Identity and Living Abroad (Photo: Muntz)

Identity and Living Abroad

In my work — personal coaching among internationals living in the Amsterdam region — the concept of identity gets talked about quite a bit. It can be tough uprooting from one’s community, leaving all things known and comfortable behind, starting over in a new country, one step at a time. What does it do to one’s identity?

Perhaps for some, it changes very little – the kind of person who is very comfortable in his/her skin, solid and unwavering in their “self-knowledge.” For others, the desire to integrate plays a large role, which can mean shedding of old skin and trying on new customs and ways of speaking.. and then there’s everything else in between.

A recent article, “Five Types of Global Minds You Meet Abroad”, posted on Internations caught my eye, particularly the concept of “global minds.” I rather like this catch-all phrase better than “expats” — it seems broader, more expansive, inviting to me. Here’s a summary of the 5 types described in the article:

1. The Explorer is a globetrotter, with a “keen interest in all that is new and unknown… drawn to destinations which very much differ from home.” You love to taste the local culture, driven by a strong desire for adventure and to learn, experience, grow through travelling.

2. The Escapee is driven less by a sense of adventure and more by the need to flee home. You might be escaping for any number of reasons, e.g. fleeing from family, the weather, legal issues, or perhaps it was the long-awaited retirement plan away from it all.

3. The Foreign Partner – ahh the things we do for love, the one and only reason some move abroad. Perhaps you fell in love with a Dutch person, or your partner had to move to the Netherlands… being separated wasn’t an option in this case.

4. The International Local is actually a Dutch “global mind” who seeks out foreigners with whom they can share their local expertise. You might be a returned explorer or repatriate yourself driven to connect with others who love to roam, share experiences, re-live the feeling of travelling and experiencing foreign cultures.

5. The Classic Expatriate was sent abroad for a few years by his/her employer. Within this group, at least three distinct subcategories can be defined:

– The alien expat “sticks out in the host country and culture like a sore thumb, whether by choice (e.g. culturally insensitive behavior), or by circumstances (e.g. outward appearance).”
– The elitist expat “does not integrate in the local culture, but spends most of his/her time, both at work and at home, with fellow expats.”
– The assimilator expat “does his/her best to blend in by speaking the local language and adhering to local customs.”

These are broad generalizations of course.. and many of us might not relate to any one category, or perhaps more than one seems to fit the bill. Regardless, moving abroad does something to our identity and it can be interesting to think about and discuss with others. How does your new identity differ from the one we left behind? Do we like the change(s) or not? What can be done to change identity, if any changes are desired? What does it all say about how much others have an influence on us? E.g. are you losing a part of yourself by trying to blend in too much? Or are you a tad too rigid in your ways and finding it impossible to integrate?

I’m curious to hear from you Global Minds out there!

Identity and Living Abroad

(Photo Cara Crisler)

Cara Crisler
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1 reply
  1. Nick Ferrara
    Nick Ferrara says:

    Nice article and something that I think about every now and then how I am becoming more Dutch but still have an American twist 🙂

    I would say I started out as a classic expat, evolved into a assimilator expat and tend to be a bit like the explorer as well. I travel now much more and always want to get the authentic experience of things that are unknown to me, especially with food.

    I’ve been living in Holland for much longer than I originally planned and have no plans to leave yet. I had a conversation with a friend of mine once and we both agreed that moving back to America would almost be like losing or failing even if we we successful here and got a better position in America. Of course moving to a different country all together would be no problem.

    I often think about my time here as temporary but then when I really start to think about it, I can’t imagine myself living in America anymore. I always tell people I have no plans to go back and no plans to stay. At this point I am happy where I am and am not making any changes, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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