Living abroad can be life-changing and it can offer fantastic memories that could last a lifetime. However, the life of an expat can be challenging. Starting from before the move, all the way until settling in, an expat is met with several challenges and demands. These challenges usually require large amounts of effort, time and energy.
What we can say for sure is that if we don’t take care of ourselves during this time, the stress will overcome our resilience and could harm us in the long run. Therefore, we need some tips and tricks under our belt in order to support ourselves better.
The positives of the life of an expatBefore getting into the specific challenges faced by expats, there are positives as well!
Cultural awarenessOne thing you are guaranteed to gain from being an expat is the learning of a new culture, a new mindset, as well as a new set of values and beliefs. Engaging yourself in the culture of another country provides the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, thus allowing you to learn more from them and broadening your cultural awareness.
Changing paceWhen you change countries, more often than not, the pace of life changes. You get a new sense of time and therefore a new appreciation and worth of time. Perhaps life is more fast-paced, or maybe it goes more slowly than what you’re used to. Whatever the case, gaining a new sense of time reminds you of what is important in your life, what your priorities are and what you need to gain a new sense of balance.
Opportunity for explorationMoving to a new country means a new place to explore and let yourself loose in. With each place you visit, you will find another to visit, and another, and another… Visiting new places and attractions is a form of enrichment to your life, and helps you to grow and expand your horizons.
KnowledgeWhat better way to learn about a place than to experience it? As you travel, you will be able to accumulate knowledge about everything the host country has to offer. Not only will you learn about cultures and norms, but you will also be able to learn about the history of that country, the language, the many dialects, and more.
In addition, the experience of being an expat in a new place will help you learn about yourself, learn to adapt, learn to be open-minded and learn to be accepting.
New connectionsLeaving loved ones may be hard, but this provides a space for new people to fill during your time abroad. These new connections can come in the form of other expats, people who share the same experiences as you, or locals who help you find your way around your host country. During your time as an expat, these people will be the social support you can rely and depend on.
Personal growthMoving to a new place often provides you with the opportunity to adapt, or to create a new you. You are presented with a chance to strip away part of the old you that needs adjustment and make way for healthier parts of yourself.
In addition, you gain the ability to get comfortable being out of your comfort zone. This can help you realise your true potential and release yourself from the shackles you grew while in your comfort zone.
Challenges faced by expatsLike everything, there are always two sides to a coin. Having explored some of the good about being an expat, there are also some challenges that might have to be faced.
Culture shockWhile learning about a new culture is insightful and eye-opening, there are bound to be some aspects that are different (and even shocking) compared to your home country. You are no longer in your comfort zone. Your regular day-to-day tasks may no longer be possible. The ways of greeting others may have changed. The food and lifestyle are different. Regardless of the reason, the unfamiliarity may come as a surprise and cause some discomfort at first.
Language barriersThis can be one of the hardest obstacles that an expat can face when abroad. Things you once thought were simple, mundane tasks are now extremely difficult. For example, something as simple as ordering a coffee at a café can be difficult, frustrating and time-consuming. Often, this can lead you to feeling lost, anxious or even ostracised. This may go so far as to keep you from integrating with the locals and properly exploring what your host country has to offer.
Financial concernsThere are a variety of things which require attention when being an expat: housing prices, healthcare costs, taxes, benefits, retirement and more. Depending on the host country, these costs can be overwhelming and difficult to manage.
In addition, different countries have different costs of living. This requires adapting. This can affect your job search, your accommodation and your day-to-day life.
Lack of social support opportunitiesThere’s a lot of saying goodbye as an expat. Whether it’s you saying goodbye to people from back home or people from your last destination, saying goodbye to people who made your time enjoyable can be heartbreaking. In addition, being away from people who once used to be very close to you can leave you feeling lost and alone. The decision to move away from your regular support system can create some instability and discomfort.
Also, because of cultural differences, it may be difficult to settle in and find a good set of social support. Either that, or it may take time before you are able to find one that suits your needs best.
Difficulty adjustingIn the countries we are most familiar with, we tend to engage in a routine that reflects the pace of the country. When we move, we need to adapt this routine or maybe even start from scratch. This change (or need for change) often comes suddenly and can make the initial moments as an expat difficult.
What is self-care?Simply put, self-care is doing what is necessary to promote healthy personal well-being. Self-care should address various aspects of your health: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.
Self-care is taking the time to engage in activities you like and that make you feel good. Especially the type of activities that help you in the long-term, such as taking up a sport or joining a weekly class.
What is it not?Self-care is not always relaxing. While feeling relaxed is often a product of self-care, it should not be the main goal. Self-care is about doing activities that help you grow as a person and add value to your life.
Self-care is not all about indulging yourself. While you should not feel guilty for putting yourself first, it does not mean you should waste your time or money by losing control and indulging in unhealthy habits that sabotage your overall mental and physical health.
5 self-care tipsWhen we struggle to cope with feelings of being overwhelmed, it is important to set aside time to practise self-care.
1. Get activeMoving your body is important for keeping your mind healthy. Exercise is extremely important for mental functioning and general well-being. Find an exercise or activity that gets you moving, but also one that you enjoy. This will help you by boosting your mood, managing stress and reducing negative experiences. Joining a workout club with expats or locals will not only enhance your physical fitness, it will also boost your sense of belonging.
2. Be regularBeing an expat comes with a lot of work. Not only at your job, but also for settling in. At times, this can lead to self-care activities being pushed aside for more “important” tasks. View these activities as equally as important as your other tasks. This way, it falls higher up on your list of priorities.
3. Be kind to yourselfAs we said in the beginning, self-care is not only doing activities for relaxation. Being an expat can be triggering sometimes, and when things go slow or, even worse, when they don’t go as planned, we tend to blame ourselves for not doing a better job at adjusting. However, especially during those moments, you need to be kind and compassionate to yourself. Being an expat is tough, confusing, and overwhelming, and unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a manual. We all need to figure it out piece by piece.
4. ConnectIt might be a bit scary to put yourself out there and meet new people. But since we are social beings, it is important to meet people and build relationships. Make sure that you include at least one social activity per day. It can be either chatting with a colleague or neighbour, joining a social event, or even Facetime with people from your home country.
5. SleepDon’t forget the importance of sleep. It may seem like a waste of time when you have various other tasks to do, but the effects of little sleep are detrimental to both our mental and physical health. In addition, it can impact our ability to function properly: difficulty remembering information, not being able to focus and difficulty making decisions.
Final MessageBeing an expat is a scary but admirable thing. It takes a lot of courage to pack your bags and leave a place that you knew and felt comfortable manoeuvring in. Be proud of yourself. Be excited for yourself! Also, be patient with yourself. Over time you will find your feet. Remember to keep setting time aside for some self-care in order to gain the best you can from your experience as an expat.