Re Invent Yourself - a guest blog by Clare Doyle
A guest post by fellow seasoned expat spouse,
I have been reaching out to fellow expat spouses who have 'been around the block' to offer you insights and a new perspective. When I first started out as an expat, I was lucky to get so much support from more seasoned expats. Some of what they said I took on board, some not so much, but even the bits I didn't listen to in the moment served me in the end.
I am so pleased to welcome my next guest writer, Clare Doyle. I met her before I became an expat and in many ways she modelled how to approach expat life - with curiosity - although I couldn't have imagined what was to come when we first met. Ive always loved her approach to new experiences and her interest in people. Of the friendships I have forged, hers is one I cherish. So here you go, insights from fellow expat, Clare Doyle.
I was finding it hard going settling into my new country, I was missing my job, my friends, my family ‘back home’. A friend more experienced in making a new life advised me. ‘It’s such an opportunity’ she said, ‘you can re invent yourself’. I hadn’t seen it like that, but you can. You don’t have to tell all the stories the way you always have, you can introduce yourself differently, you don’t have to tell anyone about the nickname you’ve always hated, you’re not circumscribed by where you come from or how you speak, because for many of your new acquaintances these factors are meaningless.
We are not defined by our nationality. We make friends with people we like, and that isn’t necessarily because of where we were born. I was and still am surprised by how often there is an assumption that in a new country we will make contact with those who share our nationality. Think about it, normally we make friends with those with whom we share an interest, a sense of humour, an outlook, all those myriad factors that make us enjoy a sense of camaraderie with others.
I joined a book club in one of my postings, as an avid reader I thought it would be a good way to make new friends and share enthusiasms. I realised the club was not for me the day I found myself parked outside the meeting frantically scanning a review of the book I was supposed to have read. Perhaps it was too much like school, the idea of having to read a particular work, rather than simply choosing something because it seemed interesting, old habits (in my case not liking being told what to read, even by people I liked) die hard!
I did join other groups, languages, theatre, walking, I studied at the local university, there was even a bird watching group at one point. Did I have a huge interest in Birdwatching? Not really, but in the Flemish village just outside Brussels where we found ourselves, there was a local group who invited us to join. It was wonderful, we explored parts of the country we would probably never have visited, and being Belgium, each outing finished with lunch (usually a gargantuan serving of moules and frites) where we came to enjoy each others’ company. I cannot tell you anything about the mating habits of the lesser spotted Egret, but I did make good friends, and learned a huge amount about Belgium listening to stories and anecdotes, absorbing rather than studying my new country.
One thing that struck me about friends I made whilst living elsewhere is how many of those friendships have endured, perhaps the experience of being somewhere different strengthened that closeness. We shared an experience rather than a history, the challenge of making a new life in a place that was sometimes hard to understand, adapting to new customs and habits. Those events, supporting each other during sometimes difficult times built an intimacy that has lasted. Did this create a substitute family? Perhaps, but without the history or the pain and misunderstandings that can exist amongst relatives.
I suppose one of the elements that surprised me was how foreign I felt when I went ‘home’. Going back to what had been so familiar, so ‘normal’ seemed strange. Not exotic exactly, but I was taken aback by how I saw my place of birth differently. A group of friends had a welcome back party for me. As we settled into the wine and sandwiches, one said ‘well, I expect you’re dying to know what’s been going on here since you’ve been away’. Nobody asked what the time away had been like for me. I’d been in Mexico for goodness sake, a fascinating challenging country, but no, it seemed what they wanted was for me to rejoin the club, to resettle, to ‘take my place’. I’m not sure that I ever really did, living somewhere else had changed my expectations and habits.
So what have I learned from living elsewhere?
It’s an opportunity. You can rebuild yourself differently, you can learn an enormous amount, not just about the country, but about yourself. You can try new things, this may be the time to learn the Tango, to speak another language, to study Quantum Physics....why not? However, the main lesson for me was not to waste time. The stay in this new place will probably be defined, so if you meet people you like, reach out to them, you and they may not be there that long, seize the moment.
Born in the United Kingdom of Irish parents Clare Doyle has also worked in Ireland, Belgium, Mexico and France. Originally trained as a social worker, she has filled a variety of roles, latterly specialising in career development and management training. Adapting to life and work in different countries she has also had experience in Journalism, Teaching, Translations and Voice Overs, that is apart from full time parenting (development of negotiating and organisational skills).
LOOKING FOR MORE HELPFUL TIPS AND TOOLS?
For straight-forward answers to all of your expat dilemmas, get your copy of UNPACK - a guide to life as an expat spouse. This pick-it-up and put-it-down book was designed for the busy expat spouse on the go... YOU. Get your copy on Amazon HERE.
If you want my blog to come straight to your inbox, sign up here and get your FREE copy of my ebook, A HAPPY EXPAT - a quick guide. This guide outlines my top 3 pillars to expat living, Attitude, Expectation and Identity and gives the top 10 list of realities of life as an expat spouse. Subscribe HERE
For inspiration, top tips and insights into expat living, follow my Facebook page - A HAPPY EXPAT. All of my FAQs, blogs, events, and musings will be posted HERE
As always, I am here to help! If you have questions or want support, please don't hesitate to email me firstname.lastname@example.org.