The Curious Mind, Episode 3: The expat challenge of going back
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00:09 Hello everyone and welcome to the curious mind podcast. My name is Gabriel Ellis. I'm a psychotherapist and Buddhist scholar and in this podcast I take deep dives into complex psychological topics that affect our wellbeing in general. [inaudible].
00:27 Today I am joined by Amit, who is a coaching client and has been an expert in Warsaw, Poland before he relocated back to the u s he exemplifies in a lively way what so many experts experience often with difficulty, but I think there are great possibilities to use the expert experience to improve our general satisfaction and quality of life. When we start an expert life and get confronted with a new culture, we get the chance to update ourselves, so to say, and to adjust our way of life to new circumstances. When relocating back, the difficulty is to integrate this updated version of ourselves into the old environment that represents how we were before we changed. Under these circumstances, the goal is two fold. When we moved back to our home culture, the first is to defend and maintain my newest developments. The way that I've changed over the last period of time. When I updated myself, I have to defend and maintain them because they were present. My updated ways to find satisfaction in life.
01:43 And the second goal is to see my alleged old environment as a completely new place, which allows me to grow even more. And this necessitates to reject the old identity that the well known environment tries to impose on us. In other words, the challenge is to maintain the new version of myself and to also update my understanding of the old place that I've been and to make this new again, to see places differently, to experience people differently, to experience the culture differently. And this will allow me to find my new self and a new updated environment that nourishes me and allows me to grow further. Get a specific example of how someone processes and experience, which is so common among experts.
02:44 Welcome Amit to the podcast. Uh, you have been an expert yourself in Warsaw where I still live. And uh, maybe tell us a little bit more about your expert experience in general. Well,
02:58 I'm originally India. Uh,
03:00 I studied in u s I worked in u s and then I had an opportunity to move to Poland. I always wanted to move to Europe, particularly London, but then I moved to Poland around 2016, end of 2016 I stayed there for two, two and a half years. Uh, which was a great experience. Uh, got back in 2019 due to some personal health reasons and before fall, and I of course stayed in India for 16 or 17 years. Again, uh, very different cultures. So if I were to sum it up overall, I've seen cultures in India in us where I spent most of my college years and working years. Uh, and also a little bit in Tokyo. Uh, there are spent around two to three months and I think in Poland more so. So, you know, in a couple of books that has been mentioned, uh, in us, you are very kind and nice and you're very good on the surface.
03:58 So let's say if someone comes, you're smiling at them, you greet them, you ask them how they're doing. Whereas in Poland, that culture doesn't exist. So initially it was a shocker because you know, people would just say hi and that's it. No asking how you're doing or anything to that effect. And then later on you realize that you know, that's the right way, you know, you don't have to be nice to everyone, you know, you need to be yourself a little bit. It's okay to say no. It's okay to tell people they're being stupid, which uh, it takes a while to get into it. And then when you come back to u s it takes a while to get back into the old way of being nice to people just because you have to be nice to people and nice to everyone. That was a big shock that I got in both ways. And again, in India also you are a little bit fake on the outside. Whereas in Poland and maybe in Russia and Ukraine in Budapest, when I travel there you people are not fake. They are who they are. [inaudible]
04:51 yes. Interesting. Was that something that you had to get used to when you were here? I think initially it was odd. It felt very revered when people won't smile back when I smiled at them. Right. Starting from the airport all the way to the cab driver landlord that I met with, you know, no one smiled. It felt like very unwelcoming and you know the environment also in war so felt very gray. Could be because I landed here in November and going to work was also very awkward. Everyone was very much to themselves and people weren't being polite at all. But then once you get to know them, once they get to know you, then things start to change and then you somehow get used to being very natural and not being fake. So what I wanted to try and say what was, it was easy to get into that.
05:46 It took me a month or two to get into it, but I've been back in u s for now, I think six months probably. And I'm still not able to get into the being nice to people, right? Because when I pick up the phone and I call someone, I can get to the point cause I have to go about, hey, how you doing? Where are you? How's the weather, you know, how was your day? Was the weekend good? And, um, and I just want to get to the point of saying, Hey, can you get rid of this charge that you have on my account or something? Right. So in Poland it was very easy. You pick up the phone, you're like, hey, I have a charge on my account, can you take care of that? And they'll say yes or no. And that's it.
