Expat Reality - a Walk Alone
Updated: Aug 30
There a several reasons why someone decides to move abroad for a few years: on the top of the list we find that people want to enhance their career. Others want to experience a new culture, others just seek an adventure and for many of us, we walk along our spouses.
New expatriates are usually aware of the fact that they may experience culture shock and that there will be some obstacles along the way. However, there is one thing that will hit every expat, which only a few consider before they go:
Of course you know that you may not see your old friends and family for a while, but when you say your good-buys you are certain that they will definitely visit you in this exciting country of yours. That may not necessarily be the case.
What happens to you when you enter a new country? Well, very often you don't know a soul. If you will be working at a company, you will have an advantage, because you will be integrated at work. You will meet new people in the first week and you will see them almost everyday. But being around people doesn't necessarily mean that you won't feel alone, am I right? It takes more to connect with someone and find belonging.
If you come with your family and you are the partner who takes care of the children, you will be busy integrating them at kindergarten or at school and set up the new house. A few days later, the children are off to school and you will find yourself walking through an often half empty house alone. It is you and you alone.
Now you need the courage to leave the house and meet new people. If you live in an expat community, it will be easier to connect with others, because everyone is in the same boat. They are excited to meet newcomers. But then again, you can meet a lot of people, but if you don't connect with them, you will still feel alone. And if you are the only expat and you don't even speak the language, you are facing several walls.
Furthermore, some of us are introverts and maybe not so open to approach new people on a daily basis and they may choose to stay at home. Alone.
And even if you are very outgoing, building a connection, a real connection, takes time and a commitment to be vulnerable.
A study by Jeffrey Hall found out that it will take about
40-60 hours to form a casual friendship,
80-100 hours to become a friend, and
200+ hours to become a good friend.
This search for new friends will turn into a race against time. Expats usually have about three years to meet those new friends, connect with them, have quality time with each other, build trust and then it is about time to repatriate.
You will also need to find someone who is interested in you as well. It is one thing to connect with someone from your home land in your host country, but it is a completely different story to connect with someone from your host country or another expat from yet another background, who has a real interest in getting to know you. Someone, who is not using you, because they are alone, too.
Is it possible to find new friends during your time abroad? Absolutely! It just will take time and some if not most of the time, you will spend alone. The longer you stay, the easier it will be to connect with people, but if you leave every two years it is obvious how impossible it is to find a person where you feel a real connection.
And then there is your family. You may have a very supportive family who stands behind your decision, encourages you, visits you whenever possible and is just determined to make this work. This is a blessing and cannot be underestimated. However, you are not often together and with a time difference between you and your family, there will be many hours when you are just on your own.
There is also the other family: the one, who doesn't support you. The one who may openly say that you are making the biggest mistake of your life. The one who thinks you are crazy and who tries to force you to come back home. The one who never visits you.
This will lead to loneliness and alienation and you really need to fight for your decision.
So whether we like it or not: being alone is part of the expat lifestyle. However, there is an almost hidden treasure that goes along with that loneliness:
THE LONELINESS OF THE EXPATRIATE IS OF AN ODD AND COMPLICATED KIND, FOR IT IS INSEPARABLE FROM THE FEELING OF BEING FREE, OF HAVING ESCAPED.
- Adam Gopnik -
Maybe it is that freedom that keeps so many of us expats going. Being neither really here nor there, seeing the world and all it has to offer from various perspectives, traveling, learning, marveling.
What is it for you that excites you so much about being an expat that you keep up with all the loneliness that is inseparable from the whole experience?
And if you are struggling with being alone, talk to a professional coach who is trained to support you during those dark and lonely moments.
COACHING because the expat walk is a lonely walk.