One Thing That Will Make You a Great Expat

You remember the story of Moses.

Or maybe you don’t remember Moses’ story, but you’ve heard of or seen the DreamWorks animation film ‘The Prince of Egypt’.

Well, that film is about Moses, a Jewish child born in Egypt, who lived about 3300 years ago. (Here is his story.)

Moses lived the expat lifestyle (and actually was a TCK), although I’m not sure he would fit into the technical understanding of the word.

  • He was born into a Jewish family, grew up in the Egyptian royal house, then fled for his life to Midian in the Sinai Peninsula. There he married a local girl.
  • After 40 years he returned to Egypt, to free his people from slavery. His successful leadership liberated the Jews, and Moses led them out of Egypt and back into the desert.
  • There they wandered for another 40 years before entering the land we now know as Israel/Palestine.
  • Moses, however, didn’t live to see the end of the journey. He died on a mountaintop, overlooking the land of destiny for his people.

Like all great leaders (and expats), Moses did not have an easy life. It was filled with hardship, paradox, suffering, personal failure and weakness and great strength and heroism.
He faced misunderstanding, alienation, criticism, and opposition.
He knew love, wealth, friendship and tremendous victory.

But there is one thing that is said of him that is as surprising as it is fascinating:

“Now the man Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth.”  (Numbers 12:3)

The expat Moses was a ‘quietly humble man’.

Much has been written about humility through the centuries. (Here’s a selection of quotes.)

Frederick Buechner wrote one of my favorite passages on humility in his book Wishful Thinking:

Humility is often confused with the gentlemanly self-deprecation of saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship.
If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy.
True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else.
It is the capacity for being no more or less pleased when you play your hand well than when your opponents do.

Let’s think more concretely about humility and the expat life:

  • Humility is not self-deprecation – thinking ill of yourself or putting yourself down. Expats can struggle with this, when it feels like you have become a child again in your new culture.
  • Humility puts you on the same level as everyone else. That is not easy in many cultures where expats live. We tend to think we from the ‘civilized’ west are advanced in so many ways. There is an inherit pride we carry around with us. How could a good dose of Moses-like humility help us value and appreciate those around us, to the benefit of everyone?
  • Humility loves and enjoys it when the other succeeds. Is that your attitude toward your partner, your colleague or boss, the man at the market or the woman at the well?

The great leader and expat, Moses, was a humble man.

How could growth in humility make you a great expat?