06:21 Obviously also in Europe you have many different types of cultures. So, uh, the Polish one is specific one within Europe. Um, but still of course people have their own norms and codes. It's, but there are more subtle, and this is not something that we as experts can get easily into. So of course if we were Polish, we would have a hundred ways to be off putting to locals if we did not adhere to the local customs they have that they have their topics to talk about. And the intro is, and ultra was a, I think that when experts are abroad that also locals are very forgiving. So after awhile they they develop an attitude of yeah, I cannot judge those experts by the same measures as I do. You know, my fault fellow local Polish guy, they just don't know better. But nonetheless, of course you are right that there is not so much a of obvious formalities and niceties that you have to exchange when you start talking to someone.
07:24 There is something more to the point with less small talk and Chit Chat and this obvious difference is also something that people in Europe sometimes miss when they got a little bit used to the u s and then they come back to the European directness. I think like, no, at least in America, you know you have some, you have some nice exchange of words. At least you don't have the feeling that you are so isolated and alone. People have generally a nice and welcoming attitude and they miss this aspect when they come back to the, I agree or so, or you're right now, tell us a little bit more. You experience some difficulties to get readjusted. Tell us a little bit about it and maybe if you can differentiate, what is something that you think many people will struggle if they go back to the u s culture or to the east coast culture where you are and something that is more personal to you. Something where you have difficulties where you maybe even think, I don't want to reintegrate and disregard.
08:26 So what happened? So one is I was forced to come back. I know are in my head. In my pot, I was, I didn't have an option. Right. Or the options that I had didn't work out. So I had to make this move. So, you know, it was like kind of like getting, being forced to do something, which is very different than when you willingly do something. I mean, at some point, you know, people are like, well, you need to kind of like surrender to it. You need to accept it, need to let go. But it's not that easy. Right. So then I have to come back. And you know, when I came back I realized that I was in u s for a good 22 years or 2020 ish years before I've been through Poland. So I made a lot of friends. I have lots of friends in the tristate area, right?
09:13 So I came back and all my friends game, you know, I had to go meet them and everything. And what I'd realized was that I had changed quite a bit in the sense that I wanted to spend time on my own. I wanted to spend time to read. My interests were different, you know, I wanted to spend more time in the nature instead of, you know, going out partying at night. I like to wake up early in the morning, I like to meditate. Whereas these guys were like, what's wrong with you? Like why aren't you out drinking with us? Why aren't you getting drunk? It's not fun anymore if you don't go out late at night.
09:47 Sorry, just to ask, what was it, even when you work back then in the states, was it like then also a sort of obligation or was it something that you used to enjoy? [inaudible]
09:57 I now looking back, if you asked me back then, I would say, yeah, it was fun, right? It's fun to go out at night, you know, and, and do all these things. But now when I look back, I, I didn't enjoy it as much, but I didn't know the alternatives, um, because everyone was doing it right. So from college up until later, everyone is doing it. So you don't know a different way of it. Right. So it's only when I was in Warsaw and I was completely isolated, I realized it. And, and, and the reason I feel that is because in the two and a half or three years in Warsaw, I didn't make a single friend. Like I had people I knew at work and then I didn't make any friends. I was working on my mental health with you. I was working on my physical health with a chiropractor, um, massages and you know, yoga retreats. And doing a lot of meditation, cancer, no. And Travel and um,
10:51 with your partner, just to completely alone, you were in Europe with your partner.
10:56 Yes. Um, but we didn't have this obligation, uh, that someone is coming over and now I need to sit with them and entertain them for six to eight hours and we will do small talk. I would rather listen to a podcast, learn something new, watch a documentary, read a book. So when I came back, I felt, I felt that I had to then set boundaries and setting those boundaries was very challenging because it made, the other person would then put you through a guilt trip saying, dude, you know, you didn't call me. You don't meet us. You don't come over. And you know, at some point of time I had to tell them that, no, I cannot do this anymore. I cannot meet you for grains. Yeah. If you really want to meet me, let's meet for coffee or let's meet for lunch. I'll buy your lunch.
