“To survive you must tell stories” – said Umberto Eco, and him we can definitely believe, as he was one brilliant storyteller. There are so many aspects which are said to be the basis of being human, but I think telling stories is one of the most accurate ones. We want to be understood, and we want to share. Of course we are different in many ways, but at the end of the day we all tell stories. And it seems that in dealing with the challenges of expat life, storytelling gains even more in importance.
Dealing With The Many Ups And Downs
We already mentioned Dr. Greg Madisons’s work wtith regards to the term of “existential migration”, and we come back to his work again now. That is because there is one thing that Dr. Madison emphasizes when talking about the psychological effects of leaving one’s home country, and that is the need for storytelling. He says that in dealing with the many ups and downs of moving abroad, sharing and telling one’s story can play a crucial part. It definitely is a common problem among expats that after returning home they feel that they are not understood, and they cannot share their experiences, and inner happenings.
This is a big part of the reverse culture shock effect, when after returning home, one feels lost, and doesn’t seem to connect to the people around them, and feels alone with all the new life experiences and inner changes. Psychologists always say how important it is to find people who are or have been through the same experiences, and exchange your stories.
It is the same with people who just moved abroad: one of the most relevant help sources is to find people who are or were experiencing the same situation as yourself at some point in their life. No matter the situation, it always helps if you feel that you are not the only one feeling or going through something.
So the ideal case is to find people with the same situations as yourself, and talk. Openly, and honestly. This is the key part. Because it often is a challenge to be able to really open up and not only say what it is expected of you to say, or what do you think is expected of you.
Let Go Of The Expectations
A few days ago I ran into someone I used to know back in highschool, and we haven’t seen each other in 10+ years. We were really glad to see each other and we agreed to meet up for a coffee. So a few days later we went to a café, and the usual „what has been up with you these past 10+ years” talk commenced. And to my great surprise it turned out that she had also moved abroad for studies and work, and we immediatly started talking about this, as I lived abroad for nine years, and we were both so glad to exchange our feelings and why we decided to come back home.
Soon I was in awe of what she was saying: she was reciting word by word my exact experiences. It was the little things: how after a while the big city was making her tired, how she started feeling sick on public transportation, and how she never seemed to get rid of the feeling that she had to constantly pay attention to what she said, carefully choosing every word and losing her spontaneity in communication. Then she said it was so freeing for her to be able to tell all of this, because she got used to only talking about what people wanted to hear and how she feels that expats are always expected to only tell huge, exciting and exotic stories, and somehow no one talks about the difficulties. She said that even some expats do this: only talk about the amazing, the shiny dazzling aspects of their life, but they do not go into details about the harder aspects of leaving your home country behind.
And she was right. This is something I felt as well: that I so deeply needed to share my stories, good and bad as well, and not just answer the usual questions, but let it all flow, all the stories that pop into my mind and which even to me sometimes seem “strange” or even “unjustified”. Because that is another thing I think expats sometime experience: they are afraid of sharing the harder parts of living abroad, because they feel some sort of guilt for not being grateful enough when life has offered them all the opportunities other people don’t even dare to dream about. I felt this for a really long time. Which didn’t mean that I wasn’t enormously grateful for my opportunities and for my life, because I was, each and every day. I remember all the nights I fall asleep thinking how deeply lucky I was.
But I’ve had pretty awful days as well, as everyone has. Once again: needless to say, you do not have to be an expat to have bad days. But it can be tricky, and it can be really tempting not to show your bad days in order not to seem ungrateful: even in your own eyes. So this is where storytelling comes in: once you give yourself the time to sit down with someone and talk openly, honestly, without any taboos or fears, you can suddenly feel that you are not alone, and you realize that what you feel is not “not normal” or anything of that kind, it is just human.
Expats Share Your Stories – You Are Not Alone
So, expats all around the world: go ahead and share your stories! Not figuratively. I mean it very literally: go out there, and start talking, tell all the stories that run on and on in your head, without judging and/or censoring them. And listen to any expats willing to share their stories. You will find Eco’s words to be deeply true: telling stories is essential to surviving. But more than that: it is essential to finding your peace by freeing yourself from all the “shoulds”. You will see how there is no such thing as you “should” feel or think this or that, and you are definitely not alone.