By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hurriyet Daily News (click here for Making the familiar fresh again)
Having lived abroad my entire adult life, I came back to Turkey in 2003. Upon returning, I felt like an expat, a foreigner in my own country. I saw everything with fresh eyes, exploring the cities as if they were new to me, and relearning my own culture and people. I got curious about my own country all over again. I felt like a child stumbling onto something new and unexpected. I felt energized, happy and excited.
When you are an expat, traveling around the world, it’s like being born again over and over. Your job function might stay the same as you move from one place to another, but the environments, people, and cultures are always changing. Your mindset never stops adjusting, and you become really good at seeing the world from multiple perspectives. Since learning becomes a constant, you always stay fresh and creative. It is a challenge, but it can be incredibly energizing.
Some of the differences between cultures seem small, but picking up on them and knowing when to adopt a local mannerism makes all the difference in how well you get along with the people you meet. For example, the nod you make in Turkey to say “yes” means “no” in India. That simple nodding gesture is something you’ve been doing automatically for years, and changing old habits is hard. But if you take a stab at it, you’ll find you quickly gain the trust of others and more smoothly slip into living and working in their culture.
And, as I learned first-hand when I returned to Istanbul, the challenges of expat life don’t stop when you come back to your home country. In fact, it becomes even more complex, because you are no longer the person you were when you left, but people expect you to be. Many of the people around you have been in the same place since you last saw them, but you have moved through many different experiences. Finding common ground with those people again is a challenge all its own, requiring that you think creatively and draw deep on your emotional intelligence.
In business life, especially if you’ve spent a few years doing the same kind of work, you may find your curiosity levels dipping low. You may feel the excitement of your youth has died down, and that your life has grown stale and routine. Even if you are a naturally curious person, just doing the same kind of work day after day might be dampening your spirit.
If that’s the case, consider going abroad and living life as an expat. To start seeing the benefits, you don’t necessarily have to stay abroad for a long time. If you work for an international company, see if you can get a temporary assignment in another country. If your company doesn’t do any business abroad, consider going to another country on your next vacation and taking a short course there, perhaps in cooking or painting. Or if you run your own business, take it abroad for a few weeks or months, and learn how to run it from there.
However you do it, the point is to get out and spend time mixing with another country. It will ignite your curiosity and help you see the world through fresh eyes. The smallest things will impress themselves upon you, like noticing that the ads in Germany look different from the ads in Turkey, or that pastry shops in the Czech Republic are laid out differently than they are here. You have no idea which small thing will release a flood of fresh new ideas. The value of an experience like this ranks right up there with going back to school, or changing jobs. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your career.
And for those times in your life when you can’t actually go abroad, consider joining a globally-minded group like InterNations at www.internations.org. There you will find a group of expats living and working in Turkey, sharing life, ideas, and experiences. You never know what will trigger that next burst of inspiration, but when you put yourself out there, you make yourself easy to find.