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How Expat Life Intersects with Maslow's Theory

Blending my work and lifestyle together - Student Affairs at Work

As an expat or digital nomad, you can have a life of being on the go. You may change your country every few years or cities every few weeks. In either case, you might find yourself managing some typical interpersonal emotions associated with your chosen lifestyle. Being an expat myself, I find that my path has been filled with a constant change in relationships. Actually, this can be quite common for many of us who are global wanderers and have a life of being globally mobile. The following topics are not often talked about, but quite often experienced by expats and digital nomads alike.

Farewells are Common

Goodbye wording on a blue background
Renee Fisher/Unsplash

The transient life of being an expat or digital nomad is geared toward “hello,” “goodbye,” and sometimes saying “let’s keep in touch.” Life as a road warrior requires an understanding that continually being on the road means always saying hello and goodbye. I am sure we can all admit that, at times, it can be exhausting to build relationships from scratch weekly or yearly. In the back of your mind somewhere, you know that inevitably you, or those with whom you have built these relationships, will eventually say farewell. Moving around the world can be a strange dynamic of short-circuiting your level of emotional or psychological investment. Sometimes the longer you are a road warrior, the easier it becomes to tear yourself away from a familiar location and the connection you have made.

Having No Roots

Tree roots spreading down a rock hillside
Periklis Lolis/Unsplash

In our society, we have roots such as a home, a career, a life routine, and association with a physical community in a permanent sense. This equates to stability. However, digital nomads or expats are thought of as persons with no family or roots. They are often considered to lack stability and are encouraged to settle down in one location. However, they view roots in a community differently. The vast digital networking and the expat community view each location as their community. It is how they are rooted in the commonality of being with persons living a similar lifestyle. For a global road warrior, the community is virtual via technology and physical for the time they are in a specific location. Persons who are not a part of the lifestyle might find this shifting notion of community to be ambiguous and abstract. For expats and digital nomads, they can be grounded as part of the physical, local neighborhood they are spending their immediate time.

Romance - a Challenge, Not Impossible

Wooden Heart hanging from Flower Plant Outdoors

Now, as a solo expat, the sphere of a romantic relationship can be challenging. It is an aspect of your life where the most flexibility or even sacrifice is required. Love is not impossible. In fact, as a global wanderer, you are probably more open in mind and heart to the possibility of relationships that might be intercultural, interfaith, or non-traditional. Expats and digital nomads alike have found long-lasting friends and love while traveling. Being globally mobile does not mean you have to be solo or single during your journey. Love can blossom instantly. You may find your partner, and the two of you can roam the world together. In the meanwhile, enjoy your journey. Remember, you chose this life-changing experience for a reason - embrace the reason.

On another note, as an expat, farewells, roots, and romance are an integrated part of my global journey. However, I have, at times, found it difficult to leave friends in one country as I journeyed to another. My expat community is both family and friends and has given me roots in a few physical locations. Last, I did find romance and love along my expat journey, although it was brief. Therefore, these emotional aspects of belonging are not lost or dominant in me, nor in the many expats or digital nomads I know.

Graphic explaining Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs/

So, the conversation about saying goodbyes, lack of roots, or challenging romance while abroad, reminds me of my student affairs foundation. The sense of love/belonging is often discussed on the basic needs pyramid of Marlow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The love/belonging layer of the pyramid references our psychological need for interpersonal relationships in our lives. Embedded in the culture of student affairs and especially residence life is the emphasis on having our students make our campus the “home,” feeling welcomed and connected.

Anecdotally, many expats seek and often find this same connection of “home” in their overseas journey. Sometimes they may even find themselves at “home” in multiple countries regardless of their length of stay. I am an expat of the latter. I found myself connected with a sense of belonging in two countries other than the two I normally call home. I believe my expat experiences, plus my travels to 50 plus countries, have pushed me closer to the top of the pyramid. Thus being an expat, in some cases, defies or refines this 3rd from the bottom need on the pyramid.

Do we need to research or revise the pyramid? Do expats and digital nomads slow or lessen their chance of reaching the top (self-actualization)? Could we consider that a global wanderer lifestyle actually pushes you close to the top? I think this idea is worth a new look at the pyramid in terms of global mobility and its continuous growth. So, to the researcher or Ph.D. student, here’s your topic.


References: McLeod, Saul, Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (2018). Simple Psychology.


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-- Karla A. Fraser, How Expat Life Intersects with Maslow Theory, Roseapple Global, LLC. Originally published in the Expat Chronicles on Medium.


Roseapple Global provides expat coaching and guidance for individuals or groups. We serve all aspiring or continuing expats and specialize in assisting higher education professionals. We also offer to consult for student-facing units of higher education institutions internationally. Our services focus on developing or improving the administrative and operational areas of your departments. We help you unlock your potential, maximize your ability, and equip you with resources and tools for your journey or your student-facing unit. Contact Us



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