Three Personality Traits that Make a Successful Expat

You’ve been thinking about it for a while. You’ve been googling jobs abroad, exploring ESL teaching opportunities, researching backpacks, pricing flights and dreaming of booking them. You think you might be ready, finally ready, to take the leap and embark on a new life abroad.

But traveling the world isn’t all glitz and glamour. If you’ve got these three personality traits, you might have the best shot at enjoying a live-abroad adventure that can be simultaneously fun, frustrating, exciting and exhausting.

1. You’re flexible

Flexibility in this case doesn’t have a thing to do with your ability to touch your toes or hold a tree pose. Rather, traversing the globe – especially on a budget – requires one to be a bit unflappable and adaptable. Being a type-A, driven personality is great when to comes to making the expat leap, but having a go-with-the-flow attitude certainly helps with the stresses that accompany such a decision.

Your cargo might not make it to the airport with you. The room-and-board you signed up for might more closely resemble tent-and-scraps. And “free internet” at that promising hostel could actually be one shared, aging PC in the lobby. If you can take it all in stride sans meltdown, that’s a good sign.

2. You’re outgoing

It’s easy to be the life of the party on familiar turf. You know the language, the customs and the players. But shedding shyness in a totally new place? That’s another story.

A touch of, for lack of a better term, ballsiness goes a long way. It takes confidence to walk up to that stranger on the corner and ask her if you’re indeed headed the right way to the ferry, or to pop into a sheet-covered food shack and ask what they’re whipping up for dinner. It also helps to have a thick skin in case you accidentally break a cultural taboo; as a foreigner, you’ll surely make a misstep or two, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Be confident that the experiences of trying new things in new places are worth the occasional awkward or shameful moments.

3. You have a positive attitude

Here in West Africa, we expats can find plenty to complain about. The horrible driving, the dirty streets, the rampant litter…a bit of whining can be somewhat cathartic. Let the moaning and groaning rule your life, though, and you’ll quickly become one sour foreign grape.

Keep reminders of why you chose this adventure at the forefront of your mind: you get to see places in the world few experience, you can pop your ethnocentric cultural bubble and do something truly different with your life. Find the good in the bad. The streets are indeed dirty, but perhaps they’re also relatively safe with little crime. You might have language trouble, but you also might be surrounded by some of the world’s friendliest people, who are always willing to help you get by. If you’re adept at making lemons from lemonade and plastering a smile on your face wherever you go, you just might be a successful expat in the making.

Rachael Cullins is an American freelance writer living in Dakar, Senegal, with her husband, two dogs and a sense of adventure. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is working toward a master’s degree in professional writing. Rachael and her family will live in Dakar until summer of 2013, when they will move to a different, yet-to-be-determined city abroad. She blogs about her expatriate experiences at

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13 thoughts on “Three Personality Traits that Make a Successful Expat”

  1. Flexible laid back with a bit of ballsiness is a great description of what it takes to cut it as an expat. My top tips are go for the right reasons with an open heart and don’t pack any stereotypes or preconceived ideas about your new home.

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