11:42 Let's, let's do that. So, so that was very different. And I think that was one aspect personally. But then the other thing that was very different goals at work, right? So what I felt was that there are two measures of success. One measure of success is society's measure of success. And I'm just realizing this, working with you and everything, one measure of success, that society's measure of success. And the other measure of success is a personal achievement. And I could be wrong, but I feel that these are two separate things. Society can measure your success by money. The house you have, the car you dry, you know the nice that these around that you build around yourself. So personally you could be successful, but from a society's angle you're not successful. So then you know, you quickly get into in us the feeling of, Oh, I'm not successful because the society is not looking at me and saying, wait a second, this guy went to Poland, he was running a big show over there. Now he's back. Um, we don't see that he grew much. You know, the, the niceties. He doesn't have a big house. He doesn't have a nice car. He was not in a great position. So what's going on. Right. So I think that also brings a bit of a shocker. Whereas I was isolated from being judged like that in Poland, or even if I went to India or London.
12:57 Now, was that a, a, a journey of itself to discover the freedom in it when you were in Poland?
13:03 So I think it took, it takes a while, right? It's not like I came to Poland with a mission to discover myself. Right? That was not the goal. And I think I came to Poland because I just wanted to get out of this group of friends in this, this life that I had created around me. I didn't know why. I just needed a break. I needed a change. So I just had to do something, even though a lot of people were like, do, don't go there. Who goes to Poland? Come on. Right? Like maybe London, maybe Paris, France, and we are, you know, would not not fall in, right? So I was like, no, I need to get out. I need to get out and I'll deal with it once I'm there. And then when I came here, I started traveling because, you know, it was like, wow, you're in Europe, you can go anywhere overnight trains or whatever.
13:43 And then I started spending some of the remaining time in my health, right? Getting my back working back again. Right. For the chiropractor. But the massage is, but the acupuncture, you know? And then I got into the energy healing therapy sessions. Then I started working with you. And as these, my energy was flowing into these areas, I had very little time to Skype with my friends to get on a call with them, to go out with my coworkers at work out drinking. And I started enjoying this, you know? And when I'm in U S and I realized that again, then I'm in the middle of doing some work. All of a sudden it hits me and say, is this really what I want to do? Like I really don't want to do this. I don't even know why I'm here and listening to them. Right?
14:29 But the interesting thing is when you, when you talk about the things that you discovered you like to do, all of these things are available to you in the u s except that you can get into, you know, a different country in a different culture with a three hours, a car or a train ride. So that's the exception. But you can do, you can take care of yourself physically and mentally. You can do sports, took care of back and health a so why is it such a big difference?
14:54 Yeah. So I think that's a great point. So the reason I felt was while you're already engaged with so many different things, I did not know how to step back and re-engaged myself somewhere. Right? It's like you don't know what you don't know. But when I came to Poland, I had so much time around me that I was like, okay, I kind of like wanted to do this, so let me explore this. Or I kind of wanted to do that. So let me explore that. I didn't want to have a car. So I bought myself a bicycle and I really loved traveling around Warsaw and a bicycle and I still don't have a car now that I'm back in the US because I don't want the headache of, you know, maintaining the car, getting the car change, taking it into, you know, dealerships and all. So I don't want to, I don't want to deal with that. So coming back to your question that you have everything in u s or when I came back, I know what I used to do, which used to give me more freedom, more enjoyment. Now I need to find those things back here. And of course I can do all those things here, which I'm trying to get back into. But then you have to also nicely say no to the other people. Does that make sense?
