Expat life is not all about lounging in the sun, going to lively expat parties and raising amazing bilingual children – though those are unquestionably a few of the perks of overseas living. In fact, it can be really hard being an expat, especially for first-timers, trailing spouses and teens. Read on for seven top tips to help beat the expat blues.
One moment we know where to shop for daily food, who to talk to at our child’s school, which doctor to turn to for advice, how to fix a phone and where to go for a coffee with friends. Then we move on and the ease of living is blown away.
Your everyday (soothing) routine has gone, and, quite possibly, you don’t even understand the local lingo. Work colleagues are all new, your children have no friends, family is hundreds or thousands of miles away and you have to climb the steep slope of building up contacts, friends and support circles all over again – immediately. Not surprising then that you don’t feel your usual happy self all the time.
The whole experience is a positive challenge for most expats; they (we) rise to it and embrace it, but sometimes (and let’s be honest here, it happens to most of us at some point) there are times when it seems like an overwhelmingly uphill struggle, even for the most accomplished expats who have “been there, done that”.
It’s not surprising then, that many expats do, quite often, feel overwhelmed and down. Call it “the blues”, call it “mild depression”, whatever it is, it’s real and it’s tough, but recognising that it’s normal may just help you get through it faster.
Here are 7 tips to wipe out the expat blues, which we hope will help get back on track so that your expat life is a really positive one:
1. One of the hardest things about living in a new culture is not understanding it. Acknowledge that you are now living in a different culture and try not to expect yourself to assimilate straight away – it takes time.
2. Remember what motivated you to move in the first place. Whether it was a genuine interest in other cultures and new experiences or whether it was to see your spouse progress, look back at that to remind yourself of the positive reasons for moving overseas.
3. Ask other expats for their settling in tips and tales. Most expats love to share their experiences and it usually ends in tears of laughter as they recount what was at the time a painful or embarrassing experience.
4. Avoid benchmarking. It’s very easy to constantly compare what you have in your new home with what you used to have. Instead look for the positives in your newly adopted country and adapt to them. For example, if finding the foods your children used to like is proving difficult and stressful, introduce them to new exciting things. Swap apples for pomegranates, candy for dates, morning cereals for pancakes… if you make it an adventure they will most likely jump aboard.
5. Be non-judgemental. You’ll meet locals and expats who are very happy being exactly where you are finding it so hard to live. The last thing you want to do is pass judgement on the place they love, it will back-fire and you could end up losing newly made friends. Instead explain to them that you are finding this or that hard to understand and ask for their help.
6. Talk, chat, message or live-video a counsellor… An overseas move (possibly to a country where you can’t speak the language) doesn’t mean professional support isn’t there for the really down days. It is. The world of online counselling, offering unlimited communication, is a relatively new, but fast-growing, area of support. The beauty of it for expats is that English-speaking online counsellors can help deal with stress, anxiety, depression, relationships and a multitude of other issues commonly faced by expats, wherever you are in the world, at any time of day.
7. Remember your sense of humour and your sense of self? They are both still there – though they may have been swamped by the whole moving process – and they are both essential for maintaining your own identity. Just because you have moved it doesn’t make you change your personality – though you may pick up a few unusual traits along the way! (Who knew the French shrug was so infectious!)
This blog post is sponsored by BetterHelp – the largest e-counselling platform worldwide.