Have you just embarked upon your first international assignment?
Or perhaps you have been an expat before and have now moved to another location? Whatever your situation, it’s likely that you are facing a few challenges, settling into a new life and a new home.
The first thing to grasp is that there will be challenges and there will be ups and downs – that’s a guarantee. Once the excitement and novelty of moving have worn off – and you’ve unpacked all those boxes! – you may well come back down to earth with a flat bump. That’s happened to me every time I’ve moved; yet I’ve also learned that it’s normal and that I’m not alone.
Relocating your life may all feel a bit strange to start with but you can definitely take steps to support yourself, whatever comes your way. And the flip side of challenge is, of course – opportunity – who knows what might come up, which may never have happened if you’d stayed at home?
What do some of these challenges look like? And how can you handle them?
1.All my routines are upside down!
Everything has changed! I know what it’s like to wake up in a new time zone, with new working patterns and daily routines to get used to. Moving to Qatar meant starting my working day around 7am so getting up just after 5am, which I found tough to begin with but soon got used to. It also meant a different weekend – Friday and Saturday – which was strange at first but not for long. You’ll soon slot into your new routines too – don’t rush it – and if it’s a new routine for the whole family, try talking about the differences together. How best can they work for you all and what benefits might they bring?
2. It’s all so unfamiliar – I don’t know my way around
What do you need to find first? When I landed in Qatar, I felt completely lost – literally, culturally and emotionally. I knew the cultural and emotional side would take a while to settle but that I could do something straight away about being literally lost! I had a week before I started my new job so I decided to drive around and make the unfamiliar less daunting. I worked out the best route for driving to work – easy to do and it helped me – and I worked out where the nearest local shops were, the doctor’s surgery and a decent coffee shop! Relatively simple things to do but which made a big difference to how I felt.
What can you do? Are there journeys that you could try out before you actually need to make them? Do you know how to get to the children’s school and some alternative routes if needed? Enjoy exploring your new surroundings, start to experience a new culture and visit lots of different places; you will gradually get familiar with your new location.
3. I’m feeling really lonely
You’re not alone! You can bet that there are others out there who feel exactly the same and who would really love to chat to you. In every place I’ve lived abroad, despite being fortunate enough to be in an office full of people most days, that hasn’t stopped me from feeling lonely at times. I’ve found that one of the best ways to deal with this is to just get out there and meet new people; it has taken only a couple of activities or regular meet-ups with others to keep those feelings at bay. And by getting out there, I realised I was supporting others who felt just like me. So say “yes” to invitations – make the effort to attend the networking meetings, expat gatherings or coffee mornings – it really will help!
4. Oh! the bureaucracy!
Develop your ability to be patient. In any new environment, we encounter different regulations, administration systems and processes for getting things done. These may vary enormously from what we’re used to or, may seem slower than we think they need to be. I have found that if I expect this to be the case, if I get advice from others who have been through it already and always leave plenty of time, this helps enormously – and don’t forget to breathe!
5. I feel homesick
It’s natural to miss home, family and friends. It doesn’t matter where I go or for how long – I always feel homesick. I’ve learned to accept that and to not worry about it. Instead, to support myself to manage those feelings better, I’ve learned to look at what my new life and location offer – what it is like, rather than what it isn’t – and who is there, not who isn’t. I try and focus on where I am, not where I’m not and I resist making comparisons with home – because it’s not the same! If you have times like this, it may also help to think about what you enjoy doing – what’s going to really cheer you up? Which old hobby could you rekindle or new one could you take up? This will give you focus and purpose in your new location.
6. This climate is so different
You’re telling me! I’ve lived in climates ranging from -40C to +40C and its taken a while to adjust to each. I’ve gone outside with wet hair which then froze in the cold, wore ordinary gloves instead of thermals and thought my fingers were going to fall off; I’ve had to adjust to drinking a lot more water in a hot climate and to constantly moisturising my skin because of air conditioning. Look into what your new climate might mean for you, be prepared and don’t be surprised at the impact different weather can have on your well-being; take care of yourself and you’ll be fine.
7. I think I’ve got culture shock
Different language, different culture……you may feel overwhelmed at first. The cumulative effect of mentally absorbing so much that is different, can take its toll. Even dealing with minor day to day changes can feel strangely exasperating; in the Philippines, I could only occasionally buy fresh milk, which I found deeply annoying at first – silly really! Whatever strikes you as different will gradually become the norm – you’ll soon adjust and stop noticing. It also helps to find out about local culture and customs, to understand what’s acceptable, usual and how to behave. Learning a few words of the local language will be a huge advantage.
I have found that living and working abroad can be a life-changing, frustrating and also rewarding experience. There are many opportunities as well as challenges – the trick is to try and make the best of them and most of all, don’t be alone – there is always support out there for you.
What tips can you share here to support others? What advice would you give to a new expat? What really helped you to settle into your new life overseas? Please do share your comments.