When I moved to Dubai, there were two types of people: those soaking up the local culture and committed to staying, and those living there physically but planning a hasty return to their homeland.
Those not fully committed were all gone within a year.
As it turns out, living abroad is more difficult than anticipated.
What might initially seem exciting and exotic about an international destination can almost instantly turn into frustration and annoyance.
This is especially true if there are large culture gaps between the two locations exacerbated by diverse belief systems and languages.
To live abroad successfully takes a great deal of personal openness and willingness to be mentally flexible.
I define mental flexibility as that split second before judgment when one can think, “that’s interesting” before she thinks “that’s good or bad” when experiencing something new.
And if there is one thing living abroad has a lot of, it’s newness.
It’s good then that mental flexibility can be learned and cultivated with practice.
For example, a few years back, I was living in a rural town in northern Jordan where most women wore a conservative headscarf style.
For weeks I went out letting my lighter hair show while simultaneously avoiding the eye contact of many gawkers.
Then one day, I decided to don a headscarf while going out on errands.
I wasn’t asked to do this or intimidated into it. Culturally it wasn’t necessary, and the gawkers were more distracting than dangerous.
I was curious.
I wanted to know what it was like to walk the streets with my head covered. Would I be treated differently if I fit in more, and how would that make me feel?
I gave myself the mental flexibility to play –in this case, dress up – without needing to answer all the associated moral and political questions.
Needless to say, it was an interesting experiment.
Inquisitiveness plays a large role in developing mental flexibility.
And, one can prepare for culturally dissimilar situations before ever leaving safe confines.
The old saying “you never truly know someone until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes” is an exceptional way to practice opening oneself to diverse thinking.
Actively try on someone else’s perspective. Mentally juggle what it must be like to have a different background, race, history, and culture.
View life from a different angle, and sit with observations before conclusion. Be willing to mull on that there isn’t just one way – or the right way – but many ways.
Let go of predisposed judgment and mentally become more flexible. Your abroad success depends on it.