For most embarking on an overseas assignment for the first time, the lead up and anticipation (or anxiety) is usually focused on the new things to come. New home, new friends and new schools for the children alongside the new adventures to be had as a family.
In addition to the richness an overseas assignment will bring to your life in terms of adding lifelong memories and experiences, many are surprised that, of all the value an assignment abroad will bring you and your family, perhaps the most important and long lasting is the shift in perspective that necessarily accompanies uprooting your entire life and moving it half way around the world to live in a foreign culture.
The relocation process is, at its foundation, a perspective-altering and life-changing event. It’s different than traveling around the world while on vacation or business trips no matter how extensively you may have done so in the past. The process of satisfying daily needs in a manner significantly different than you have before, challenges you to go beyond the basic activities you engage in as a tourist or businessperson. That process of engagement with the differences of the local culture brings with it a point where everyone begins to reflect more seriously on home in relation to life abroad.
For most, the process of having taken one very large step back during your relocation process, provided a degree of perspective on their previous life that you had not experienced in the past. Greek Philosophy referred to it as the Archimedian Point. Oxford Reference describes it:
“An Archimedean point (or “Punctum Archimedis”) is a hypothetical vantage point from which an observer can objectively perceive the subject of inquiry, with a view of totality. The ideal of “removing oneself” from the object of study so that one can see it in relation to all other things, but remain independent of them, is described by a view from an Archimedean point.”
Accepting an assignment abroad offers the perfect vantage point on your entire life to bring it into focus in a way that you most likely haven’t in the past. Life has a way of creating bubbles around us that we rarely notice them forming and distorting our perspective until things are shaken up. Moving abroad cures the myopia that develops as life gets more comfortable and familiar.
Challenges and perspective
Often the differences between someone who suffers relocation culture shock to the level of assignment failure, and someone who succeeds is simply perspective. The joy and solving the puzzles of a new environment for one, can be an endless and frustrating set of obstacles to another. The danger for the latter group is to start to compare old home and new home endlessly as a means of justifying negative feelings of being far from the familiar.
However, the same perspective that tends itself to negative comparisons also heightens your appreciation of the little things that make your corner of the world back home special. When you return to visit friends and relatives during your time abroad, life will seem richer because of your new appreciation for home. You may be surprised to find that some parts of your new life abroad you even prefer.
The main point here is that by moving overseas, particularly to a place like Shanghai that is very different in most ways to your past experiences, you now have a frame of reference on your life – old and new – that has expanded exponentially. This expanded understanding and perspective of the world is permanent even for those who attempt to avoid it by looking only backwards and not at what is around them while they are abroad.
Needs versus wants
For those who embrace their newfound perspective, a common refrain is that moving abroad taught them a lot about what was really important in life. When immersed in a familiar environment for long periods of time as we are for most of our lives, the truth about what makes us actually happy becomes hard to see.
Our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ become indistinguishable from each other to the point that the only way to get an answer to the question is clean the slate and follow your heart as you rebuild your life abroad. Many find the process liberating as the relocation abroad brings with it the opportunity to completely reinvent yourself free from the trappings of established patterns from home and find a truer happiness by finding out those aspects of your life that feed your happiness and moving on from those that don’t.