Becoming an expat doesn’t change who you are, we’ve talked about that before. It also doesn’t change daily life. The ups and downs of expat life are similar to those of life back home, but you might experience a few other unique moments as an expat. Daily life struggles are universal, so what’s different for an expat that might cause a few headaches?
Becoming an expat isn’t just the typical problems of moving house. Yes, you need to find a new grocery store and a pharmacy and your new favorite watering hole. You need to change your address with everyone you’ve ever done business with. You have to pack and then unpack everything you own with some semblance of order.
Moving can be a total pain in the ass!
But moving overseas is a whole new beast to manage. Here are a few things an expat has to handle on top of the basic issues of a simple home move…
An Expat Move is Complicated
You need to figure out financial issues like trying to open a bank account in a foreign currency and where your money will be primarily kept. Will it be back home or in your new country? That brings up the troubles of transferring money internationally and exchanging currencies.
And then, of course, there are the communication issues with a new language and culture, because even if you speak the same language you’ll still have new lingo to learn. If you don’t speak the same language, you also need all your important paperwork translated and verified before being able to deal with any legal or financial matters.
Don’t forget to add in the shipping or culling of everything you own. International shipments are not cheap! Neither are storage containers back home. An international move is based on minimizing as best you can.
The Expat Move Takes its Toll
But all of those issues are nothing compared to the more challenging struggles for an expat: dealing with loneliness, overcoming fears, establishing a whole new life in a brand new world.
Moving to a new country isn’t the same as moving domestically. Domestically, you’re likely to still be close enough to drive or book a direct, affordable flight to visit family and friends. Domestically, you’re likely to be somewhat close in time zones so scheduling a call isn’t a nightmare.
You’ll also recognize familiar brand names, stores, and labels. You’ll generally understand how to set up utilities and a bank account – those are basically the same within a country. You’ll be able to drive (legally and safely) on the same side of the road with familiar road signs. You’ll be able to understand a public transportation system and can simply ask for help if need be.
But moving overseas, you have to ask strangers for help, perhaps in a new language with new customs. You have to navigate new systems and expectations as soon as you arrive in order to establish a new home.
You need to join groups and introduce yourself awkwardly and literally ask people to be your friends. Not with a Facebook friend request, but with a real conversation to develop a real relationship.
An expat move entails an endless amount of adjustment, that’s why being flexible is so important for a successful expat move.
It can be hard to start all over somewhere new.
But every time you succeed – every time you connect with someone and accomplish something small – you will feel absolutely exhilarated!
The Ups and Downs of Expat Life
Expats experience life in a different timeline than if they were back home. We need to unlearn and relearn basic survival skills in a new environment.
We are, essentially, going back to childhood. We have to learn how to communicate, to understand how to behave according to social norms, and to try to make new friends and play nice with the other kids.
The ups and downs of expat life are many. A domestic move can cause similar feelings of stress and fear and frustration. But a move overseas can affect an expat even more dramatically, given the lack of support network and how strange everything can feel.
But it’s in those moments of struggle that we define our expat experiences. It’s in those moments when we feel like children again that we either throw a tantrum or we adapt and learn and grow.
These ups and downs of expat life can feel like immeasurable extremes:
Arriving somewhere new is exhilarating and enchanting! Yay!
And then, a few months in, you notice all its faults and it starts to feel oppressive and absurd…
You develop a new social circle and feel loved and welcomed! Yay!
And then your friends leave and this place no longer feels the same, it feels lonely and foreign again…
There is a cycle to expat life that we all deal with in some way. Stages last different amounts of time for different people, but it’s inevitable that we face each stage along the way. Every expat everywhere on Earth deals with it.
How to Deal as an Expat
If you’re in a stage where you feel like you’re struggling with your expat life, try reaching out to your fellow expats. Reach out to those who are in the same boat. There, you will find empathy and concern.
In other circles, you might not be so easily understood. Friends and family back home will likely just encourage you to return if you’re unhappy. They might even do so with a twinge of superiority thinking that the grass, in fact, is not greener on the other side.
Locals will definitely tell you to go back home if you express your unhappiness in relation to their home. It’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction to apparent insults and judgment against their homeland.
So, instead, turn to other expats. There you will find understanding and advice. There you will find people who have walked in your shoes and who have shared your experiences.
You will absolutely, undeniably face ups and downs. Everyone on Earth does! But in your expat life, you will more likely feel them in ways that you are unprepared for – ways that your parents and teachers and friends couldn’t prepare you to encounter.
Laws change and immigration policies shift – this will impact your choice of country and your ability (or not) to live there. The way businesses operate continues to evolve and roles continue to change – this will impact your career options overseas. Family crises come up and you will need to decide if you can deal with them from far away or if you need to be closer to home.
None of these decisions can be made by anyone other than you. And while you might feel alone in those decisions, know that there are expats all around the world who adjust and adapt just as you must do.
If you are an expat, you have choices. Remember that. You were not forced from your country, you did not flee your country. Rather, you made a choice to move overseas for a different life. And you can choose every day to embrace the challenges and to deal with the dramatic ups and downs, or you can choose to go back home.
Personally, I say grab hold and deal with all the ups and downs of expat life along the way. There will be many, so try to just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride!
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