I remember the countless times, driving on the M25 around London, leaving from my mum’s or my dad’s house back to one ferry port or another, feeling dismal. Feeling like it wouldn’t take much to make me ask my Dutch partner to stop the car and let me out. It wouldn’t take much to run in the opposite direction from the port. Tears would stream. Leaving again every time I went back to England was the hardest thing I had to do. But I kept doing it.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss things from my previous life, my British life. The obvious is family and friends – that is something that doesn’t fade, but I have got to a state of acceptance. My best friend no longer lives in England, she too leads an expat life, so there are no guarantees, no matter where you live, that you’ll be close to loved ones. People move. Things change. Expats know that better than anyone.
If you are an expat for the long haul get out and explore locally, and then make that circle of exploration wider. Join groups near you, both expat and local ones so you can meet others. Learn the local language. Get to know more about the local culture, even when the same language is spoken as back home there will always be other things that are vastly different – learn to recognise them and understand them so that you can in time accept them.
There is no getting away from it, expat life can be rough. You will go through a huge emotional roller coaster curve when you move overseas. The first few days or weeks is the honeymoon period, you see everything through rose coloured spectacles. And then it hits, everything is different, nothing is familiar, this is NOT home. Culture shock hits. And then you’ll slowly crawl your way up the curve again. Your curve maybe U shaped, it may be W shaped, but it’s an inevitable process and you need to be tough. Embrace the curve, cuddle it, make it your friend. If you accept that what you are going through is perfectly normal, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, then it makes those expat blues much easier to deal with. The mantra you should hum through the first four to twelve months after moving abroad should be “temporary, this is only temporary, life will get easier”. And I promise it will. You can read a lovely example of what I mean here, written by “I Was an Expat Wife”.
“Aspects of life in a new location may initially seem alien, even ill advised, but looking beyond pre-conceived ideas and striving to understand them is what marks out the successful expat from those ‘doing time’ abroad.”
So here’s my best tip – when you move overseas, start by making the vow not to do time abroad, but to live your life abroad!