Through the crisis as an expat

Why I succeeded in making my time abroad the best time of my life


"Being a stranger is a formidable craft

 that requires diligence and skill."

F. Werfel "Between Above and Below"


Stones, olive trees and endless exhaustion...


For this I had given up my comfortable life in Zurich?

On my many wonderful trips through the Middle East, I often wished I lived longer in the region. I was fascinated by the glistening light over the desert, friendly people, the colors, the strangeness.

And then the opportunity came: a job as a development consultant in a cultural center in BethlehemAfter a year of living and working there, however, my frustration had reached an alarming level. That I became the victim of a robbery on a trip to the desert was ultimately just the last straw that broke the burn-out camel's back.

The organization in which I worked did not welcome me with open arms after my arrival, but ignored me studiously. With my German need to work efficiently and purposefully, I came up against the limits of other values and ways of working when I did have the opportunity to contribute.

Although I had prepared myself well, I had trouble orienting myself in the conflict-ridden context. The longer I lived in it, the more complex and disturbing everything became. Waiting for hours at the checkpoint to get from A to B, with swaths of tear gas blowing in the window or tires burning on the road to the grocery store, I was at times overcome with unspeakable rage and powerlessness. 

As a tourist, I had admired the starry sky above the desert. But now I collided with the full force of a foreign reality and slid into a real crisis.


I hadn't left the house for days. What next?

Give up and cancel my contract? Wait until I feel better and then continue as before?

Fortunately, my organization had provided me with a coach who worked closely with me during this crisis and initially encouraged me to take a longer break.

In fact, it felt like I was in a difficult, soon-to-fail love relationship.  

Okay: relationship break. My new partner Bethlehem was on the one hand exciting, unfathomable, strange- on the other hand unpredictable, in a shocking way dismissive and exhausting.

I wasn't sure if we were really right for each other, but I didn't want to give up on him either. 

The time off, during which my strength slowly returned, was spent in my heart's place in Sinai. 

I remember very clearly the moment when, after the long journey back through the desert, the enchantingly beautiful silhouette of Jerusalem appeared. 

I made a decision: 

I will stay and continue this relationship until I learn to find my place in it. I will give up resistance, be patient, learn, and bang on the table if necessary. When I leave, I will leave in love.

During the following 4 years many things changed:

  • My decision led me to become more patient and to keep reminding myself of my "WHY".
  • While I sometimes sat in the car for four hours for the 35 kilometers from Bethlehem to Ramallah, I had gotten into the habit of listening to a Buddhist podcast or chanting mantras.
  • I started doing small creative things in my organization that were not really part of my job. The director liked that and she became more attentive and open. I also asked for a discussion in which I gave vent to my emotions. From then on, we worked well together. 
  • I completed a private yoga teacher training. Daily yoga and meditation stabilized me on all levels. Teaching yoga was a great joy. Tägliches Yoga und Meditation stabilisierten mich auf allen Ebenen. Yoga zu unterrichten war eine große Freude.
  • I bought a sewing machine and made sure I stayed creative outside of work.
  • I was commissioned to design a children's book and I did it.
  • I organized workshops and a large stress relief project for local women. This brought me into contact with young Palestinian pioneers in the field of resilience and self-care. With them, I learned about a hopeful and creative side to the ever-simmering violent conflict.
  • A growing circle of friends carried me through many doubts, questions of meaning and winters without heating.
  • Meine Coach war da, vor allem, wenn es um die Frage nach dem DANACH ging.

After a total of almost six years, I left Palestine with a very heavy heart.


I had put my decision into practice:

I had managed to patiently face foreign circumstancesand learning to love them. 

Today I look back on those six years with gratitude. It was one of the most uncomfortable, intense and lively times in my life so far, during which I grew on many levels.


cordula böhm
online coaching


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