Leaving the shores and finding yourself

The year was 2012. We were all nervous and were anxious if the world would come to an end. Remember the Mayan Calendar prediction that went viral back then? Well, for me it did, metaphorically speaking. I relocated from India to Singapore and my life changed forever.

Most of my readers know that I was born and raised in India and came to Singapore for work (at the time of this writing). Like me, millions of people the world over make the journey of their life crossing the shores of their motherland. It may not always be for better prospects, though most of the time that is the chief motive. People move to other countries for reasons as varied as:

  • To join the spouse/ family
  • To some relative of theirs who has made it big and wants you to join
  • For a diverse cultural experience
  • For education/internships
  • For immersion experience
  • On business assignments/projects

Whatever the reason for moving abroad, I have experienced firsthand that once you cross the borders of your homeland, some drastic change occurs in your personality. You tend to gain a clearer perspective of yourself, for starters. Then you go on to learn several other crucial things:

  1. You become more independent. Learning to commute to work or for work is the first step. That is easier said than done. Knowing how to read road directions, rail/bus routes, currency, the orientation of traffic, and road signals are just beginners. You ask around, seek help, search for simple things like grocery stores, driving license office, community center, gym, tailors, parlors, and barbers. Today with Google Maps, most things are easy, but still, you need to figure out quite a lot.
  2. You learn to take better care for yourself. You search for places where you can buy stuff that you’re used to, like I did to find Indian food items initially, till I was accustomed to and developed a taste for the wonderful Singapore cuisine.
  3. You learn not to take yourself for granted. Carrying your local identity documents wherever you go becomes of utmost necessary.
  4. The most important thing is that you gain a clear sense of self.

Why do I say that? Because when you’re in your homeland, you are part of the whole crowd. You belong there. You seamlessly, effortlessly merge with the population. You know the culture, the traditions, and the demography. It’s your comfort zone. That changes with one flight you take out of your country. You’re no more part of that demography, rather, you stand out of the crowd. Most countries today accept foreigners and there are several others like you. But the sense that you’re not a part of them stays for some time.

The concept of self

What I experienced is that when I left India and moved out, a deep sense of who am I engulfed me. I began searching and reflecting upon my true identity. Am I an Indian? Am I an engineer? Am I a son? Am I a professional? Who am I?  Or all of this and yet none of this in a different land? Generally, we associate the term self with our name, surname (family name), caste, religion, the community, the college we studied, the profession or the nationality. When you move out, much of this is left behind. Now you would say how does it matter how we look at ourselves once we leave the shores?

How living abroad helps you

  • Having a clear sense of self does matter when you’re working or living elsewhere. It matters when you interact with the locals who also view you with a sense of curiosity. It matters more when you’re appraised at work or at the place of your engagement. How you view yourself and how others view you are two different things. When the two are in alignment, it shows that you have aligned with that new country and culture, better. Else many times, people experience a sense of shock and awe at the new experiences. There is nothing familiar anywhere and it takes some time to get accustomed to this change.
  • When you have a better clarity of the sense of self, you are able to perform better at work. You tend to gel well and present yourselves better before others. This learning is faster if you, like me, are working in an organization with a rich diversity of cultures and races. Here, you get to see how people cope with this change, and you kind of emulate them. You have some template to follow and that makes matters easier.
  • You tend to focus more on the plus points of living abroad. It provides you with a new experience and that results in your mind accepting this change. That actually enhances your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking because it stimulates the mind.
  • It makes you more accommodating and tolerant for the simple reason that you have been accepted in a foreign land. You seek help from strangers and learn to offer to help others easily. You tend to become more empathetic.
  • You get better at following the rules of the land- be it the traffic rules or anything else. You’re more careful about breaking the law than when you were in your homeland because you don’t want to get entangled in legal hassles in an alien country.
  • You see opportunities everywhere because there are no inhibitions and limitations in a foreign country. When you’re in your own country and hometown especially, there are hundreds of people who know you and you’re constantly worried about your family’s reputation concerning your work. That is the reason many students who study abroad feel free to work as waiters or errand boys in a foreign land than they would in their hometown. In general, living abroad teaches you to multi-task. You must work, commute, clean your home, buy groceries, pay the bills, get repairs done and run errands, visit the hospital for check-up and service the car, all by yourself.
  • Even as you interact with the locals, you are exposed to the different cultures, people of different nationalities, mindset and opinions, you begin to develop a fresh perspective on everything that you had learnt so far.

Living abroad, even if for a short duration, gives you a different identity, hitherto unknown to you even. It makes you understand that you can create your identity of your own in an alien land which is not dependent or associated with where you came from. That is quite a liberating thought, to start with. I can vouch for this, for I owe my professional success to my global experiences.

How did your life and you change when you moved abroad? Take a moment and comment below on your experiences. I would love to hear from you.


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