Living Strong Abroad: My accidental trip to Peru

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Moving to a new country is exciting, but it’s not always easy. A strength’s coach reflects on recognizing her triggers and owning her strength as an expat.

Tapping into the pain of being in discomfort in a place which doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t feel natural. People telling you to do things differently. ‘œYou don’t fit in!’

Do you conform or do you stay true to yourself? Do you follow your strengths or go where it’s not comfortable? What if you could do both?

Moving to a new country is exciting. And hard. And thrilling. And frustrating. Honestly, it’s a roller coaster of emotions, many of which depend on your mindset and reason for moving in the first place.

I know when I came to Peru for the first time, it was by accident. I was in my last year of university in 1995 (go ahead, do the math) and was supposed to live with a family in Chile. But, as life tends to do, it threw a curve ball and the family was uprooted from Santiago to Lima. This left me with the option of restarting my search or coming to a country I knew exactly three things about: the Incas, Machu Picchu and the Sendero Luminoso. Thankfully, I took the leap and a love affair with the country began.

It was a pleasant surprise. The food was delicious, the people were amazing and I immediately felt at home. It wasn’t always easy, mind you. I never quite got used to kissing everyone upon entering and leaving a function, even if we were only there for five minutes. I also hated the idea that I could not dance alone and had to wait for a boy to ask. And the fact that you had to attend the discos as a couple I thought was pretty ridiculous from my then 21-year-old, US American point of view. Even still, it was, a marvelous four months overall.

Sixteen years later, chatting with a lovely Peruvian gal in Uruguay, she asked me the ultimate question: ‘œIf you love Peru so much, why aren’t you there?’ Yep. That was it. Less than a month later I had a job and a one way ticket and was headed back to one of the few countries in the world that had felt like home to me. At that point I wasn’t sure I would ever call Peru home, but, nearly six years later, I’m married, have a precocious little son and will be nationalized in the very near future.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always been a bed of roses.

It’s been a challenge, especially Lima. And as someone who recognizes the filters through which I see the world (my innate talents, according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder), I know why some days are more challenging than others. One of the most obvious is what triggers my Activator, the talent that says I like to get things started and can be impatient if things aren’t moving. Well, anyone who’s lived in Lima – or Peru for that matter – for any length of time knows that things don’t move very quickly. There’s always tomorrow. Or bureaucracy.

But that attitude also helps me slow down a bit so I can think about what’s really important. Do I really need it now? This is where I can ‘œdial-up’ my Connectedness and Positivity and learn to see the bright side. While our talents will indicate how we perceive people and situations, we can also appreciate how they see the world as well. When our communication barriers drop, an understanding begins to take place. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not just differences in culture that can create stress and conflict, but how we choose to understand each other from a more ‘œhard-wired’ perspective.

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