7 Steps to Thrive as an Expat in Unknown Territory  

7 Steps to Thrive as an Expat in Unknown Territory  

Advice from coach Connie-Lee Bennett on how to thrive in modern society and create personal, professional and sexual happiness.

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thrive as an expat
© Ekaterina Pokrovsky/123RF

I am on the Eurostar, leaving London for Paris. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited. I can’t believe I’m going to be living my dream. I’ve met a Frenchman and I’m moving to the city of light, the city of love. Isn’t this every girl’s fantasy to live a real-life romantic comedy? This was me two years ago. It didn’t take long to figure out that Paris was not at all what I thought it would be and that I had ventured into unknown territory.

Where I imagined Paris to be the city of light and love, it became the city of dog poo and rude French people and oh my goodness, don’t get me started on the smell of urine everywhere.

My city of love very quickly became the city of loneliness, heaviness and depression. “How can I talk to anyone?” I thought, when all my friends kept telling me was how lucky I was to be living in Paris.

I felt I couldn’t talk to any one because I thought that what I felt was wrong, and that I shouldn’t be feeling like this.

post holiday stress
© Ekaterina Pokrovsky/123RF

Let’s not kid ourselves, to THRIVE as an expat is difficult, but it’s part of the adventurous journey you have undertaken. Allow me to take you through seven steps that can help guide you to follow your own heartbeat with each new challenge:

1. Trust

It is important for you to find a space of safety – a space where you can truly express all your TRUE, unadulterated feelings. I felt like I couldn’t tell my partner how I felt because he was French and all my “problems” seemed to relate to the French culture, language and attitude. I thought, how could I tell him? He wouldn’t understand or would feel judged.

I felt like I had no one to talk so I started journaling every morning. This provided me with a space to write my “dark” thoughts down without censorship. This was very healing until I eventually found a group of amazing women with whom I could share all my deepest, darkest thoughts with, where I felt safe to just cry and be who I truly was. I now live on Meetup.com and Internations.org and I try to attend at least one new event each week. What do you do to feel safe and supported? Have you found someone with whom you can TRULY be yourself to accompany you?

making friends in Paris
© Ekaterina Pokrovsky/123RF

2. Hone in on AWARENESS

It was key for me to understand that what I found difficult was the thought that I had to ‘reinvent’ who I was. I had created a very successful life in London and when I moved over to Paris, I was immediately struck by the reflection: “Who am I? This ‘London person’ does not fit in with the image of a ‘Parisian woman’”.

It’s important to understand that the pressure we feel to fit in doesn’t come from inside of us. It comes from the outside. As we grow up, we are constantly told that who we are should be found by observing those around us and fitting into the “box” that each society dictates. This is why immigration is so hard because we feel like we have to completely change who we are to adapt.

© kevron2001 / 123RF

3. Acceptance

All these feelings are part of the human experience, and rest assured that you are not alone on this journey. When we begin to provide a space of love and acceptance for ALL of our feelings (even the darkest ones), we begin to provide a space of self-love. It is in this space that we can begin to remove the “masks” and step out of the boxes into who we authentically are. What thoughts do you currently have that are preventing you from truly loving yourself?

4. Release and Forgiveness

I had to release perceived perceptions of what I thought I should be to fit in Paris; I didn’t have to be skinny or wear beautiful clothes to be accepted. I just had to be me. What boxes do you need to step out of so you can find you?

© Stocksnap

5. Open Up

When you release all your conditioned views you are able to listen to the still, confident voice of your true heartbeat rather than the shouting of an insecure mind. It is by finding your own true rhythm that you can begin to dance the new steps of your life in your new, clear space. You can now begin to focus on what makes you feel light and happy, and step-by-step you will begin to express from the inside out who you truly are, not from the outside in.

6. Vibrancy of Life

When was the last time that you sang walking down the street? When was the last time that you pretended your life was a musical? We’re so serious these days, aren’t we? When we step into the vibration of gratitude and joy, MAGIC returns. You don’t have to imagine yourself skipping down the streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You are here and the excitement is for the taking.

Wine tasting event © American Library in Paris

7. Expand and Emancipate

THRIVING as an expat is a step-by-step process. Integration doesn’t happen overnight. It takes daily work to remember that those around us do not define us and that lasting happiness comes from being true to how we really feel in each MOMENT. Difficulty is a gift – it shows us where we are not in alignment with our truth.

Whenever you feel any heavy emotion, stop and ask yourself, “Why does this situation make me uncomfortable? Am I reacting as myself or trying to be someone else?”

Simply, try to be yourself feeling the situation. Follow your heartbeat, follow your rhythm, and follow that which makes you feel light and happy. Take joy in the daily rewards of performing new errands or learning new words that lead to new friends and opportunities. Be yourself and venture at your own speed and you will thrive as an expat.

Connie-Lee Bennett
Born in Zimbabwe and educated at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, psychotherapist Connie-Lee taught psychology for a decade in the UK before coming to Paris to found Meraki Therapy. Meraki is Greek and means doing something from the Soul, a central concept to her method. Connie is passionate about bringing holistic psychotherapy to the awareness of modern society because it gives people tools to create the life they love. Nominated by Expatriates Magazine for Best in Paris in Complementary Therapy, and currently writing her first book, Connie combines practicing holistic psychotherapy, leading certified Heal Your Life® workshops and public speaking.

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