Did you reinvent yourself when you became an expat?

Siem Reap Monk

We discuss many of the advantages of expat life here, along with some of the disadvantages, but one topic that seems to be rarely addressed is one I find very interesting, namely that moving to a new country (or a new city for that matter) allows you to reinvent yourself. I really wonder how many other people consider this, or perhaps do it without even thinking about it?

The topic came up after reading another very interesting column from the Telegraph, this one called “Expat chameleon syndrome,” which is what the writer calls those who transform their personality or lifestyle after moving abroad. At the risk of seeming pedantic, I don’t really agree with this label because chameleons are known to blend in, while reinventing yourself might very well be attempting to stand out for once in your life.

The advantages of a new beginning

Even before I left the US, I moved around from state to state a lot, and I always appreciated that new beginning. It seems certain that each of us has things about our personality that “need work” so to speak, and it can be difficult and feel very awkward to suddenly make a shift from one day to the next in your hometown, where many people already know your style.

I happen to be quite shy, especially in groups of 4 or more people that I don’t know well, and it feels very unnatural to force myself to be more outgoing in a situation I’ve been in many times before. When you move to a new city or country you won’t have any habits that are tied to a group of people or a location. At least to me, it feels much easier to consciously try new things when I’m in a totally new and unfamiliar setting.

The novelty of being from elsewhere

Honestly, I think the main reason I’ve moved around for most of my adult life is that things seem way too familiar quickly to me. In my hometown (which happens to be Fountain Valley, California), it seemed like I could predict the next 10 things that each person was going to say because we all knew each other well and had nearly identical upbringings.

When you move to a new place for the first time the conversations are much harder to predict. Better still, you are almost certainly somewhat exotic to the locals and probably to other expats. Of my 20 or so best expat friends where I’m currently living in Turkey, almost none of them knew each other until they got here, so we can each chat about our own childhood and hometown and the stories are fresh.

It’s probably overstating it by at least a little, but when I roll into a new town I feel a bit like a celebrity. Many local people ask where I’m from and I usually say “America,” after which they usually ask if I’m from California. There’s no way they pick up on my accent so it must just be the fact that one in every eight Americans is from California and it’s also the most famous state.

At least in short bursts, I’m interesting to people in places I travel. It’s fun when people mention that they have a relative who lives in California, sort of hoping that I might know them, in spite of a population of around 40 million.

It also allows me to be as outgoing as I want, or as introspective as I want, without worrying that my old friends think I’m being phony all of a sudden.

Have you used a new location to try a new style yourself?


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