Many have experienced it, moving to another country. Some do it during the early years of their lives, others in their later. It is an engaging, inspiring, yet a bit daunting experience. The last one eventually comes into effect not only because of the culture change but also because you can find yourself rebooting everything, with your previous professional path having little meaning. Different people, different methods, different requirements, different regulations; all add to the mix.
In early 2019 I came to the US for a visit. What was supposed to be ten days became a month, then the month became two months, and before I knew it, I ended up adjusting my status to permanent resident. Essentially this is not a new chapter in my life; it is a new book. As with every new piece of novelty, you have to start with the prologue. This one I’ve been able to accumulate in a 3-step strategy.
The moment you settle down in the US, everything is different. Almost literally everything. For those who never had the opportunity to travel and stay abroad for an extended period, the way that a Southern European sees North America consolidates down to two words: “Different Planet.”
It was not my first entry to the United States. It was my 6th. Over the first few months, I held on to the knowledge of the “old world,” storming my brain on how to place it to work in the new environment. The directions were so numerous that my thoughts became overly saturated.
“I can do this” – “I can do that” – “I can combine this with that” … until I ended up with the conclusion “whoa there, take a pause and step back.” The moment I allowed myself to take the time to observe, the dust storm that was taking place in my mind began to subside. In short, I acted like a tourist, taking in as much information about my immediate environment, talking to people, and trying to understand the differences. Sooner rather than later, it occurred to me that knowledge from my past experiences did come in handy. All it needed was interpretation; to bring it to a state of communication that could benefit the New World.
Conclusion: The best way to adapt is to be more passive. Observe, listen, learn. You will be amazed how your knowledge and experience will find their way into your everyday life.
Stage 02 – The Reinvention
Once you have observed, soon, you will have enough information to process. You will get to realize what you have that can be beneficial to others and hone it. Your direction will become clear.
During this stage, you have two options: either slightly shift your path or reboot your ways to match the direction you wish to follow the most. Either way, you are reinventing yourself. You are not altering the entire course of your life; you are only adjusting your compass and, therefore, your approach. The professional goals you had in your country of origin remain the same. It is the methods that shift. To illustrate with a small example, let’s take the use of cars. In most of Greece, cars are utilized more as a means of leisure than an absolute necessity. Aside from some regions of business (i.e., long commutes in bigger cities), smaller cities or towns have little need for automobiles. Most jobs or market hubs are within walking distance.
In the US, it is the opposite. Cars are necessary, especially in smaller towns, where most of the commute involves transportation to the bigger cities. In contrast, many people who stay in those cities prefer public transport (where applicable, I haven’t been all over the US).
A second example is a difference in the country’s main GDP focus. In Greece, the most common ones are tourism, education, telecommunications, refreshment areas (cafes), and banking. Of course many more industries, but not as widespread. The scope is enormously broader in the US, with a lot more additions I am still discovering.
Once I identified the vastness of the scope, I began to focus on the areas neighboring my critical abilities and integrate them all into a broader, reinvented professional identity.
Conclusion: Reinvention is the first act right after adaptation when you identify where your strengths can apply in the new world.
Stage 03 – The Action
You have observed, you have learned, adapted, and identified, and fused the new aspects that can empower you toward your goals. Now, it’s time to open the door, step outside, and put everything into use.
One thing to keep in mind is that you have not changed as a person. You have merely evolved and smoothed the rough edges to be able to traverse the new roads ahead. To crudely illustrate, you left the tractor in the fields and got yourself a brand new car. Now you can smoothly travel on the fresh new tarmac, bringing with you a level of “exotic” experience and background, which will offer an even better understanding to your superiors, peers, or your team. You will integrate, but you will also be unique. You will learn, but you will also teach.
At this specific stage, all you genuinely need is courage, determination, and consistency. Your expanded knowledge of one or more different cultures turns into an asset for everyone who chooses to cooperate with you, and the new environment you find yourself in brings you an even better understanding of the workings of the society you now belong to. It is a win-win situation, but it requires that first step: To walk out that door and act.
Conclusion: Adaptation and reinvention can confine a person, but know that you are ready once they are complete. Once you put the new you into action, only good things will happen.