At the base of the pyramid

August 04 2023 - Living the expat life, Exploring different Cultures, Serious Business


Today exactly 1 year ago we arrived in Mostar to start our new adventure here.

It was incredibly hot (like today…) and I remember those first days to be a mix of excitement, curiosity, and feeling somewhat lost and overwhelmed. Similar like we did when we arrived in Dubai and later in China.

We were back at the base of the pyramid.

Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs is the pyramid shaped model that explains what the basic needs for humans are to survive, such as physiological (food, clothing), safety (health care, job) social belonging (friendships, relationships) esteem and self-actualization. Our actions are motivated by these needs and needs lower in the pyramid need to be satisfied before we can move up to address the next level of needs. For example, before you start making friends you probably first need to attend to the need of food and clothing.

While it’s a universal model that can apply to anyone, I found it resonates very strong with expats who start a new life in a new country. It clearly visualizes the feeling of loss they sometimes experience: going from the top level of Self-Actualization in your home country, all the way to the bottom level when you arrive somewhere new.

Not so long ago I spoke to a client, a young woman from Egypt who had decided to accept a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She was out on her own, finding her way and building a new life for herself. She was struggling to understand why she felt so excited and “larger than life” when she made the decision to move and felt so at loss and down a few weeks into the new adventure.  

I showed her the Maslov model and asked her;

1) On which level were you when you took the decision to move?
2) On which level do you believe you are right now?
3) What can you do to get from one level to the next?

These three simple questions helped her not only to understand and relate to what she was feeling and why, it also helped her to focus on her way forward.

While we all like to think we are unique (and we are) at times it is just very pleasant to find yourself fitting in a model. And realizing it’s not me, it’s normal to feel this way.

Having been through the process of moving countries a few times I start to recognize the phases. I know it takes time – in my experience at least 2 years.
- The first year is gone fast – you arrive, need to settle, and build simple routine (Level 1 and 2)
- The second year, when routines are set and the new place becomes more familiar, there is more time to explore further, find belonging and (re)gain confidence in the new context (level 3 and 4).
- And in the third year I feel I can confidently say: This is home.

So, with our second year coming up I am looking forward to continuing building and deepening the friendships and relations that started to emerge. To explore the broader area where we are living and find our way outside of Mostar. And to slowly start to relax, lean back, and enjoy the ride of making our new place our new…Home.

Our interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs :-)