Global mobility is the catch phrase used by any entity doing business with people on the move. Shipping personal belongings from Japan to Djibouti or personnel from Ecuador to England are the tangibles of an international assignment – the practicalities that are the focus of attention for those families in flux. It is though the intangibles, the thoughts fluttering, the feelings sinking as once again lives are put into boxes and shipped on, that truly matter – the angst that tugs when sleep refuses to oblige.
Rather than dreading the gathering of new information, of new friends, we need to accept things will be different and to believe enough in ourselves to realise we are perfectly capable of rising to the challenge, and then allow ourselves a little slack. Life is unpredictable but it becomes easier when we accept we don’t, and it doesn’t, have to fit into any given box. It’s okay to lift the lid and allow some elements to escape or at least spill over. In the same way it’s okay for some friendships to dissolve through either geographical or philosophical changes – they were cherished in their time and should be remembered with fondness and not regret.
Much has been written about expatriation, with resilience and adaptability being the words often used to describe the seasoned expatriate. In the case of the TCK (Third Culture Kid) a favoured description is cultural chameleon. Much is also written about the anxiety some TCKs face in needing to be able to define ‘home’. But why, I wonder, do we need to define it? Home is where we are happy which allows it to be anywhere, or everywhere.
We are though becoming programmed to expect unrelenting happiness. Commercials exhort us to buy the latest cars or computers, to book a holiday in the sun or snow, to use a cream to lessen wrinkles and take a pill to remove fat, each advertisement promising unfettered joy but which instead often encourage unrealistic expectations. Happiness ebbs and flows. It is exhausting to be in a constant state of euphoria, and striving for that and a stress-free existence is making us terribly unhappy, which is something those relocating must remember.
Life was not always bliss in the previous place. Whilst it’s hard not to lay blame on wherever we have been sent, the reality is it’s most often the situation not the place. We would be foolish to allow our perception of a town or country to be tainted by a personal affair – a true waste of a chance to see and experience first hand another culture, not just as a tourist but as a resident. Cracks in the family façade we show the world can either be glued tight with relocation, or can widen, but when the latter occurs the chances are they would have anyway.
Change is never easy. That chap Dostoyevsky had the right idea when in Crime and Punishment he wrote, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” Longing for what we know, at least in terms of practicalities is natural – where to find the best dentist or witch doctor, but just maybe we try too hard to control those intangible elements of change, the emotions. We try to explain away feelings with buzz words rather than just accepting it will be different and difficult…. for a while. Most of us, if we give ourselves a chance, do adapt, do relax into a new norm, but if we can’t then accepting help is needed is a positive step.
Another term bandied around is that of global nomad but I believe we can only call ourselves true global nomads if we are able to traverse the world with a cultural awareness born of our experiences; and with an openness and curiosity that can tolerate, if not wholly accept, the differences we might come across, and to embrace the inevitable change a relocation will bring to our lives not just for a year or two but forever.