Wait, how can someone have the blues when they get the opportunity to live abroad? That seems a little absurd, right?
It turns out that many people are on an emotional rollercoaster within the first two weeks of living in a new country. The good thing is there is a lot of support out there to get you through the rough patches because, let's face it, there are some rough patches. Here are some tips I have found useful from talking to other expats and from going through the ex-pat challenge myself.
Moving to a new country can conjure up feelings such as:
You had to start all over again and you have a huge hurdle to jump over before you can integrate into the community.
Because you don't know the language. It can be really hard to figure out who your next tribe is going to be when you cannot even strike up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop.
Feeling of Underachievement
The standards are different, with language barriers to break and not having a network.
Loneliness and Isolation
Not having your usual group of pals around, familiar places where people know who you are, or being away from your loved ones for long periods of time can create a dark place of isolation and antisocial tendencies for some of us.
Loss of Identity
Some people have to sell or give away almost everything they have in order to make the big move across the globe. Your friends are far away, you can't find your favourite ice cream, the landscape is different, the Mexican food you have learned to integrate into your diet is horrible in your new country or worse, non-existent!..All of us go through some form of this. Maybe that last one was a little more specific to me.
Don't Worry. Be Happy.
As it turns out, these are all completely normal. They are especially normal if you move to a place without a strong support group or a job already lined up (trailing spouses, fresh students, etc.) It can even happen if you do have a great job because you are changing literally everything in your life! Don't underestimate that, ever. You have the right to feel overwhelmed and a little funky at first.
What can you do?
Some people take it really hard when moving. Whether it is for a job, fun, or a relationship, culture shock is a real thing. The trick is to embrace the opportunity.
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." -Lao Tz
Stop Playing the Victim
The first thing I knew that I needed to do was to stop feeling sorry for my situation when things got tough. I chose this. Why would I choose something that would cause me so much stress from uncertainty and change? Because before I actually went through on the action, I thought only about all of the good parts of the situation. I was easily convinced that whatever struggles I would go through were worth the experience I was going to have. Heck, I didn't even consider most of my fears were rooted in reality. Opportunities to move abroad and experience different cultures do not come frequently and I am actually accomplishing one of my goals in life. This is something that meant a lot to me and I would regret if I did not go through with it. Also, in my case, I just happened to fall in love with someone who lived on the other side of the world, and let's face it - it's not amazingly easy to get into America.
Be Yourself, Don't Try Too Hard to Fit in
It will make you feel hopeless and isolated if you are trying to be like everyone in the place you move to. Be proud of your heritage and who you are. You don't need to change. People around you most likely have always wanted to go to another country like the one you are from and appreciate the differences that you bring to the table. To most people, a person from another country who carries a different culture is quite refreshing and cool to be around. I embrace my California roots and I do nothing to hide my accent and expressions. People need to see and experience that my country has more to offer than D**** T**** , Hollywood, and stressed out white-collar workers. Honestly, I don't like typing or saying his name. Moving on.
Learn the Language
Don't worry if you don't know the language right away. More than likely people who do not know your language wish that they did. The grass is always greener on the other side. Be proud of your accent, be proud of where you come from and make an honest effort to learn. People will appreciate that you try and they will not judge you. Think of a time when someone came to your country not knowing much of the language but they tried. A little goes a long way. Surely you don't think less of them for trying to learn and for making mistakes, you actually admire them more because they are wise enough to take action to learn. As an added bonus when you sign up for classes you will meet new people who are in the same boat as you! A great place to make friends.
Follow Your Creative Passions
If you don't have a job yet, begin a project that you always wanted to but never had the time to do. Learn something new or start that small side business of making urban greeting cards or start your own garden and cooking blog. Whatever it is, now is the time to jump for it because once you get a 9-5 job, if you want one, you might not have the time. You won't have to live in regret wondering what would have happened if you only played out that idea that lies in the back of your creative little noggin.
Another thing to remember - the place you moved to may not have someone doing what you do yet. In this case, the market will be open for you to start your venture with confidence. When I came to Luxembourg, within two weeks I started my own Technical, Creative, and Professional Writing Group with over 40 members who joined within 3 weeks and it is still growing. I am so glad that I jumped in without doubting myself when I saw the opportunity. It has kept me busy and also helps me with my professional career. This leads me to my next tip.
