"I was an expat wife: The 7 habits of highly effective expats"

I was an expat wife: The 7 habits of highly effective expats

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Maria Foley takes a look at effective habits that make expats cope with integration into a new life and culture when moving abroad.

On Monday I presented my interpretation of Stephen Covey's seven habits as seen through the lens of expatriation. Today all I'm borrowing from Mr. Covey is that iconic title. Here, then, are seven of the habits cultivated by highly effective expats:


  1. They prepare: They take the time to study the new culture before they get on the plane, and get a head start on learning the local language. Either by reading, talking to other expats, or taking cross-cultural training, they develop an understanding of culture shock, learn how to recognise its symptoms and how to manage them. They're then able to form realistic expectations of what lies ahead.
  2. They introspect: They examine their own values, strengths and weaknesses. They gauge their tolerance for ambiguity, take stock of their resiliency reserves, and assess their patience levels. The work they did above shows them what's coming; the work they do here shows them how they'll respond to it.
  3. They keep an open mind: They accept that things will be different and that constant comparisons to their home culture is counterproductive. They peel back the layers of their preconceived notions and stereotypes until there's nothing left. They resist judgment. They don't automatically blame everything that goes wrong on the country or its people.
  4. They connect: They establish a strong in-country social support system of both expat and local friends. They nurture their family relationships. They keep in touch with loved ones back home, just not 24/7. They make a point of surrounding themselves with positive people, limiting exposure to the bitter and the bigoted expats.
  5. They bend: They consciously adapt their behaviour to meet local norms. They're flexible, but they know where to draw the line so they don't compromise their values.
  6. They take (reasonable) risks: They try new foods, activities, and experiences. They make mistakes and learn from them. They maintain a sense of curiosity and wonder that keeps them engaged in the here and now.
  7. They keep a sense of perspective. Effective expats know that life has its ups and downs, no matter where you live. While they're grateful for the chance to swim in a different pool, they know it comes at a cost. And yet they accept the downside as the price they pay for the richness and texture of expatriate life.

What can you add to my list of habits?

Reprinted with the permission of I was an expat wife.

I was an expat wife: Maria FoleyMaria Foley is a Canadian who lived and raised a family as an expat for many years. Aside from writing for Suite 101, Foley still writes about her expat life on her blog, I was an expat wife, and is currently working on a book about overcoming the challenges of repatriation. You can follow her on Twitter at @iwasanexpatwife.


Photo credit: Casey Fleser (uncertain globe).

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Anne DeVere Harper posted:

    on 9th April 2014, 23:14:18 - Reply

    My husband and I have lived here in Brittany since 2005 and LOVE it. This article says it all. We know Brits who constantly complain about things not being the same as UK--they drive to England and arrive back with LOADS of food and stockpile! No attempt to learn the basic language and have no conversation with their neighbours other than a BON 'jeux' over the hedge.I realise that people are different but I cannot understand the attitude of criticising the country in which you have chosen to live. Rant over.
  • Amy posted:

    on 9th April 2014, 15:17:27 - Reply

    Just love the article.. It sums up so many years of being an expat into 7 bullet points..
    Keep it up Maria!
  • Ken posted:

    on 9th April 2014, 14:35:04 - Reply

    This article is EXCELLENT....
    Well Done.
    I have been on 6 expat assignments all over the world and agree with all points.
    I will post this on FB for all my friends.
    Anyone who is planning an expat assignment must study and keep this information.