When so many people seem so uninterested in the life you have just lived, how do you go about sharing your story of your time abroad? It’s a tricky one and many people I speak to struggle with it, almost feeling they need to put it aside and not speak about it. And yet it has been your life for the past however many years, it is an important part of you, so why should you have to keep it to yourself?
Let’s think for a minute about your audience. This is going to be a broad generalisation, so bear with me, but it may give you an idea of some of the thoughts going through your friends’ / family’s heads. They:
- have been fully occupied in their own lives for the last however many years and have their own stories too
- may feel envious that you had the courage to go and do what you’ve done
- may have never been abroad nor can imagine what it might be like in your host country; maybe they don’t even know how to start a conversation or what questions to ask
- don’t like their ideas or thoughts being challenged because they’re quite comfortable believing what they do about the world; and they see nothing to persuade them otherwise
- may feel threatened by your new confidence / ideas / beliefs / way of being
- can find your story boastful, superior, and don’t like the fact that you can win the ‘worst toilet story ever’ competition hands down
Your audience is therefore not in the best of places when you start sharing your story! Your job is to first of all find and feel some empathy for their position. A good way in is to ask them about their lives and what’s important to them. Preparing a few questions to ask others is a good way to build connection and help them feel valued by you.
Next you need to think about ways of sharing your story. A way of approaching this is to find some 1-2 sentence answers about your time that you can use when asked. Let’s face it, when you get “how was… (mispronounced)?” or “I’ve been to … (wrong country, other side of the continent)” or (mainly for Brits perhaps..) “Bet it was hot in…” – it’s not always easy to come out with a helpful response! If you can think in advance about what you might say in any of these basic situations, it can give you a good start. A good short answer allows people who are interested to ask a further question. It also gives those who are not interested the possibility of moving on to something else.
What do you need to think about when putting together your couple of sentences?
- provide a hook – weather (sorry!), school, work, sport, shopping – all of these provide some sort of connection with everyday realities for people who have never been anywhere else. They give the possibility of people understanding that your world has been very much like theirs, just in a different location
- try not to use the statement “when I was in …” – just talk about it as normal life without referencing the exotic (or not!) country you have been living in
- keep it brief
- use humour where you can – also a great means of connection; if you can laugh at yourself and your reactions to situations, it makes you come across more human
- above all test the water – if interest is expressed with your short version, you can trial going further
- watch out for the glazed-over eyes expression, which indicates you’ve lost them or gone on too long!!
Don’t give up sharing your story!
Some people blog about their stories to provide an outlet, others do public speaking, still others write a book. For the rest of you though, it is good to be able to share your story in dribs and drabs. There will be people who are interested; it may just take a while to find them. Sometimes unexpected people who have no overseas links or similar experience seem to get it and get you. Other times it is other former expats who understand and want to know. Keep trying.
What are your experiences of good ways to share your story?
31st August 2017