The transition that never ends: The ongoing cycle of expat Stayers, Goers and Newbies

three brown suitcaseIt’s not yet Christmas . . . and already I’m thinking about June.

There is a reason for that.

Where I live people come and go . . . a lot.  That’s the part that they don’t put in the brochure when you move abroad . . .

“Adventure of a lifetime — Explore exotic lands!  Learn new languages!  Say goodbye to 20% of your friends every summer and random others throughout the year!”

Sign here.

It is a big painful part of the expat experience though.  Transition that is.  Not the expected ones like “culture shock”, bumbling language mistakes and system conversions.  We saw those coming from a mile away (1.60934 kilometers).  We read books and blogs about those.  Some of us even went to seminars and conferences about how to “transition well”.  There is no small bit of attention paid to the beginning phases of life as a foreigner.  There is also a growing bit of attention surrounding the ending phases — leaving well, saying goodbye, repatriating, reverse culture shock and so on.

Not knocking that since . . . you know . . . I wouldn’t have a job without it.

BUT . . .

Here’s the kicker:  As long as you live abroad — TRANSITION NEVER STOPS.

Ever.

The big ones on either end are significant to be sure but it’s the little ones in the middle that will get you.  The incessant ones.  The ongoing ones.   The cyclical shifts and annual flip flops that never stop and that you never saw coming.  There are many, but by far, the most daunting  (at least where I live) is the revolving, evolving community of people.

We are Stayers, Goers and Newbies figuring out life things together.  The Stayers don’t stay forever.  The Goers don’t go immediately.  The Newbies need some time to adjust.

If coming and going only impacted June I think it would be manageable.  If it was just a matter of saying the inevitable goodbyes, we could wrap our heads around it and brace for the annual Expat Exodus.

 

If it looked like this it would still be hard but doable . . .

 

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But it doesn’t.

It actually looks more like this . . .

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 12.01.18 PM

 

So it makes sense really.

That I’m thinking about June in November.

Now is the time when people (my friends) are making decisions.  Stay or Go?  Another contract or move on?

The announcements have already started to trickle in and there will be more and more in the next few months.  I have now been a Stayer, a Goer and a Newby all more than once.  I have done them all fairly well and all pretty pathetically.  Here are a few things I’m learning in the process.

 

Everyone is at risk.

 

Stayers are at risk 

When Stayers stop engaging Newbies (because saying goodbye to Goers is too painful) the clock starts ticking.  It is a matter of time before the community will grow up behind them and they will be the ones trying to break in . . . or going.  Continued connection is key.

 

Goers are at risk

Mental and emotional shifts begin long before the physical ones.  Once announcements are made the community changes even though no one has flown away yet.  Stayers and Newbies start figuring out what life looks like without the Goer and adjust accordingly.  Goers check out.  The chemistry of those two things can make for some explosive reactions.  Intentionality is key. 

 

Newbies are at risk

Newbies lend fresh eyes and fabulous new ideas to stagnant and stressed environments — often before they have developed the relational capital to be heard.

“HEY GUYS . . . You’re a sorry mess!!  Where I come from this is how we did it and that would fix every last one of you and all of your problems!!  How bout’ we try it?!?!”

“I’m Bob by the way.”

In short, Newbies may see what’s wrong before anyone is ready to listen.  Stayers get annoyed.  Goers continue checking out and chuckle because it’s not their problem.  Patience is key.

 

Everyone has something unique to give.

 

Stayers give stability  

Stayers have less of an unhealthy attachment to their suitcases than either Goers (who are packing) or Newbies (who are un).  Stayers, although always in transition, have the solidity of NOT changing everything.  No global trekking.  No new job.  No figuring out where to buy cucumbers.  They may not feel stable but in this scenario they are privileged with a lesser instability.  If you’re a Stayer consider watching the Goer’s children while they pack or showing the Newbies where the cucumbers are.

 

Goers give understanding

For Goers, going is the most consuming thing in their lives.  Fair enough.  It’s a big deal.  For Stayers, the going of the Goers may be a big deal, but is not generally all consuming.  Goers who have expectations (active or passive) that Stayers will drop everything to be consumed by their six month departure are failing to see the broader picture. There are ALWAYS Goers.  Understanding that will actually help Goers AND Stayers plan focused, intentional quality farewell time.

 

Newbies give humility

It can be really frustrating to step into a community of Stayers who just lost their best Goers.  That frustration only grows when you can clearly see problems and the Stayers are still figuring you out.  Starting as a learner is genuinely the deciding factor between those who do this well and those who do not.  Listen first.  Learn.  Ask a billion questions.  Not because you don’t know anything but because you don’t know everything.  Give the Stayers the respect they’ve earned from staying and the space to adjust to another round of new.  Soon you’ll be on the other side.

 

Selfishness doesn’t work.

 

Selfish Stayers protect themselves from the Goers and commit to not getting hurt by Newbies (consequently hurting the Newbies).

Selfish Goers check out on the Stayers and leave a mess for the Newbies.

Selfish Newbies learn nothing from the Stayers and don’t recognize they’ve stepped into a Goer shaped hole.

 

It’s hard because it’s good.

It’s hard to be a Stayer when everyone around you is coming and going.  The only way to make it easier is to stop connecting with people.  Stop going deep.  Stop making friends.  Then the coming and going is not so hard . . . and the Staying is not so good.

It’s hard to be a Goer.  Period.  But having a global network of deep, deep friendships . . . that’s pretty cool.  The process of going can be stressful but it is also your chance to firm up relationships that won’t be broken by distance or time.

It’s hard to be a Newby but trust me . . . this is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.  Stayers may be standoffish at first — that’s because it’s good.  They may have just let go of their Goers.

 

Are you a Stayer, a Goer or a Newby?

What does your never ending transition look like?

What have you learned along the way?

 

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