The Secret to a Smooth Expat Transition©
by Dr. Gayle Scroggs, A.C.C., C.M.C.
Making a successful significant change in one’s personal or professional life takes extra energy and planning. Moving to a new place in your life or on the globe can involve major stress or fear, and yet it can be a major opportunity. How you handle it makes all the difference.
Within my clients and in my own life, I’ve noticed there are two key questions we need to answer for ourselves in transitions:
What are you moving FROM?
What are you moving TOWARD?
As William Bridges asserts in Managing Transitions, we may land or be pushed into a new place physically before we are psychologically ready. It is as if the boat has left the dock with just our body, leaving our heart and mind abandoned on the familiar shore.
Later, as we get underway, we can find ourselves buffeted by unexpected foreign winds – the new experiences and unfamiliar places and faces. This is rocky sailing (and we know how that feels!). However, you can steer your boat with more assurance and direction through these uncharted waters.
One way to make your transition smoother is to create your own personally meaningful “transitions ritual” – one that fully honors your past successes and joys in your home country while opening up possibilities for future ones. While it may be most effective before departing, it can still be very healing and energizing post-landing.
Here are some ideas to get you started—and then let our own creativity and desires take flight!
Designing Your “Good Bye/Hello” Ceremony
What has meaning is unique to each person, so I share these steps as just one example of how you might go about creating something that works for you.
STEP ONE: ACKNOWLEDGE ANY LOSSES. As my client Marta discovered, a good place to start designing a transition ritual is with acknowledging the losses while practicing savoring and gratitude, two very key concepts for well being, as positive psychology research demonstrates.
Marta decided to write out a list of what and whom she was leaving behind, notably the people whose lives she touched and who touched hers. She allowed herself time to savor the good memories. Then from her balcony she let loose a helium balloon labeled with all that she would need to let go of in order to move forward. As it sailed away, she focused on feeling grateful for the gifts that those connections had brought her.
STEP TWO: CREATE AN EMOTIONAL BRIDGE. Next she identified one particular “transitional object,” in this case, a special fountain pen, which she would carry with her to connect her past with her future. I have several transitional objects scattered around my house, including family photographs, a mini-replica of the Statue of Liberty, and seashells from my old summer haunts, among others.)
These allow us to feel a psychological continuity as we go through our days in our new location. As much as we may grow tremendously and re-create much of ourselves abroad, we can also draw upon the strengths and values of our origins (to which most of us return, at least for visits, if not eventual repatriation).
STEP THREE: INSPIRE THE FUTURE. While you may choose to engage in a private ritual, some find that a shared ritual offers additional meaning. In the final phase of her transition, Marta chose to invite a few close friends to join her. Guests were asked to bring cards with inspirational quotations for success and joy for her future. She plans to keep these on her new desk as reminders of her new possibilities. She will keep with it the list of important others as a reminder of her continuing ability to make a difference in the lives of others.
The mere act of designing the ritual proved uplifting, Marta reported. By acknowledging our gratitude for our good past experiences while anticipating future ones, we get more closure and generate more energy in our transitions.
May your next transition be smooth sailing. . . and even transforming!
2009, Dr. Gayle Scroggs, A.C.C., C.M.C., Global Professional and Life Coach
www.essencecoaching.com – for more success, joy, and meaning in your journey
www.positivelyexpat.com – positive psychology for expats and global professionals & co-author of the just released Women’s Paths to Happiness, a positive psychology guide for women who want to live and work at their best, available at .