Your identity is who you are. That’s pretty easy, isn’t it?

Well, think again. Make a list of “I am …”. You will probably end up with a long and disparate list of attributes that define your identity.

First, in terms of neurological levels, part of your identity is what constitutes all the levels below in the pyramid. You are a complex mixture of behaviours, capabilities and beliefs and values that have shaped who you are now.

Second, you also have met or seen people who have inspired you with their actions or words and you wish to emulate them. You have taken as part of your identity their message.

As we have seen, where will these two sources come from? Yes! From your culture. Your identity does not relate just to you. Your identity is the making of extrinsic attributes that you have adapted and made intrinsic to you. For instance, you may come from a family in which everybody have done their best to work hard and provide for the other members of the family. Well, it would not be surprising that working hard is part of your identity.

Because it is who we are, our identity is extremely deeply ingrained. We take it for immutable, something that IS. It is our internal barometer. Like a barometer, except if we take a reading, we are not aware of the atmopsheric pressure. But like a barometer, we measure the “pressure” of our environment against it.

Once again, in familiar environments and cultures, what we see, hear, feel and so on is usually aligned with our identity. In contrast, step in a different culture, and it is a clash. This clash is unconscious. You are not aware of it. However, you will be more than aware of the consequences of the clash. It will drive feelings from deep down. If you suddenly feel angry, frustrated, annoyed, anything you can imagine and you have ever felt when living in a difference country/culture, then it is very likely that you are experiencing something that is against your identity.

If meetings have loose beginnings and ends and that you are punctual and time-driven, it will drive crazy, won’t it? I could give a lot of examples like this one. You will probably have many too.

To make a stay in a different country/culture successful, you will need to understand your identity and be aware of the gaps with the environment and behaviours you experience. Although it is deeply ingrained, identity is not immutable. Think about it: Are you really the same person as 20 years ago? Probably not, and it is because your identity has shifted. So it can shift again if necessary to make your expatriate stay successful.

A coach in inter-cultural issues will help with this. Just ask if you want to know more.

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