The Hardest Parts of Expat Life
Most people have a few mates outside of their main friendship circle. Say one of them invites you to a party they are throwing, which you feel socially obligated to go to. You turn up, tail your pal for a little while before realising you’re being an annoyance. You then back off and attempt to make painful small talk with some strangers until the conversation fades into awkward silence. Finally, you just completely give up and spend the rest of the night hovering around the snack table, cramming Doritos into your mouth, until it’s an acceptable time for you to flee the scary party for the safety and comfort of your own home.
This analogy is in my opinion, the best example of what it feels like to move to a different country.
Having recently covered the darker side of travelling, I thought why not continue to be a Debbie Downer and share some pessimistic thoughts about the hardest parts of expat life. While the life of an expat can be both wonderfully rewarding and perhaps even necessary, it is not all puppies and rainbow unicorn vomit, as the Internet may have you believe.
I Hope You Like Spending A Lot of Time By Yourself
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.
– Dr. Suess, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
As you embark upon your expat journey, in most cases it will truly be a path you will walk alone, at least at first. If you’ve moved to a city like London, you will probably be lucky enough to have several fellow Antipodeans knocking about, or at least vaguely know of a few to connect with. If you’ve moved to another completely random city, a little more effort may need to be put it, to get to know your expat community.
Loneliness is a horrible, dark emotion that can be really hard to deal with. The best thing to do, is not to crumble, but try to make the most of your situation. Use the free time to take up a new hobby (a good way to meet people from your new community). Explore your city. Check out groups on Meet Up. Or relish the time spent by yourself as a distraction free opportunity to set a game plan and finally pursue the things you really want in your life. Get moving on your new five year plan, pay attention to the state of your physical health; just work on your self. Keep treading the water, because all things do pass, eventually.
Prepare Yourself for Really Weird Homesickness Triggers
Beyond the obvious ones, like talking to friends and family members, there have been some strange things that have set me off, whilst I’ve been away from Australia:
- Whenever it gets hotter than 9 degrees
- Walking down a street in London and getting momentarily confused because it looks slightly like a street in Sydney
- Reading “My Country” which is now on the emotional black list
- People walking their dogs
- Being in the company of more than three Australians at the one time
- This hauntingly beautiful cover of the hit Icehouse song from the 80s.
I don’t fight homesickness, because it’s inevitable. You’re in a new setting, which will seem strange and frightening at times, leading you to miss the comfort of the familiar. I just acknowledge how I’m feeling for a few moments and then try to distract myself.
The Reality of Life Overseas May Fall Short of Your Expectations
If you have ample time to build something up in your head, of course you are going to pull together some pretty unrealistic expectations of how things are going to turn out. Do not be disheartened. The reality may be completely different to what you had previously imagined, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be bad. I really do believe gratitude is important part of everyday mental health and if you continually try to look for the silver lining in a situation, often enough you’ll find it.
It’s Same-Same, Yet Different
This is particularly confusing if you’re living in a country like England or America, where parts of your own culture overlap with theirs. Then, after having been lulled into a false sense of security by your similarities, they’ll then say or do something either completely foreign or mad, that will unnerve you. Or you’ll say or do something completely foreign or mad, that will confuse them, like continuing to refer to your trousers as “pants”, not because it’s a word that it a part of your own particular vernacular, but because that is what they actually are.
Then you’ll remember that you’re not at home and that at least explains why it is cold and raining in February and you’re indoors huddled around a pot of tea, rather than being at the beach. You’re in a foreign country! You’re living it up! Life is pretty rad.
There will be moments where you are so confused, lonely, miserable and homesick, that all you’ll want to do is jump on the next plane back to your mother land. But, home never truly leaves you. You could be sitting in a cafe in Paris, lost, tired and sick, stuffing your face with croissant and watching the French go by, on their daily business. Then, an Emma Louise song comes on the radio, a touch of familiarity in a foreign city.
That’s the great thing about home; it never is too far away. When you need to, you can always find it in that special place, deep within your heart.