The Power of Purpose: How Motivation Shapes Expat Life

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The Power of Purpose: How Motivation Shapes Expat Life

Intrinsic motivation and its impact on expatriate experiences and cultural adaptation

Written by Nicolette (Dovey) de Wit on 19 May 2024

Moving to a new country is a big step, bringing with it a host of challenges for expats and their families: saying goodbye to familiar places, adjusting to new social circles, grappling with uncertainty and isolation, navigating cultural differences and facing physical and mental health challenges (Mumtaz & Nadeem, 2022; Sterle et al., 2018; Taušová et al., 2019). Success in adapting to a new culture hinges on how well expats cope with and handle these hurdles. New research highlights the importance of your motivation in this process (Caldwell et al., 2024).

Your intrinsic motivation to adapt to a new culture is also known as motivational cultural Intelligence (CQ). Expats with high motivational CQ actively seek out new cultural experiences, set goals and put in the extra time and effort needed to function effectively in diverse cultural settings (Ang et al., 2007; Chen et al., 2010). Interpersonal skills are important when interacting with host country nationals and expatriates, but the motivation to interact with them is also more critical(Caldwell et al., 2024). Motivational CQ is important because it is a key component of cultural intelligence cultural intelligence, It’s not just about being motivated; it’s about how your thoughts, knowledge, and actions come together to help you smoothly transition into your new life (Ang et al., 2007).

When expats enhance their motivational CQ it benefits them in several ways. According to Bandura’s motivational theory (1977), finding purpose in your time abroad significantly boosts intrinsic motivation and psychological well-being (Caldwell et al., 2024).  Viewing your expat assignment as a chance for personal development can lead to a greater sense of fulfilment and drive  (Ramaswami et al., 2016). Adopting a mindset of “wanting to learn and grow” can enrich your expat journey, fostering both personal and professional growth. A strong focus on personal development enhances positive orientation to the host culture facilitating smoother adaptation (Taušová et al., 2019).

But what if moving abroad wasn’t your choice? Maybe you relocated with family or a partner. Use this opportunity for personal growth by setting goals for what you hope to gain from the experience. Make sure these goals include activities that pique your curiosity, as this boosts intrinsic motivation (Silvia, 2012) and increases positive emotions, reduces anxiety, and increases overall life satisfaction and well-being (Kashdan et al., 2010).

Even if you’re feeling apprehensive about the new culture, find something about it that interests you. Whether it’s advancing your career, learning a new skill like the host country’s language, pursuing a hobby, or simply becoming more adaptable, align your goals with what the host country has to offer. Seek out local meet-up groups, cultural events, or volunteer opportunities to immerse yourself in the new culture and connect with others. By redirecting your focus from discontentment to curiosity, you can foster a smoother transition and greater satisfaction with your new surroundings.

In conclusion, navigating life as an expat is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s also an incredible opportunity for personal growth and enrichment. By harnessing your intrinsic motivation, setting meaningful goals, and embracing curiosity, you can turn the challenges of relocation into stepping stones toward a more fulfilling life abroad. Remember, every hurdle is a chance to learn and grow, and with the right mindset, you can thrive in your new cultural environment. So, as you embark on this exciting journey, keep an open mind, stay curious, and embrace the adventure that awaits you. Safe travels!


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Taušová, J., Bender, M., Dimitrova, R., & van de Vijver, F. (2019). The role of perceived cultural distance, personal growth initiative, language proficiencies, and tridimensional acculturation orientations for psychological adjustment among international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 69, 11–23.

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