16:03 Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And what is for me, very interesting. Apparently there's an element of the home culture being able to suck you back in. There's something very persuasive about your culture of origin that it's able to just know how to saccule Vegan. I know these things from Germany where I spent most of my life. Uh, and I have very similar experience and I think many experts can relate to that when they go back to their home culture disability that when you're abroad you can realize many degrees of freedom, but it somehow just seems to be so much more difficult to realize that you have freedoms in your home cultures. You seem to have automatically less time. Uh, you are exposed, you understand the subtleties of the social code and the social demands. Whereas in the, uh, in the foreign country, maybe they have tried but you just didn't know all these signals. So there was less of a chance to be entrapped in social formalities and, and time wasting activities. Polish people experienced the same one to come back to Poland. This is just a shared experience in experts when the go back to the home culture. So I wonder what you think of the, the tools of society and culture as abstracted sound to suck you back. And
17:25 I think that's a very good point and value or saying that I was thinking of, uh, where I understand the subtleties and better I have to apply it. So to give you an example, I live in an apartment complex now, right? So when I'm walking in, if my neighbor opens the door or you know, gonna I'm opening the door for my neighbor. You have to go through the small talk. There's no smile at you. I cannot just a poker face. Cause they'll be like, what's wrong with this guy? Right? So yeah. So you have to then engage in that small talk. Then you have to talk to them and they're like, oh, why don't you come over for drinks at some point of time? Now I'm not going to tell them that, hey, I don't like to drink at night. And they'd be like, what a weird guy.
18:04 Right? Who doesn't drink at night, right? Like well what kind of a person is this mine or going for drinks. So in Warsaw, in Poland, the culture was not so much that, hey, it's those in like, let's go out and have a beer or something. Uh, it's very, you know, rare that people would go out on, it's already planned a week or two in advance cause people need to have their, you know, family or their kids and everything else organized but not so in us and us at like six o'clock. People gather around and be like, let's go out have a beer. At that time you're like, well, I don't really feel like going out and having a beer. I haven't planned for it. I mean, I'm going to go for my drum class today. And they look at you as if they're like, what's wrong with this guy? So, yeah. So that's,
18:47 it's a kind of a Po expectation, let's not call it pressure, but it's, there's, there's an expectation in via that you conform to the social code. This is certainly a way where culture as intangible as it is, tries to, uh, to spread the tentacles and to draw you into psyche room, to spend time on culture basically. And not so much on needs that you want to satisfy.
19:15 You're doing a lot of things for the cultural side of things cause you don't want to be the weird person, you know, but you really don't want to do that. And that's what isolated me in Poland where I was able to discover myself for who I am instead of being pulled into the cultural, um, aspect of things.
19:35 So what are the things that in the past six months you have discovered you can actually use in order to feel comfortable, to somehow have a mixture of back to be at the a east caused us culture, but also to rescue some of the features that you have discovered in Europe and to maintain them so that it's somewhere to help him mix. So what is your journey to, to integrate the two?
20:01 So I'll be honest, right? So it wasn't very easy. So initially when I came back and, um, you know, you and I have been having discussions around this a lot. So initially, um, when I came back, I found that very easy to get plugged back in. It felt like I never left here. It was very convenient. I was back in it. I started figuring out that, oh, I am not enjoying it. And then I was like, I'm missing Poland. And then, uh, you know, we had conversations before I left where we were like, okay, what if I, what if I cannot keep this kind of, um, in a routine that I have? So I found I couldn't keep that routine. I couldn't keep that routine at hall. And then slowly I had to say no to people. So the biggest part was for me to say no to people in a, that, you know, I don't sound like a complete Dick, but I have to say it. And then, uh, some of them, most of them rather have stopped contacting me also. And that was fine. Right. Which, which is fine. I mean, I am who I am that they cannot accept me for the way I do things then, then it's okay. Right. It's not a big deal, but you have to go through. You have to then go through it and say, okay, I lost these many number of people who are considered my friends.
21:13 This was the first part of my conversation with Amit. In the second part, we will discuss a much more fundamental aspect of our mind, namely how we are fundamentally fragmented and how this fragmentation can actually be used in order to choose the satisfaction of needs that make us happier, more sustainably. That's it for today. Thanks everyone for listening. Feel free to leave a comment, and if you enjoyed it, tune into another episode on this channel below. You can also find a link to my website, Ellis counseling.com and my Facebook page, Ellis counseling and psychotherapy where you can contact me for online therapy or counseling sessions.