What does expat success mean to you?

What does expat success mean to you?My recent series of posts on the Big Five and expat adjustment seemed to strike a chord with readers, and I’ve been mulling over the idea of doing another series exploring some of the non-psychological factors that lead to expat success.

The other day, while I was sitting in the orthodontist’s waiting room, scribbling some notes on the subject, I realized that I use that phrase — “expat success” — an awful lot. And yet I’ve never actually defined it.

I have quite a clear idea knocking around in my head of what it means … but I don’t want to monopolize the conversation! So instead, I’m crowdsourcing this baby. All you experienced, intelligent expat women out there, please tell me:

What does expat success mean to you?


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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14 Responses to What does expat success mean to you?

  1. Sharon says:

    Joyfully and fearlessly embracing your new environment in a friendly and respectful way.
    I know a woman who has taken her two children to Asia and she is out there, using public transport, eating with locals and posting her amazing photos for us all to share and enjoy. I am in awe. Having lived in 5 countries on 3 continents and about to embrace the 6th, I hope I can do the same. But Im just not as brave!! I tiptoe in, testing the water with just one toe while she just flings herself in joyfully.

    Has to be personality – or intelligence – or je ne sais quoi. I have no idea, but if they bottled it, I would love some of what she’s having!

  2. Sine says:

    Ha! Are you sure you want to open the floodgates to that? Well, here goes… Expat success to me means that you embrace the country you live in. That you come with an open mind, acknowledge that other cultures are different and that this is a good thing, and find out about the best parts of that new culture. Having been a successful expat means that when you look back a couple of years later, you fondly remember the country you lived in. There are probably many other factors, but having an open mind, without any of the prejudices you might have heard about that country, is the most important one. Had I listened to all the fearmongers before we moved to South Africa, we wouldn’t actually have moved. I heard of crime and guns practically at every corner, and it is nothing like that in reality. Instead, we found wonderful warm people, some of the best weather on the planet, and great travel opportunities. And of course many new friends. In fact, that is the second key to success, and it follows from having an open mind. You have to go out and meet people. If you were an expat in Hawaii without any friends, you’d be miserable, but you could probably have a great time in Antarctica if there was a wonderful group of people there with you. If you go are the trailing spouse on an expat assignment without kids, I think the most important thing would be to have a plan of how to meet people – taking language classes, taking up a sport, joining an international group of some sort, doing charity work. Okay, shutting up now, thanks for the sounding board and looking forward to read your summary!

  3. For me, after many moves, there are many levels of success:
    First its about making sure that I can function in the new place (finding my way around and learning the language) In early days in a new place, its also about making sure that my children are settling in and are happy.
    Longer term it becomes more about finding the right balance for myself so that the things I chose to do contribute to my own fulfilment in life (whether its work, family, language and culture, philanthropy, community). I’ve found that the balance that I need has changed from country to country, as my children have grown and I have increased my self awareness.
    When I’m working with my coaching clients, I help each individual to identify what they need in expat life to feel fulfilled and successful and guide them through the process of creating a life that fits with those needs. I’m interested to see the feedback that you get from this excellent question.


  4. Janet Daghri says:

    Expat success to me is making it through the move, settling in, reinventing our lives (with two kids and a dog), making new friends, and experiencing the anguish AND the joys of living abroad all while managing to keep our family connected, happy and as well adjusted as can be. If you asked my husband, I’m sure he would say that success is measured by the amount of savings in the bank!

  5. Cherry says:

    Expat success: Growing your heart to include the cultures and customs of each place you live, so that each can take their place in the rich tapestry of your unique life; and growing the hearts of those you meet along the journey in such a way as to gratefully include wonderful memories of your presence in their lives.

  6. Maria says:

    Such excellent definitions! It’s interesting to see that although there are many commonalities in the responses, everyone approaches the concept of expat success from slightly different angles. That’s why Evelyn’s suggestion of having a clear vision of what success means to you (preferably before you move) is such a good one — once you have a solid grasp of what you need, you can work backwards to figure out how to go about making it happen. I think it’s also important to check in regularly, to see how you’re doing on the journey. Otherwise, you can easily get blown off course. Thanks for the comments, ladies!

  7. Janet Daghri says:

    Your questions are awesome Maria. They really make me think. I love reading the other replies. Those make me think even more. Keep up the good work! It enriches our lives!!!

  8. Hi Maria, sorry I’m a little late to the party. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the other responses, too. I think you’ve nailed it when you say the definition must be tailored to our own personality, strengths, challenges and expat situation. I’d say having AND retaining an open mind throughout the entire experience is most crucial.

  9. When you wake up without suddenly thinking “Aaagh I’m in a foreign land” is when I feel I have reached Expat Success. Great blog, keep up the good work!

  10. naomi says:

    Great subject, again!

    I agree with the other women that expat success can be measured by maintaining an open mind, but I also think (the longer I do this) that it can also be measured (for me) by maintaining a sense of reality.

    I spent too many of my days at the beginning beating myself up for being negative, frustrated or wanting to go home … cuz gosh, Naomi, you CHOSE this! Suck it up and pull up your big girl panties!!

    Now I am starting to realize that for me, success comes in the weird moments of balance … when I’m embracing the culture/country that has temporarily adopted me …. but yet I’m being realistic (and gentle!!!) on myself on the days that it doesn’t feel so glamorous, cool and wonderful.

  11. Mireille says:

    When I started my expat life about 15 years ago the company paid for us to take a Culture shock course. They told us: “The secret of being a good expat is… to learn the language!” So when we moved to Thailand I took it to heart and started to learn Thai. Because by learning a language, you learn about the people, the culture as well. Now I am in my 6th country and 4th continent and in many languages I can speak a bit… enough to get me by the awkward moments. Life = good as an expat, but indeed an open mind and great friends make all the difference!

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