Resilience During Disasters: Are Expats Better Prepared ?

In one of my previous posts, “Are expat more resilient ?” , I talk about the process of building physical and mental strengths after being exposed to various stressful events, several culture shocks and overall how being an expat can actually boost your resilience.

Regarding “culture shock” I like the story of Jane a British expat woman who recall her experience of “Culture Shock In America” The type of issues she went through might be seen as futile for non-expats, but this is the kind of frustrations you have to deal as a new comer that is adding to the stress of moving.

I had similar experiences and shared them in my previous post as “ Tips For New Expats Moving To America”

Sunday August 28, I tested once again my resistance to stress during a natural disaster, this time hurricane Irene came to our town.

We moved to our new house in New Jersey in July 2011 in the middle of a heat wave with temperature peaks at about 100 F (38C).

Four weeks later, we had quite busy and stressful days unpacking 650 cartons coming from Belgium our previous location. My husband and I moved 12 times in 20 years back and forth, Europe, Japan, America and it was move #5 for my ten year old son.

I experienced also some kind of culture shock but quite mild and overall I am  still in the “honey moon” phase. I love our neighborhood, I met couple of new friends, my son too and we met his teachers who are really nice.

We spent our Saturday talking with an eye watching the weather channel. We live less than 60 Km west from NYC and some parts of Manhattan have been evacuated because of flooding risks.

We were very calm, well prepared in case of power outages with plenty of bottles of water, canned food, flash lights, Cell phone charged and we have our bath tubs full of water.

Our house is unlikely to experience flooding as we are on the top of a small hill, but we didn’t know about the strength of the wind when we went to bed Saturday night.

Hopefully we only have a power outage that started 28 hours ago and that is still not resolved but no damage and everybody I know did not get hurt or had property damage.

I don’ t know if we have bad luck or have more probabilities to encounter dangerous and potentially deadly situations, but I could make a movie about our expat life with the title :

” A Terrorist Attack, a Tsunami and a Hurricane Did Not Kill Us but Made Us Stronger”

From each disaster we always learned something new that we could use later like the 2003 NYC blackout prepared us for Irene and power outage.

Here few events that happened during our 20 years of expat life.

I gave birth to my son in NYC 12 days after 9/11. In Manhattan we had “fun” in August 2003 with a 36 hours blackout with no water and 100 F heat: no AC, no  water (in case of power outages the water stops being pumped with electric pumps in buildings), we also had to climb the 8 floors of stairs  with a 2 year old!

We were in the middle of the December 2004 Tsunami while on vacation on a small island in the Indian Ocean.

We experienced many earthquakes in Tokyo which was part of our life in Japan but hopefully we were not there for the big one last March 2011 , we worried a lot as many of our friends lives in Japan. We got an earthquake 5.8 from Virginia last week but absolutely not scary for us.

Now the biggest hurricane on the East Coast for 30 years


No wonder why I think expats are more resilient !


About Anne Egros, Executive, Career and Expat Life Coach

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
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9 Responses to Resilience During Disasters: Are Expats Better Prepared ?

  1. Oh my goodness! With all the traveling and moving you have done, that alone is enough to give you more resilience. Not to mention the hurricanes and other disasters you have experienced.

    Many of us witness a disaster of some kind during our lives, but generally it is when we are in territory that we are relatively comfortable with and know very well. I never considered what it would be like to be in a relatively knew area and to have to deal with the issues that these can bring.

    You are definitely well seasoned Anne!

    • Thanks Denise. Actually you can stay in your own country and experience the same things that build your resilience. I guess everybody moving from one part to a country to another part may experiment a “culture shock” and feel hopeless without a support network in place. Obviously if you are a city person like a New Yorker, you might learn to survive extreme weather conditions like twisters in the Middle West.

  2. thecoachlee says:

    Maybe it is just me, but I believe Americans in general are becoming far more wimpier in their behaviors. They have lost the ability to be prepared for any unexpected event; they look to outside resources first instead of digging deep internally to see what they can do on their own. My husband and I put in a wood burning stove into our house over 5 years ago because we faced power outages in the winter not too mention the high cost of heating. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, we did not have any air conditioning or even fans in school. Today’s children and their parents expect air conditioning. The argument is children learn better. Not sure how this flies given both my husband and myself are fairly well read, knowledgeable learners.

    Your point about being resilient is so right on. As a first generation Swede here in the US, I am reminded of my grandparents’ farm in northern Wisconsin. My grandparents never had a bath tub, never had indoor plumbing. My grandmother only had cold running water the last few years of her life. She lived until 84. My husband’s grandmother watched Native Americans cross the plains of Nebraska.

    As I look to the modern conveniences and I realize that just less than 150 years ago, people were traveling this country by horse and wagon. We have become spoiled by our own efforts to improve our lives. As in physics for every action there is an opposite reaction. In this case, the opposite reaction is a decrease in our resiliency. Great thoughts, thanks for sharing.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Author of Be the Red Jacket

    • Hi Leanne, Very honored to have you reading my blog. from your comment, I see three questions to ask ourselves if we really want to be fully aware of :
      1-What makes us resilient or decrease our adaptability ?, 2-What’s the impact of our behaviors on others and our planet,? 3-Are we curious and good learners ?
      We should look deep inside to find our answers but also ask others to think about those questions from a leader, a parent or an educator perspective.

  3. Paul Morin says:

    Hi Anne, I’d like to think expats are more resilient! Having lived in a few countries, I tend to think that the experience of adapting to another culture makes you stronger and enriches your life in a number of ways. It’s an irreplaceable experience and I’ve found that with my kids, it’s paid a lot of dividends in making them more resilient and adaptive. Fortunately, I have not lived through any natural disasters in other lands, but I can imagine that it can be particularly challenging when you don’t have your standard support network around to lend a hand. I love your blog and will be back to visit frequently. Paul

  4. Wow! That’s a lot of disasters! You are definitely resilient!

    • Hi Knikkolette, Thanks for stopping by and comment. I think it is a question of probabilities, the more places you live in, the highest chances you have to experiment something potentially life threatening. For example if you go to Japan, obviously you are at risk for earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons. I did not expect to have a hurricane in New Jersey but I did learn from previous experiences both in Japan with typhoons and NYC for power outage.

  5. Today it is Wednesday 08/30/3011, we have been out of power since 5am on Sunday after big trees fall on wires and floodings. About 50,000 people are still experiencing power outages in our neighborhood only. We are lucky to have water as some People need power to pump.up.water from their well. For the rest of the world Irene is gone as CNN stops talking about it . What a shame, people in devastated areas need at least empathy and comforting that there are not alone struggling. Social media like Facebook again play a very important role to provide such emotional support from friends.

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