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I have come to realise over the years that the most powerful instrument to understand otherness, being different, is to learn to reflect on the meaning of your own everyday life, in relation to others. That inspired me to rewrite and publish a play that is an adaptation of my PhD-research on expatriates’ everyday lives. I named the play Expatriate Encounters, which is also the theme of this 47th edition of the Change Letter.




The social dramaturgical thinker Erving Goffman used theatrical elements to explore how we perform our identities in our everyday lives and interactions. In a sense, we are all “on-stage” performers. But: how we present ourselves on the “front-stage” is different from how we present ourselves “back-stage”. These theatrical elements help someone to express the meaning of one’s everyday life.

Expatriates, too, are performers, albeit on an international stage. They express themselves differently in different settings, wearing different masks and using different gestures and forms of narration that suit the context of the social situation or act in which they perform. Loneliness is a key aspect of meaning that features in the lives of expatriates, and they express this loneliness differently front-stage and back-stage. Professional experience has taught me that loneliness plays an important role in the identity construction and self-conception of expatriates, contributing to their personal self-image back-stage and professional public-image front-stage. Thus, loneliness plays a crucial role in their relations with themselves and with others in both personal and professional settings. Loneliness, and specifically existential loneliness, therefore forms a fundamental challenge, threat and personal opportunity in the life and career path of expatriates.



The experiences of twenty expatriates in my PhD-research have been framed in this play as face-to-face, cross-cultural encounters between four fictional characters. Since these fictional characters have been modelled on real-life examples, I refer to them as composite characters. The setting has the form of a farewell party, since constant flux and goodbyes are a regular feature of expatriate life. The characters engage in talk about social matters, while enjoying the party, which is uniquely situated in Thailand. Their personal and professional experiences are expressed in the form of dialogues with others or as monologues in the form of inner thoughts, thus bringing to the surface various emotions and issues that expatriates encounter on a daily basis. The play contains sufficient space for personal interpretation and reflection, and most importantly, gives a voice to existential loneliness and meaning in expatriates everyday personal and professional lives.



The main goal of the play is to offer you, as a reader, an instrument to reflect on your own everyday personal and professional life. Through this play, I want to stimulate you to reflect on how you mentally experience(d) and practically deal(t) with your everyday personal and professional life (abroad), using specific themes such as cultural differences, loneliness, and personal well-being.

If you are interested in more information about the reflective play, or have personal experiences that you would like to share with me, please feel free to let me know. You can mail me or contact me via my LinkedIn account.

Dr. Martin Loeve

More information: see our website or contact us directly.


Dr. Martin Loeve is the founding director of Delta Change Management, an international consultancy firm specializing in research, consultancy and education in the field of change management, with a particular focus on continuous, small-scale improvement and emphasis on the human factor.

Martin has, amongst other things, authored the management book De Change Maker® (Loeve, 2004) on small-scale change processes, and the article Mindset Change in a Cross Cultural Context (Loeve, 2007), which was published in Action Learning: Research and Practice. He was awarded the PhD-degree for his thesis Ander-ing On-Stage Addressing Expatriate Loneliness by the University for Humanistic Studies in Utrecht in March 2014.


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