In your experiences as a foreigner abroad, you’ve probably noticed that not all expats are alike.
Some keep to themselves, some mingle with other expats on the weekends, some are entrenched in local culture.
In fact, you might see that expats fall into three general categories.
Can you identify your fellow foreigners abroad in these descriptions?
Diplomats country-hop, spending short stints in each country – enough time to do business and make friends, but solely with their own compatriots for the most part.
In fact, official diplomats are often this type, as most countries dissuade their diplomats from getting involved in local economics and politics.
Because of this, diplomats are moved to new countries every couple years, never truly setting down roots.
Another reason for a diplomat’s narrow circle is that their main job is to take care of their nationals in foreign countries.
Although you may not be an official diplomat, you may still fall into the diplomat category in your approach to integration if you tend not to fraternize much with the locals.
Internationals flock together.
They’re those expats who don’t stray much from the expat community.
French, English, German (often those of Western cultures) – they are a tight-knit group, developing an international circle within whatever host country they might call home.
If they have kids, their kids go to international private schools.
If they go to church, they attend service at their international church.
Although these mixed international expat communities are interesting and, often, welcoming, they’re not locals.
They can offer you valuable advice about the local community, practical details about settling in, and examples of cultural barriers you may face, but their views are often tainted, particularly if they’ve lived in this host culture for a long time.
With time, they’ve dealt with a myriad of cross-cultural conflicts that you might not necessarily confront, so any cautionary tales and cynicism about the culture should be taken with a grain of salt.
Don’t take anyone’s subjective experience as fact, as it often comes with their own personal baggage.
Do not discredit their experience, but refrain from holding fast to opinions before building your own.
Expat cynicism is real, so do your best to start the painting of your own cross-cultural experience with a blank canvas.
Localizers are the category that you’ll ideally try to fit into as an expat or foreign manager.
Localizers seek out local friendships.
They intend to integrate into the local culture and build a home away from home.
Their goals are to appreciate, understand, and respect differences in culture – so much so as to adopt some of its values, attitudes, and behaviors.
Those who fall into this category tend to learn the culture more quickly than do those in the other two categories.
This is because they get their hands dirty. They rely on their own experiences and their relationships with local people to truly see and understand the culture.
Localizers take to heart what it really means to adapt and adopt as a person of the world.
Next week, we’ll talk about strategies to becoming a localizer.