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An Electric Shock against Expat Loneliness

How would you react if someone were to ask you to sit quietly in a room without any distractions and to think for just 15 minutes? Sounds easy.

Psychologist Timothy Wilson conducted this study and he gave his participants one way out. They could inflict themselves with an electric shock. 67% of men and 25% of women actually opted to inflict themselves with pain rather than to be in their own head for a quarter of an hour.

15 minutes isn't that much time, wouldn't you agree. How about being alone for 8 hours? You may think I am so busy, I wish there would be more time to be alone. Or you might be very familiar of what it feels like to be with you and you alone, because you have been there. I am talking about expat partners who join their spouses to live in a new country and who gave up a lot to be supportive.

The first days in a new country are very busy for obvious reasons, but after a few weeks, all the boxes are unpacked, the house decorated, the children at school or childcare, your partner at work and you are alone. Alone in a new county. No friends, yet. No neighbors to talk to, yet. No colleagues. And your family and friends back home are in another time zone and you may not be able to call them either. It is you and you alone. And we are not talking about 15 minutes. We are literally talking about 6-8 hours for weeks.

And there is another challenge: What happens if you do not have a meaningful purpose for your time abroad, yet? Something that fulfills you? Something that gets you excited and for that matter something that occupies your mind.

So often we imagine wouldn't it be wonderful to have more free time on our hands, but as the experiment points out, we are having a really hard time of being alone with ourselves for only 15 minutes. Maybe it is underestimated how challenging it is for expat partners to experience this form of loneliness especially during those first months in a new country.

And let's get real honest here. I saw this quote and it might be painful to read, but maybe there is some truth behind it. "People with too much free time and no meaningful purpose always create drama out of thin air."

Perhaps this is just a coping mechanism for dealing with the pain of being alone and not having a clear goal of what someone wants to achieve during his or her time abroad. And there are other forms of distraction:

  • binge watching TV series

  • being on social media

  • drinking alcohol

  • shopping

  • eating

  • playing video games

  • inflicting ourselves with pain

Anything that will distract us will do. Even an electric shock.

Of course, there is also the other option: to figure out a way how to use this time alone in the best possible way. Imagine you would know in the first three to six months what your meaningful purpose abroad will be and you could start working towards that goal right away. What would be possible? And imagine 3 years later and you are sitting on a plane on your way back home: How would you feel looking back on those years abroad and knowing that you did something that you are really proud of and you still have had enough time to explore, to shop, to rest, to eat, to enjoy everything the expat lifestyle has to offer.

COACHING because what would be possible if you knew your meaningful purpose of living abroad.

No more electric shocks would be necessary.



Henry David Thoreau


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