Skip to content

The 5 things that all expats struggle with

Yes of course your move will be slightly different depending what country or city you’re moving to. The culture will be different, you might need a whole different kind of visa to be allowed to work or study there and let’s not even get into how the language can differ! But one thing I’ve noticed over my many years of travelling and living overseas, is that there are clear patterns that repeat themselves. Regardless where I have moved and how long I’ve stayed away for, the themes never really seemed to change.

Some of these struggles come at the start when even the most experienced expat or traveller will be doing some form of overwhelm. Others kick in half way through when you thought you were fitting in, but all of a sudden feel left out, different and just generally out of place. When the day comes to leave a home that you’ve had for a long or short time, the challenges take on a new form and you need to find a way of saying goodbye to the place and people that were your home (regardless if you loved it, hated it or somewhere in-between).

What then are the key themes and is it possible to tackle all 5 up front? 

  1. The need to plan and make a lot of important decisions. To start finding the right information and make the decisions you need in order to move your move forward. This is a big one for most expats. When a dream or plan to move overseas takes shape it needs to be followed by some type of information gathering AND then taking action based on the information found. Unless people are willing to start filtering through the ocean of information available and start navigating which port to start from, your adventure will never go from dream to reality. The problem for most people is HOW to do this. Why isn’t there a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all the things you need to know? Well there kind of is, if you connect with the right people and learn where and how to look for information. The second part of this is to accept that you will NEVER have 100% of the information to make a completely informed decision. Information will always be subjective and ever changing.
  2. The challenge of saying goodbye to loved ones and at the same time working as a team. This one is all about how you manage the relationships and how they will change as you move. I’ve noticed 2 big themes here: the first one is all about the people you leave behind, how to stay in touch, keep it meaningful and keep a good understanding of where they are at as well as them understanding your choices. This always causes a cleanup of some sort (whether you like it or not) in the people who were close and stay close. The second side is all about the people who come with you and there will be an element of juggling here, because both of these will be active at the same time with a bit of overlap.

    The thing people don’t realize is that there are great ways to prepare psychologically for this dance and how you can easily manage it during a time when you need support and understanding more that you realize beforehand. If you head into it blind, you will struggle and most commonly feel that people don’t understand you.

  3. Making new friends after you’ve arrived. This will not only help you land and have fun, but also to grow into the next version of you. You might be laughing here, but this is one of the hardest things for almost every expat I meet. It’s not just about meeting acquaintances that you can hang out with if you have nothing better to do with your day, but meeting true friends. People who really get it. Who can help you feel welcome, understand what you’re going through and have a meaningful two-way connection with you. It’s a bit like building friendships on steroids (and much faster than you normally would), but what most expats forget is that we need to allow time and meaningful interaction to make a true friend. It can to some extent be fast tracked, but the key is that YOU need to know what you’re looking for!
  4. How to cope with homesickness when it comes up (because it will!). This is very helpful for yourself as well as or those around you. Many people shrug at this one and many people will say it never impacts them. I can assure you that if you have not suffered from it yourself, you’ll have had people around you who did. It might not have been obvious to you at the time, but homesickness can help explain many seemingly irrational behaviours (upset, anger, apathy, crying, acting out). I’ve noticed a few trends in homesickness and they revolve mainly around event triggers (missing something important back home), feeling out of place in your new home (“What am I doing here, it’s clearly not my thing?”), the torn one who wants it all (I want to be both here AND there!) and the long time homesickness that is basically one or all of the above playing out when you’ve lived away for a longer period of time. I had some homesickness early on when living overseas and its come back to some extent in every big move I’ve done. The most unexpected one though was my intense homesickness at Christmastime in 2014. I had been living away for so long that ‘I should have been over it by now‘. But I wasn’t. All these triggers fired off at the same time and made me grieve more than I had in years. Irrational? Not really. If only I had know there are great ways to cope with it quickly.
  5. Designing a new plan of how you’re going to live, work and focus in your new home. This is a very cool one. So you wanted the big change in weather, career, lifestyle and culture. And you got it. But now you’re unsure what to do with it. Sure you can follow what most expats do and just wait for things to happen around you and then decide what to do with it. OR you can set some powerful intentions and bringing what you already know you want together with what you’d like to see more of and learn about in the new place. For most people this step is completely left to outside forces and either leave them cutting ties completely with the old place to allow all the new stuff to come in and create massive change OR it leaves them super focussed on what they used to have and how the new place is different and not working in their favour. If we allowed ourselves to really and truly bring these two sides together with some real world goal setting, we’d be happier and so much better off!

These 5 themes are powerful and impact big moves so much more than we think. That’s why we cover all 5 areas (and so much more) in detail in our Relocation Starter Kit online program.