Expatriate to change your life (and yourself)

Live abroad to change your life has been my life motive! Living abroad has changed my life several times! Expatriation even became an addiction and maybe even a way of life!

Relocating abroad is a lot of things: it is feeling lost, experiencing cultural shock, and feeling an incomparable thrill but also homesickness. It can also be feeling disconnected from your motherland and feeling the guilt of being far from your family during special occasions, and much more…

Living abroad is taking a leap of faith for a better future and a personal discovery.

expatriation freedom
Photo by Fuu J.

Live abroad to change your life


My first expatriation as a working adult 

I have expatriated many times; I lived in Ireland or Argentina as a student. These experiences were more than a success and once I graduated I found my first job in London! Not necessarily because I was looking to move to the UK but because I already had international experience. And the recruiter was looking for this type of profile. London wasn’t my first choice at the time, but looking back I’m so happy I accepted the job offer! I was 24 years old, I originally thought I’d stay only for one year for the experience, but I ended up staying three years and could have even stayed longer! Besides the obvious changes such as my job, the people I have met and the languages I speak, expatriation has profoundly changed my way of seeing life and interacting with people from other cultures.

Get out of your comfort zone

Living abroad switched my concept of normality. What is “normal” in France is not necessarily in the UK, Spain or Brazil. Saying “It’s normal” is a very common form of speech. And it doesn’t make much sense to say it to a person from another country as it indicates that the local norm is the right one, and as a consequence undermines the one of the expat we’re speaking to.

Our cultural norm is our comfort zone. So, when confronted with another norm, we are out of our comfort zone and sometimes walk on eggshells. But we adapt and the part I enjoy the most is to see that I’m able to rebuild a new life, a new routine in an environment that has nothing to do with France. My life in Argentina or Brazil has very little in common with my life in France, but it made me discover a new part of myself I didn’t know existed.

Constant adaptation

As an expat or an immigrant, whatever you want to call it, you will be constantly discovering a new way of doing, working, communicating, thinking, and a new everything. It is the way it feels to me. Living abroad is a constant adaptation that can be sometimes destabilising but to me often thrilling.

The constant discovery, or even discomfort, is like a spice to my life. It makes it exciting; boredom doesn’t exist as an expat! It is an everyday roller coaster, with its ups and downs.

The foreigner status

When you live in your home country you blend in. You are usually part of a specific social group and people expect you to behave a certain way. You unconsciously know the social codes and expectations and you just go with it (or not, but it is a conscious choice). As a foreigner, this doesn’t happen.

It can take several years for a foreigner to integrate the unsaid different social norms. Also, are foreigners supposed to integrate all these social norms? I’m not sure. I think this point can sometimes be hard to accept for a local person that has never relocated abroad. Especially in France, people tend to think that a foreigner should integrate every part of the French culture and sometimes put aside his/her own culture.

However, this is impossible when your culture, your childhood, and your experience are what make you who you are. When you are brought up a certain way and some of your core values are different from the ones of the country where you live in, I think tolerance and respect should be enough to live together.

Very often, I felt that as an expat, I am less affected by the situation of the country where I live, the political turmoil, and the social situation. It can take a few years to truly understand the social, economic, and historical backgrounds of a country that impact everyday life and references.

Being in a constant cultural and social adaptation, and realising that you can adapt to a very different way of life, opens you to the possibility of unconventional life choices according to other cultures.

Expatriation has changed my life! But more than changing my life, it has changed me.

It has given me the strength and the confidence to be the main actress of my own life and understanding that I was able to achieve my goals.

My world is now much bigger than my hometown, or my home country. The possibilities are infinite. It is all a matter of choice. Anything is possible.

travel and expatriation
Photo by Anne Nygård

Expatriation will change you

It will change the way you see yourself

I’ve embraced foreign cultures and traditions, accepted recurring discomfort, and met lifelong friends. Because expatriating is the most satisfying and challenging thing I have done. It changed the core of who I thought I was and who I am now.

And there are different ways it will also change you. Forever.

