I have been an expat for almost five years now. I can honestly say that I have been through all of the stages you could go through after moving abroad, and then some. I have joined a few expat groups over the years, and along with sharing my own experiences I have had a good platform to see those of others as well. More or less, we all experience the same things, although some of us seem to be more cut out for the lifestyle than others. In my experience, these are the general stages a person will go through during their expatriation.
Everything is cute. The flowers, the souvenirs, even the people. Grocery shopping is incredibly fun, and you buy things just to try them. You smile at every passer-by just because you are happy to be walking on the same sidewalk as the locals. You can’t stop telling everyone where you are from and why you are here. You have posted 500 pictures on Facebook showing the meals you have been eating, weird roundabouts, and signs with strange pictures and language. You are incredibly excited for this new chapter of your life, almost annoyingly so to the people around you.
Two months or so in, a holiday approaches. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the 4th of July. You become desperate to see friends and family. You cry for no reason. You begin totally re-thinking the decision to move abroad. Back at home you only talked to your mom every two weeks, now you call her everyday on Skype just to tell her what you had for lunch. You hate yourself for missing birthdays and weddings and new babies. You wonder if all the wonderful things are worth being so far away from everyone you love back home.
The people are rude. They don’t appreciate your efforts. The stupid guy at the grocery store spoke to you in English, even though you obviously spoke to him in the local language. People don’t understand your sense of humor, and they don’t seem to have one at all. Mostly you feel overwhelmed. You can’t find a job, you haven’t heard your mother tongue outside the house in months, and your kids are assimilating so quickly it makes you feel like a failure.
There is no point in trying anymore. Mundane tasks like buying milk take too much effort. You don’t want to answer people’s questions, and you don’t want to speak their language. (Honestly, what’s the point?) You just want to sit inside your bubble and catch up on old episodes of Sex and the City. You seem to have lost all interest in your new country.
5. Decision time
Time to decide if you want to wear your big girl panties or go back home. Time to re-evaluate. Time to remember why you came here to begin with. If you decide to continue living abroad, it is time to move on and begin enjoying every minute of it. Otherwise, this is the point where you buy a one-way ticket back to where you came from.
This obviously is different for each person, depending on the country they have moved to and the situation they find themselves in. I have noticed that many expats who moved from their home country for love get stuck between stage 4 and 5. Not to say that everyone who moves for love stays depressed forever.(I’m not!) I think that sometimes if you move for another person, and not for yourself, the experience can be too much to handle.
It is very important to put yourself out there, get to know new people and travel your new country. If you want to be happy, you first need to embrace your new situation and stop yearning for your old one.
No matter how many jars of overpriced Skippy Peanut Butter you buy at the American food store, you are never going to be able to recreate your old life. I am tired of seeing these women beating themselves up and putting so much value on silly food products from back home, like this is the only way to make them happy. (Not that we shouldn’t splurge once in awhile.) Happiness can be hard work, it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Take a moment to appreciate the wonderful things you have in your new country and get out there and explore it! There will be hard times, but you can take steps to make sure those periods are as short as possible so you can go on enjoying life.
Did you deal with any of these stages when you moved abroad?