IS expat life a dream come true or an emotional rollercoaster?
Traveling is typically referred to as stimulating. Different places bring new possibilities and experiences — a refreshing break from everyday life. As exciting as that is, it can also take its toll. The fact that everything is new has two sides: it can feel refreshing for a short visit or a vacation, but it can become a burden. Many expats have experienced the downsides of living abroad. Living in a foreign place can become a real emotional challenge.
The dream of living somewhere new and exciting seemed great at first, but now that you’re here the gloss of that dream has faded. You feel lonely, stuck, homesick and miserable. Why do so few people talk about the emotional challenges that often come with living abroad?
There is a typical adjustment cycle that people go through when they move somewhere new.
For the first few months, everything seems exciting, at least once the practicalities are taken care of, which can be a nightmare all of its own. But as soon as you are settled in, you get to explore your new surroundings. You get to know the city and the neighborhood. You find your local store and your new favorite café, a place to sit and dream up the new life ahead of you.
Then after a few more months it hits you. The novelty is gone and the once new and exciting lifestyle has become a routine. Everyday life has crept up on you. However, there is one big difference: you have little to no support system. What do you do to get over the bumps? It’s easy to feel lost, especially if you’ve moved to a very foreign place or a big city like Tokyo or New York. When you are just one person alone among millions, it is easy to feel small and insignificant. What am I doing here? You miss your friends, home and family. You are a stranger and you feel like you don’t belong. This can be a hard adjustment period. How does one feel safe and at home as an expat? It takes longer for some to adjust than others. As a therapist, I have often supported expats through this hard adjustment period, and it has been such a rewarding experience. Walking alongside people who face challenges but keep moving forward is both humbling and inspiring. I am impressed by the courage so many of them show. They manage to reveal their loneliness, vulnerability and longing for something more. And here lies the beauty: it is only during this hard and challenging period that the possibility of great transformation shows. You are forced to face emotions you usually keep hidden — that is, if you don’t buckle under them and choose substances to cope with the pressure. Sadly, the percentage of expats who do this is quite high. Either way, this is a chance to really make the changes you want. Take a real hard look at yourself and your life, and then rebuild from there. Yes, I know it’s hard, but it is possible. It can even be advantageous when you are in a new place. As a former expat, I myself have experienced this, and as a traveler I’ve seen numerous expats who love to take up new opportunities around the world.
Everything is new, and so are you.
Your friends and family have no expectations for you to define your identity. You are also free from the social restrictions in your home country. Here you are, a newbie, and that makes you free. It is easier to recreate yourself. Who do you want to become or shift into? This is a great time to make those changes.
So if you find yourself in a new place and burdened with emotional challenges, seize the opportunity. While it may not be easy, it can truly be a rewarding experience. Find a therapist who can support you, or even better, find a group of expats who want to make the most out of their situations. Hire a therapist to kick off the support group in the right direction. It is amazing how much you can grow when you are given the right opportunities. You have the chance to become who you truly are. Why not start now? Today is the first day of your new life. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.