How Our Identity is Tied to Our Values


It’s exciting to explore a new place and learn new things. However, as we soon realize our life WILL be different, things AREN’T as we thought they would be and it DOES feel harder to stay connected to our ‘true identity’ than we thought it would be; we become paralyzed.  

How can we come to terms with this? How can we stay true to ourselves while adjusting to another culture? 

Many of us get caught up in the differences of everyday life like food, dress codes, etiquette differences and other cosmetic changes. There is no doubt that daily lifestyle adjustments are required and depending on what is required to be changed or tweaked; it can be a challenge mentally, emotionally and behaviorally. Then, we may think and question ourselves, “If I have to do this and that, but I can’t do this and that I used to do in my country, am I still “me”? Am I still [fill in ethnic identity]?”

The questions of our identity crisis go on and on. It’s understandable. Change is hard. Doing things differently than we were raised to do challenges us. While some thinks these changes enhance our identity, others believe they threaten our identity.

How can we come to terms with this? Through following this….

Six Step Process to Value and Personal Identity Clarification

1. Realize behavior – or outside, cosmetic changes are not what really define us.
Yes, it’s true. How can this be?
Have you ever done anything that was ‘uncharacteristic’ or did not fit your personality? Why did it feel ‘out of place’?
Why did others question you about it?
Possibly, one reason is because the values you held were not in line with the behavior. This becomes clear when we think of ‘simple sins’ like lying, cheating, and stealing.

2. Ask hard questions – and answer with brutal honesty.
(Q1) What values shaped our behavior in our native culture?
(Q2) What values shape our behavior in the new culture?
(Q3) Are these the same values?

3. Come to terms with the answers.
Which answers are the same? Which answers are different?
Is it that our identity is challenged? Or have we changed?
Sometimes, a stark realization occurs. It’s not easy to admit that a value that has driven our behavior in the past, that we thought identified us, isn’t all that great. It doesn’t help us survive or strive abroad. It takes a lot of bravery to admit to this and to take action on it to make one’s life richer, more in line with your true self.

4. Define and Redefine Your Values
Choose about 5-10 values that you have identified from the steps above that you identify with most. Rank these values based on the ones you identify with most.
Then, re-rank them based on which ones you want to really showcase or highlight in your life.

Sometimes the ranking and re-ranking exercise takes time. But, the clearer you can do this, the better results you will get today and into the future.

5. Analyze Your Culture Change Against Your Value Ranking
Choose a few behaviors or mindset changes you have made in your life after moving abroad.
Do any of these line up with the values you have identified as important to you?
If yes – kudos! You are remaining true to you!
If not, where is the gap? What is the problem as you see it?


6. Identify Gaps- Write Goals
Prepare a gap analysis of your values – what values you want in your life (from your ranking) and the values you are aren’t noticing in your life or the values you have ‘broken’ by adapting to a new lifestyle. How can this be changed? How can the unwanted values be eradicated while the desired values be highlighted and bring back your true identity?

This exercise, if done with thoughtfulness and introspection will take time. Many of us live on automatic pilot. We do what others have done before us (tradition). We do what others we see around us doing (so we fit in). But are these actions always good for us? Is doing what everyone else done allowing us to strive or keeping us stuck in the past? These are not easy questions to answer or come to terms with. It’s emotional and life changing.

Author Jennifer Kumar helps you to explore yourself and retain your identity while adjusting to another culture. Read about her services here.

Photo credit: Laurence Currie-Clark creative commons @flickr


Related Posts:
Checklist for Culture Shock
Use Gap Analysis for Personal and Professional Development 
How Personal Branding is Tied to Values 

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