Speaking another language changes your personality

A Czech proverb says: “ Learn a new language and get a new soul”.

Moving to a new culture and also a new language will give you another perspective, other filters to see the world but also will change your personality. If you have lived abroad and spoken another language, have you ever felt different? More or less introverted, more or less stressed, or straight to the point? If you speak more than one foreign language, do you associate each language to a specific context (work, romantic or family communication, arguments)? If you could, would you switch from one language to another depending on the context?

When speaking another language other than French, I often have the sensation of being a different person. I also have fewer filters as I feel I have more distance from what I say in a foreign language. Nairan Ramírez-Esparza, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut in the USA, shows in her research that bilinguals express different personalities when they speak in a different language. She also explains that the language is deeply intricate with the culture. And when a person speaks a language, he or she integrates some traits of its culture. The Czech proverb may, therefore, be true!

Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo

Expatriating made me reflect on my own culture

When, daily, I’m confronted with a different way of communicating, thinking, seeing the world, acting, it makes me question what I thought was the norm. It makes me question my own culture. It goes from little daily things like having only sweet food for breakfast to deeper cultural elements such as the French way of implementing secularism or my role as a woman in society.

I do not consider the French way as my way anymore but as one of my ways. I’m more critical about the way things are done in France and do not use the expression “It is normal” anymore. The way I see it now, this expression often means, “This the way things are done here”.

I know that in terms of way of socializing and living my personal life, I’m a Latin person (opposed to the Anglo-Saxon culture). I love spending hours around a meal, for me, food is a pleasure before being a need. My need for personal space is way smaller compared to my Anglo-Saxon colleagues.

However, in terms of work-life, as I started my career in the UK, I have been strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon way of working, and more specifically the British way. I find the British work culture more pragmatic and polite. Encouragement and positive feedback are given as much as constructive ones. I didn’t witness any type of presenteeism as it can be the case in France in some work environments. I’m a mix of my experiences.

If culture was an iceberg, expatriation affects unseen elements, such as one’s perception, rules and beliefs.

Culture iceberg

This became clear to me every time I repatriated home. I realised home hadn’t changed but I had. And this makes coming back often harder than leaving. But after a while, I readjusted but I never forgot the expatriation thrill.

In short, living abroad and creating a new routine in a new culture gave me a strong sense of freedom. I felt that I wasn’t limited either by my cultural framework and social pressure and expectations but especially by my own beliefs of limitation.

It made me realise that anything is possible! And that life is full of surprises …you have no idea where it’s going to lead. And it is OK!

If you found some resonance in this article or if it inspired you to take the plunge, spread the love, and share this article with your friends.

This article is part of an inter-blogger event on “How living abroad has impacted your life” organised by Machiko and Laurent from the Blog: apprendrelejaponais-decouvrirlejapon


  • Oxana

    Hi ! 🙂 This is a wonderful article and I find a lot in common in your experience and thoughts about expatriation.
    It is not always easy, you have to get used to the new. Need to adapt.
    But we get new skills, expand our horizons, begin to better understand ourselves!
    And we can continue to travel !
    Bon courage

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Hello Oksana!
      Many thanks for your nice feedback! I’m happy you’ve found some resonance in it! The travel and the discoveries are the important parts, the destination is always a better self-knowledge!

  • Virgo

    What and interesting and insightful testimony! I have never actually lived outside of France, but I totally agree on how speaking a different language and spending time abroad opens up your eyes on how so many things are a social and cultural construct and how nothing is “normal”, just the “way things are done here”, as you so rightly say. What did you find was the biggest challenge in coming to work in a new country?

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Hello Virginie, Thank you for your comment! Well you might be surprised but I found it harder to come back to France and work in France than working abroad!
      I started my professional life in London and then Spain so I’m used to working in a foreign environment. However, when I came back to France, people would expect me to understand all the codes and expectations as I’m French…but it was not the case as I had very little working experience in France. Therefore people were not so understanding and patient with me, the way they would have been with an expat… A bit disappointing for me at first but I got used to it.

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