While some individuals may experience foreign destinations and cultures through vacations and weekend trips, others may move abroad to pursue life or work opportunities and become expats.
Arman Navasardyan, a humanitarian professional with the United Nations, has lived abroad 12 out of 24 years of his career. Originally from Yerevan, Armenia, Arman is presently working on matters of humanitarian civil-military coordination in South Sudan. He previously worked in Acholi, Uganda; the Northern Province in Sri Lanka; Sana’a, Yemen; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Damascus, Syria; Abyei, the disputed territory between the two Sudans; Admawa, Nigeria, and other countries.
the Jupital was offered the opportunity to interview Arman on his expat experience and how living in foreign countries has shifted his perceptions about the world.
the Jupital: What does being an expat mean to you?
Arman: For me, expat means first and foremost being away from home. Armenians have a strong sense of connection to their country and family and for me this link is vital. Being an expat challenges my perceptions about the world and enables me to understand other cultures more profoundly; I then share the gained knowledge with friends at home.
the Jupital: What lessons have you learned from your international experience?
Arman: Living abroad proved to be different from what I thought it might be. An expat experience comes with perks as well as challenges. I’ve learned to trust myself, to count on the support of my relatives, and to be ready for unexpected changes. When things get challenging, I focus on what motivated me to move abroad in the first place and carry on. I’ve also learned to quickly adapt to a new destination; I get a local Internet card as soon as I arrive in a new country, memorise the exchange rate and a few words in the local language, and start absorbing the relevant professional context.
the Jupital: How does living in a foreign country help you understand the country’s culture and people?
Arman: I learned to listen attentively and respectfully to people from all cultures, from all walks of life, and I believe what unites us rises above what divides us. While the political, social, economical circumstances may vary from country to country, at the core, people everywhere seem to have the same hopes and challenges. Sri Lankans, for example, in spite of their tumultuous past, are a smiling and open nation, while Malawi is a county where the air smells like tangerine – a detail I discovered when I arrived in the country.
the Jupital: What was the most inspiring expat destination for you so far?
Arman: My two years in northern Uganda remain my most pleasant memory. The Ugandan people impressed me with their wisdom and I enjoyed the country’s mild weather and a balanced sense of Africa. Uganda is one of the African countries unspoiled by commercial tourism, therefore offering visitors an authentic African experience, while enjoying a relatively stable political climate.
the Jupital: How do foreigners perceive your country?
Arman: Many foreigners wish they knew more about Armenia. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to share knowledge about my country. When I am abroad, I represent my nation. My image and attitude may be what some foreigners may associate with the image of my country, so it is important I offer a good example. In a way, every traveller is an “ambassador” of his or her own country.
the Jupital: What is your advice for people aiming to relocate to a foreign country?
Arman: A prior trip to the place of interest may offer a glimpse of what it may be like to live there. Also, the support of the beloved ones is important; friends and family may be one’s rock when things get challenging.
What are the next up and coming international cities to live in as an expat?