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Monday, 17 June 2013

Daring greatly as an expat

I have just read Brené Brown’s book “Daring Greatly”. I am not a fan of self-help books, but this is not one. On the contrary, when I was reading it, the way it was written sounded very familiar: the categories, the way of performing interviews, the way of disclosing personal information if it fitted the story. The researcher in me woke up from her sleep and said: “This looks like grounded theory” and went back to sleep. I loved doing qualitative research and especially grounded theory where you developed a theory through data rather than using data to test establish theories.

This book impressed me also because it can apply to everyone. I could totally write a whole blog post based on each of her chapters. But here, I will concentrate on two things: shame and courage, and how it relates to expat lives.

I have just read an article in Polish describing the situation of Polish people abroad. The ones who stayed shamed them for it, saying that it was “A very cowardly thing to do”, “Poland is like your mother, and you can’t leave your mother”, and called them “traitors to their own country”. The critics claimed that it takes courage to stay when the situation in your country is not perfect.

Which brings me to my question: is becoming an expat an act of courage, or is it simply running away from problems in your home country, or problems in yourself? I have never thought of this in terms of courage. For me, it was an easy decision. I have a family, a home, my life in the Netherlands is good.

But I haven’t realized one thing: how hard it was to leave my home, my family and a life I knew. I could have found a job (I never had problems with finding a job in Poland). Instead, I became what you could call a trailing spouse. Is it easy? No, I don’t think it is.

It takes vulnerability to move to a totally new country, regardless of whether your situation before was good or bad. It takes vulnerability for all the male and female trailing spouses to trust somebody to care for them. Many expat parents I know change careers, set up their own businesses, decide to become SAHM’s even though they had a great career in their own country. And, as Brené Brown points out, to be vulnerable is to be courageous.

Each time you make yourself vulnerable, you’re also being courageous. This goes for expats, but the same goes for the people who decide to stay in their home countries, sometimes risking their lives because the unstable political situation or simply because they know they will have to make sacrifices- as a Polish father in the Netherlands told me: “Life is good in the Netherlands. You don’t have to decide whether to buy new pants for your child or food”. This of course is not symptomatic of how life would be in Poland, but it could be that for many families.

Whenever somebody decides to dare greatly and be vulnerable, there will be comments like the ones I quoted in the opening to this post. This is shame at its best- or at its worst. Unfortunately, regardless of the decision whether to stay or to go, there will be shaming voices, telling us that we are never enough. But I believe that expats are daring greatly, and so do the people who stay. 

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  1. I think it pretty much depends on the situation of the country you're leaving. If it's your passport country and it's having major political, social etc. problems, I can understand that some people may have this reaction. I would consider both options, to stay or to leave, courageous. But I don't like to be judgemental. I have just a question: is this reaction really towards "normal" expats or rather emigrants? - I have to read the book though ;-)

    1. Hi Ute, the reaction was mostly about emigrants- especially when they come from a country where life is not as easy as in their new homes. I also agree that both options are courageous. And in fact, no matter what we do, there will be people who will shame us and criticize our decisions. If these people stayed, maybe the expats would shame them for staying: "you could have such a nice life and yet you stay, you must be really stupid". But people who stay are also vulnerable and coreagous, I just wanted to take the expats' view in relation to the book and the article...

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