If you come from a Western culture, chances are you’ve been brought up with the value of independence firmly planted in your mind. We pride ourselves on being able to do things for ourselves, figure it out, no need to ask for help. Even if you’ve embraced a more gentle concept of interdependence, it can be hard to suddenly find yourself in a situation where you have no. earthly. idea what to do.
When you find yourself staring cluelessly at the bank form / grocery aisle / leaking washing machine: Ask for help.
Knock on your neighbours door, ask the bank/shop/service provider to go over this slowly one more time, call the fellow expat you met briefly last week, do a quick poll of your colleagues.
Yes, it doesn’t feel very independent, and yes it may involve a bit of humility, especially if you’d been trying to give the impression everything was going swimmingly. But the truth is, we all face things in life that are beyond us, and you’re probably going to face more as an expat. It’s totally normal to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak, pathetic, stupid or ignorant.
Let me say it again because I am sure some of you need to hear this today: Asking for help does not make you weak, pathetic, stupid or ignorant. In fact it might be one of the bravest and cleverest things you could do.
There’s another side to the coin, of course.
Embracing expat life can be a huge step out of your comfort zone. It can be overwhelming, scary and destabilising. Everything you used to do so easily without a second thought is now thoroughly complicated. The third time I tried to speak to the delivery company about our washing machine in our first week of living in Luxembourg, I just hung up and wept because goodness figuring out a delivery time was never meant to be this hard!!
But here’s the second truth I know many of you need to embrace today: you are stronger than you believe. You are more capable, more resilient and braver than you think. And you can do this.
Wipe those tears away, take a deep breath and pick up the phone. Write out the sentences in the local language first if you need to. Have everything prepared and call the delivery company. Step out the front door and figure out how to catch a bus. Spend half an hour in each aisle of the supermarket with a dictionary until you find the right ingredients. Visit every administrative office until you find someone to answer your query.
It will take longer, it will be hard. But you can figure this thing out. I completely believe in you.
You can do it. Ask for help. Figure it out. You won’t be clueless forever!
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Girl in supermarket photo: source