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Hop on and hop off in the life of an expat

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

This article was first published on LinkedIn

It has been six months since I relocated to Oxford from Taiwan. I am still a Collector scaling slowly along Whitney Johnson’sS-Curve of Learning. It took me 15 years to complete my Ph.D. My dissertation was a case study of the reform of a developing country’s policy and associated legal and regulatory framework on public financial management, which involved the implementation of the country’s first enterprise resource planning (ERP) management information system in the public sector that took eleven years to complete. I am familiar with the slow pace at the Launch Point of the S Curve.

After more than four decades living as an expat, I started to feel the urge to go home about four or five years ago. At the same time, I found the concept of home ambiguous, filled with uncertainty. I was living and working in Indonesia for two decades at that point, and my husband was in Ghana, transitioning to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for another multiyear assignment. Since my Dad passed away a few years back, I had wanted to spend some time with my Mum who lived alone in Taiwan. There were frequent flights between Taiwan and PNG. I therefore jumped onto the S Curve exploring relocating to Taiwan.

Two years in, I felt that I was languishing in the launch point with a persistent lack of momentum to accelerate into the Sweet Spot, the next phase of the S Curve. Taiwan was increasingly unstable in the context of world geopolitics. For years I romanticized my Dad’s village, the family compound surrounded by mango and logan trees, where my Mum devoured the delectable fruits, while falling in love with my Dad. The place had become a derelict site when I visited. There was no kindred spirits. I did not see any growth prospect for me. Taiwan would not be my forever home. I needed to hop off and hop on to another S Curve.

Exactly a year ago, I started exploring moving to the UK, where I went as a sixth-former, where I grew into a third culture kid (TCK) and started my expat life. I left England some four decades ago unfinished and rueful. I came back six months ago with purpose and excitement. I have come full circle.


My husband always says that it takes two years to feel at home in a new place. Another benchmark is when you start running into acquaintances in the street of your new city. A couple of weeks after I arrived in Oxford, my Mum and I went to a local high street restaurant for brunch. We were sitting at an al fresco table and an old friend from my Jakarta days over ten years ago walked by. Nowadays I run into neighbours often. I enjoy listening to lively discussions at local coffee shops. I have learned to shop at organic farms and grocers online. I was sad, oh so sad, when both my pets passed away within the first two months of our arrival. The wintry days seemed to grieve with me, wrapping me in this grey dampness, giving me space for wintering.

My first winter in the UK was a series of arriving. I continuously feel this sense of wonder around me. I feel enabled as the fireflies and wildflowers in Stephen Vasement’s “Fireflies” art work. I remain a Collector buzzing and glowing in place in my new S Curve. And it feels OK.

Art: "Fireflies," by Stephan Vasement via Susan Cain

Becoming a world-class Collector

To accelerate in the S Curve towards the next stage, the Sweet Spot, Johnson offers three tips:

  1. Audit your adult self, and get reacquainted with your childlike self;

  2. Pay attention and cultivate childlike wonder consistently; and

  3. Become a world-class Collector of feedback.

For me, to reacquaint with my childlike self, I practice intention. I learn to be intentional in detaching myself from my adult self, to speak without attachment such that I do not worry so much about others’ reactions and real or imagined judgements. I give myself permission to pause. While I maintain my ongoing consulting work, I have not wandered too far outside of my base to allow for the old and new experiences time to morph into one, eventually. I pay attention to the voices around me, noticing and surprised by the multitude of sounds of expats around me. I have started to reach out to communities and networks to tap into my coaching and consulting skillsets. And I have started to collect feedback on how best to customize my skillsets to be more relevant to the communities around me such that I can be more part of my chosen home.

As expats, we live on the periphery. That does not mean we are marginalized. We seek to belong. We want to arrive. I am not hopping off.

What is your current S Curve experience like?

Let me know how you scale your S Curve of Learning.

  • What drive you to hop on an S Curve?

  • How do you know that it is time to hop off your S Curve?.

  • What are your tips to be a world-class Collector as you scale the S Curve?

Subscribe to Just Be with Lina to receive my next monthly newsletter, to explore how being, rather than doing, can better support us through uncertainty, living on the periphery as expats and TCKs/CCKs. This is the third of a series modelling Whitney Johnson’s S-Curve of Learning and Growth. If you want to dive deeper, contact me to explore how coaching can support you.



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