Treat your life abroad as an opportunity to learn and experiment. Don't let imposter syndrome hold you back. Be assertive, especially when you feel like an outsider.
Text: Judy Wanjiku Jøregensen
While the idea of living abroad may be exciting and unique, the dynamic shifts in culture can invite a sense of loss and uncertainty.
It is tempting to seek out fellow internationals who have gone or are going through the same experiences of change. Furthermore, they may empathise with your challenges more than natives.
This is especially counter-productive, where you need to network and build trust with the locals.
Making a life abroad presents a significant life event, which for many is a road less travelled from leaving the familiar to starting life anew. In many ways, it feels like starting life over without familiar signposts. Where you may have had a clear-cut career in your home country, you might now have to consider reinventing career aspirations. For some people, especially those coming from 3rd world countries, this can mean taking the available jobs that are probably not in line with your original ambitions.
"Be open to learning a new language; understand the cultural nuances of your new country. Most importantly, be yourself and beat imposter syndrome."
More so, the first seven years of living in a new country are often the most intense. For many people, these early years involves letting go of old identities and values, and this invites a feeling of loss.
Yet as the years go by, your home culture begins to fade away as aspects of your new country merge into your identity. Your perspective of self, your former life and the world, in general, begins to shift. Then comes the bitter aftertaste when you start to feel like a foreigner in your home country.
The feeling of being an outsider doesn't escape you either. It can sneak up when you can't relate to an inside joke with natives.
The small quirky moments, that no matter how long you've lived abroad, you will never be 100 per cent native. When you feel like you have a split personality, between the old and the new you, embrace this duality as a gift of being an International.
Beating imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome – the idea that your achievements are by luck and not any talents or intellectual effort – is a term that was coined in 1978 by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Ime. Today, the phenomenon can be felt by anyone, man or woman, who thinks they aren't good enough.
Imposter syndrome tends to hit many internationals making a cross-cultural transition. If you are coming from a country where hierarchies matter, to a flat country like Denmark, you may find yourself struggling to fit in.
Furthermore, the lack of cultural representation and the feeling of being a minority may cause insecurities and doubt where you hold back from applying for positions because no one from your country has made it to your dream organisation.
Impostorism can be rational and irrational. Discrimination of minority groups based on stereotypes is real. Many organisations write off international candidates, thus missing out on a diverse talent pool.
Whereas, candidates who fail to seek out opportunities for fear of feeling like one is a fraud may also be missing out on carving a path for inclusion. Networking, finding a mentor or affirming your self-worth can help you cope with the fluctuating feelings of being an imposter.
Recognising that natives go through the same irrational feelings of inadequacy may help you rationalise these insecurities as a defence mechanism against failure and disappointment.
It's our collective responsibility to combat this by raising awareness of how imposter syndrome affects Internationals and how it creates barriers.
If you are struggling with imposter syndrome, regardless of your race, gender or religious affiliation, remember you bring a unique, different perspective, which is an asset.
When in doubt, remind yourself of your achievements, write them down, read them out. Update your CV and LinkedIn profile. Make yourself visible. No one will come looking for you if you hide in the shadows.
If you are taking active action, imposter syndrome will not have a place to call home in your brain. You have earned your spot. Your existence creates space for others to follow.