Start or Join a Meetup Group
Meetup groups are amazing at helping you meet new like-minded people and making connections. If you moved to a place where there are a lot of other ex-pats, you will have the opportunity to grow your network quickly and soon your calendar will be filled with things do like hikes, social nights or clubs to work on skills in your area of interests. If there is not a meetup you would like to see, chances are someone else will share that same interest. Don't afraid to launch your own. It takes a few moments and you can create your own events. Who knows? You may meet your new best friend or next co-worker. People will see the initiative that you took and respect the self-starter attitude regardless.
Take Care of Yourself
Exercise, eat good food, and get enough sleep. More often than not, big changes can trigger stress eating and increased alcohol consumption (Bressert). Of course not only can the stress induce toxic behaviors to your body but also the increase of social events where alcohol is present and eating out often is likely. If you are trying your best to be social and the only events available are drinking events or include wining and dining with the company, remember to take it easy and stay hydrated. Try to limit yourself to one drink per day if possible and eat well. Also, try to organize social events that include outdoor activities or something athletic. This will improve your overall wellbeing and help you make connections with people who have healthy habits so you have more of a balance and the only friends you have in a new place thing of fun as going clubbing every weekend and never see the light of day outside of the office, maybe that is not going to help you get over your expat slump.
Practice being grateful for all of the efforts of others to help make you comfortable and feel welcomed. Instead of focusing on the negative, focusing on all of the things that you can be grateful for can help you see with new eyes. You may more clearly appreciate that you get to have this exciting opportunity to live life in a different way than most people. Remember: Your story is not conventional, something special in your life is happening and it is an adventure after all. Let people know how much it means to you to spend time with them and how much you appreciate them being supportive, like your boss, colleagues, and family members who try to keep in touch from home.
Stay in Touch With Your Family and Friends From Home
Just because you moved across the world doesn't mean the friendship has to suffer. You will be surprised at how much it can make you feel better to have a long conversation with a friend who knows you. Make an effort to make calls on a regular weekly or bi-weekly basis. Make plans to visit each other and even write letters. This may even strengthen your friendship and demonstrate that you are friends because you want to be, not because it was convenient for you.
Talk to Your Significant Other
Maybe you have mastered controlling your emotions so far in your relationship and looking like an unbreakable goddess or king. If that is you, kudos. Maybe you find yourself about to break you down into a mound full off sobbing self-pity putty and you are ashamed, vulnerable and don't want to put stress on the relationship.
Here is the deal, your significant other cannot expect you to be fine during such a big change. He or she is not your psychologist, but you should be able to talk to them about this. They should be plenty aware of what you are going through, otherwise, it can only compromise your relationship. You may act distant or resentful and let it boil inside, and make your actions cold towards him or her without even realizing it. The more they understand how you are feeling the more they can help, because they want to! They really do.
What do you say? Find the time to talk at a private quite and romantic dinner. Let them know that this is a time when you are feeling very vulnerable and that you may be a little more sensitive to their actions for a while. Remember, they are also going through a lot themselves. The last thing you want to do is blame them for how you are feeling. It is not fair to them and not accurate either. Remember, it is the situation and you are dealing with the changes.
It is important to establish what you can do to support each other as best as possible during these times. For instance, if your partner does not know what to do to make you happy, he is going to be frustrated and feel like he is failing at the relationship. Men want to do things for you, they are not mind-readers. Just clearing time to talk about your feelings to each other may be all you need at first. Just a simple "How are you feeling today?" when you see each other in the evening can open up endless possibilities for bonding and making each other feel supported. Let your partner know that. Let them know that private date nights are important to you especially right now. Maybe you both can spend some time on the weekends to explore a new area together in your new country. All of these are reasonable things to bring up and may help you transition into a happier person. Learning how to navigate tough conversations is a powerful tool in your relationship. Good Luck.
Do Your Own Thing -
Make your own friends. Don't let all of your social activities be with your partner. Make friends that you choose, not friends that your partner introduced you too. Join a club or have a girl or guys night out with your partner. This is key to helping you develop your sense of identity in your new place. Join a club or activity that is different than what your partner does. This way you have something to share that he or she is not familiar with. This keeps the excitement going in the relationship also, after all, I'm sure your partner did not want to be with you because you are exactly like them.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST......
Listen to music from home.
Watch TV shows or read books from home .
Enjoy cooking your favourite foods from home.
Try the food of your new place! Enjoy the culture and embrace the newness.
Explore, adventure, get out into nature. Nature has the same nurturing properties no matter where you are in the world.
Have other suggestions? Bressert, S. (2016). Stress and Drinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/stress-and-drinking/