The expat blues is a phenomenon that can happen to anyone, at any point during their expatriate experience. And, yet, those who are suffering from it tend to keep it secret, hiding away their difficulties from friends and families.
Malcolm, 36, single
Has been living in the city quite some time, when he realises that he has started to disengage both from his friends and also from the vivid expat community he used to enjoy. His days have been reduced to going to work, staying at home in the evening, doing some cooking, watching videos on YouTube, keeping the flat clean and maybe doing some sport. When he does get together with friends, he has the feeling that he has developed a different, less enthusiastic picture of life in that country, and about living abroad in general.
He feels alone in this altered opinion, so he gives a fake ‘yes’ when people ask him if living abroad is exciting for him. Deep inside however he is fed up with his expat “adventure”. Malcolm just wants to stay at home, but frankly does not have a good time at home either. He wonders why he has become so bored with the expat lifestyle, and why he has become so dissatisfied with his life.
Sandra, 32, married
Moved abroad with her husband and with their two children. Moving to this city represented a very good opportunity for her husband, so they decided to accept the adventure. Sandra gave up her job, they enrolled the children at an international school, and her husband started working at the Hungarian subsidiary of his company. Sandra was always an active, pro-active person, so she immediately starts to explore the city, assess her opportunities, become an active member in different women’s communities, and even starts to explore opportunities for part-time work.
What she does not share with others, not even with her husband, are her serious doubts and concerns about their relocation. It is difficult to admit to herself that there are many moments when she feels irritated, angry or frustrated by the locals, or by how things are organised there. There are also moments when she dreams about being back at home, her old life, and sometimes wonders whether moving to this country was the right decision for her, and starts to doubt if she will every have that sense of being happy and thriving again.
The expat blues are a completely normal, yet, indeed unpleasant experience that hit the majority of expats at some point in their expat journey. Expat blues could be best described as a state when you are not happy with the fact that you live abroad or with the lifestyle you have in the foreign country.
There could be many reasons behind this experience:
It could be a natural consequence of entering the culture shock phase of the expat adjustment process. Or, you might be going through a personal development process and as you proceed towards a higher sense of personal maturation, you feel saturated by the current stage, in fact you are bored by it, and wish for new challenges. It is natural to feel burnt out and longing for more meaningfulness at this stage, with the negative feelings eventually transforming into an increased motivation to take the next step.
Also, sometimes expat blues relate to fear. Fear of going out, fear of moving out of your comfort zone and making yourself vulnerable in a strange culture, where you hardly know anybody, you can hardly speak the language, and haven’t the faintest idea about how local society operates. And as a natural response to fear, you tend to freeze, and lock yourself in your room, making the situation worse, unfortunately. Finally it can also be that you go through the expat blues because you realize that the expectations you had about expatriation or the life you would have abroad are not meeting the reality, which can lead to disappointment and frustration.
Let’s be honest…
…, how could you have a 100% accurate picture about the everyday life you would have in the new country? How could you have predicted what it is like finding a job, finding friends, the bureaucracy, or about how locals and your neighbours would react to you? How you could have known whether the relationship or the job, the reasons why you have moved to this country would work out? You couldn’t have. It’s impossible to foresee every detail of your new life, all you could have done is to dive in, and see what happens. It is natural then that there are some surprises along the way.
Sometimes you have positive surprises, and sometimes not so positive ones. And as more negative surprises pile up (especially when you realize the things you have actually given up to live in that city, and also especially when you beforehand had a very rosy picture about how living abroad would look), it is understandable that the expat blues might kick in.
So what can you do in such situations?
Acknowledge your feelings
First and foremost, acknowledge your feelings and admit to yourself that you are going through a hard time, and that you are experiencing the so-called expat blues phenomenon. By acknowledging your thoughts and feelings you will already release some stress, whilst suppressing or fighting against your negative feelings you would just magnify their intensity.
Give yourself some time…
to understand what is happening in you, what this experience is about, and to explore what you miss, what you truly want to do. It is okay to do less in this period, you do not need to put on a hard face, or to be the same high-achiever you usually are. You will certainly be active again, but when you experience the expat blues you need to work more on yourself. The investment you put into this inner focus will pay off in the end as you find your own solutions.
When someone is going through a challenging time, self-care and self-compassion should be on the top of their agendas. And it is the same with the expat blues. Some people tend to be harder on themselves and play out their self-critical side when they are in difficult situations. Don’t fall into this trap, notice when you are about to beat yourself up.
Your inner voice needs to be heard, there is lots of information behind those negative emotions, and by listening to yourself you can find the right track more easily. To get this information and to find your balance you need to be your own best caretaker. Doing sport, eating food that you like, reading a good book, visiting exhibitions or simply taking a stroll in your favourite street; you should do whatever lifts your spirits and calms your mind. Make a list of things you like, that bring you enjoyment.
Talk to your fellow expats
Last but not least, talk to your fellow expats about your experiences and ask them how they coped with it, what their solutions were for this situation. Believe me, they have gone through the same, or if they haven’t yet, most likely they will. By opening up, you will not only realize that you are not alone with the experience, but you will also upgrade your relationships with expats around you to a much higher level. The expat blues is a common phenomenon that most people experience at some point, you do not need to feel ashamed of it.
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