Expatriation, a process of profound change

Why expatriation is a process of profound change

Expatriation is a time in life when fundamental changes take place, both for the subject leaving and for the family accompanying her.

Some of these changes are more evident and, in a certain sense, superficial, while others are more profound and not necessarily plain to see, although it is precisely the latter that generate a real transformation in a person.

Expatriation and the six neurological levels according to Robert Dilts

To explain what I mean more clearly, I refer to the 6 neurological levels according to Robert Dilts (in turn inspired by the learning levels by the great anthropologist, Gregory Beatson).

Robert Dilts notes 6 levels of change, ranging from the environment in which the individual lives according to her world view.

  1. Environment

    With expatriation, geographical location automatically changes, and this often coincides with a change of work environment and of a reference social environment.

  2. Behaviour

    Expatriation determines a change at behavioural level in more environments: work times, school timetables, times and types of making purchases, use of the means of transport … For instance: if I move from a Latin American to a Nordic country, my day will start far earlier in the morning and will finish earlier in the afternoon, and vice versa; if I move from a small town with numerous bike lanes to a large city with a fair amount of traffic, it is likely that rather than using the bike I would opt for travelling on the underground, and so on.

  3. Capacities

    An example for all could be that of learning a new language. This also applies to those who are not good at learning languages, once they have chosen to live abroad, often feeling obliged to make an effort to learn the local language, at least at basic level, out of a spirit of survival. If, on top of that, the language is essential in the work environment, the urge to acquire this capacity is all the more urgent.

  4. Values and convictions

    Each culture is based on values and deep-lying convictions, which we are largely unconscious of.
    A new culture’s paradigm inevitably leads us to compare ourselves with the underlying values of the same, values that "explain" certain behaviour patterns.
    A personal example: as a pedestrian, before leaving Italy, very often I have crossed the road when the traffic lights were on red, if no cars were coming. Which of you have never done that?
    Today, after having lived in Germany for 10 years, I wait.
    Now that I live in Madrid, I get strange looks when I wait motionless at the red traffic lights, if no cars are coming.
    The many years of exposure to the rules and values rooted in German culture (if you cross on red, you set a bad example for children) have ended up by modifying my belief system too (if no cars are coming, it is nothing serious to cross on red).

  5. Identity

    Often, expatriation leads to questioning oneself, to reflecting on "who am I" or "what is my role", questions that many a time destabilize us. Over the years, I have accompanied numerous women who, having left to follow their companions, had left work and career to end up being housewives, wives and mothers on a full-time basis.
    Women who have had to reinvent themselves entirely because they had changed their role in the family and in society, because they had the feeling of no longer having anything to say, with their days full but empty, from their point of view.
    In these cases, the challenge is to restart with a new life project (sometimes a new profession, others the choice of devoting themselves to their own passions, until then left to one side …). The result will be a redefinition of her very role and an inevitable development of her own identity.

  6. Vision

    The fact of requestioning oneself, of reinventing oneself, of restarting a new life project, often leads to changing the deep meaning attributed to one’s very existence, to modifying the very way of being in each environment.

The first three levels (environment, behaviour patterns and capacities) can be touched, seen and felt, i.e., they represent the changes that affect first level reality, whereas the other 3 levels (values, identity and vision) belong to the reality in the second level and, in fact, only exist in our mind.

These last 3 levels are associated with "profound" type changes that are also able to control reality in the first level (environment, behaviour patterns and capacities). This means that change, in terms of my values, will determine a change in my behaviour patterns.

Expatriation often manages to affect all 6 levels, from the more superficial to the deepest, modifying our structure of values, our identity and our view of life.

What about you? In what ways have you changed during your stay abroad?

Read the articles on Expats and the world of Intercultural Mind

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