating the students’ high academic level and overall development. That was a success – everyone won.
If I tried to emulate the teaching style of a previous teacher and yelled at the preschoolers every time they acted out, would I have achieved the contentment and happiness in my classroom? I think I would not. And the main reason why would be a lack of authenticity.
Authenticity is not always easy to live out, but it is always worth listening and trusting your inner self.
Would you like to connect to your true you? Schedule a complimentary talk with me. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Life is a journey of joy. Embrace it!
PS You might be interested in more. It’s about Creativity and Connection. Enjoy.