The Difficult Questions You May Face as an Expat
When you meet new people, whether in your country of origin or at your new location, personal questions will be asked. It took two moves for me to become accustomed to the seemingly innocent but sometimes pushy “getting to know you sessions” I was roped into from the new people I encountered. Regardless of how uncomfortable these discussions can be, it is important to recognize that most people truly just want to learn more about you. There are a variety of reasons why certain questions come up more often than others. The fact of the matter is a response will be inevitable. You will always be able to decide which inquiries you answer honestly and which ones you avoid (by skipping over them, by answering them briefly, or by making up stories by the seat of your pants). Below are several of the most common difficult questions I have received as an expatriate.
Where are you from originally?
This question will almost inevitably come up in conversation, if not the first topic discussed. People will always be interested in your background. This is just another tool that helps us to get to know our fellow humans. By asking this basic question one can learn a tremendous amount of important information. Whether you came from a rural or urban area, the type of climate you moved from, if you came from a communist state or socialist one, the place you come from is an indicator of sorts.
Why did you leave?
Again, humans are curious. Finding common ground is how we befriend people. We want to know why others take the actions and make the decisions that they do. “You decided to leave Britain? WHY?” These questions are certainly personal, but everyone leaves for a reason. Some reasons are more serious than others (i.e. new job, new life, etc.), but everyone has their reasons, and determining why someone left their home country can help to pin down the real person. Plus it can lead to an interesting story.
What language(s) do you speak?
I always feel as if this is the result of expats sizing up fellow expats, but it really is important for people to know your strengths and limits with particular languages. If you moved somewhere with more than one national language, or to a place that has many dialects, it is helpful for those communicating or traveling with you to know of any shortcomings you may have or of any skills that could be beneficial. Communication is often times the key to success. Any communication gaps could come back to bite you. That or your expatriate friends will just have something to laugh about at your expense (like mine did).
What are you doing here? (Emphasis on ‘here’)
This question reminds me of the caterpillar in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The caterpillar asks Alice the seemingly innocent but totally existential question, “Who are you?” Every time I am asked “What are you doing here?” I explain that I am here because that is the course my life took. I chose to come to France. I made a decision and it landed me here. I cannot complain, nor will I reflect on what could have been had I stayed. I am here because that is what I chose for my life. It worked out swell for my family and I. This is one of the most personal questions anyone could ask. If I wanted you to know what I am doing here, I probably would have already told you.
How long do you plan on being here?
My response to this question is usually the same every time. “I will be here as long as I am here.” Sure, I am answering the question with little detail and it almost always results in the initial question being asked repeatedly. The problem is I really don’t know how long I will be in one place or another. I may have some idea, but the timeframe is not set and is subject to changes- many changes. Answering this question with any amount of certainty makes me feel as if I am lying. Just remember you are in charge of your schedule and life. If you are just floating around from place to place, you don’t have to answer to anyone about it.
Will you ever go back?
Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. Probably. This question inherently assumes expats leave their home countries because they hate it. In some instances, this could definitely be the case, but more often than not, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I grew up in the UK. It will always have a part of my heart, but it is just not my home right now. I visit every holiday season, which is enough for me.
How could you leave your friends and family behind?
Being an expat does not automatically make you a bad person, which is what this question implies. I didn’t leave my friends and family behind. I left behind a life that was not working for me. My family supported my decision and actually came with me. My friends supported me as well. Friends who I can Skype, email, text, and call any day of the week. Besides, it is possible that some expats don’t have friends or family they are leaving behind. Some individuals are lone wolfs. What decisions you make are yours and yours alone. Don’t let someone who knows very little about you make you feel judged for your decision making. They will have their opinions but their thoughts do not dictate the way you live your life.
Keep in mind, the questions people ask you are often harmless and only asked out of pure interest. You have the ability to answer questions however you want. But it is good to know beforehand that some of the questions you will face are extremely personal, put your decision making into question, and can at times be accidentally judgmental.Author Bio: This article was written by Martin Hughes of financial news outlet Money International. To see more of Martin’s articles visit: www.moneyinternational.com