Whilst social media glorifies expat life and shows the world that you are living the dream, all expats will know that as with everything, there are hard times, too. So from both personal experience and talking to other expats, here are the top 5 expat struggles and ways to solve them:
1. Making friends (not just meeting people)
Having to make friends as an adult is much harder than when we were still in the playground. Not because actually meeting people is difficult, but because meeting people who become your actual friends can often be a bit hit and miss.
Make sure you give 110%. This means engaging in conversation, inviting people to meet up and saying ‘yes’ when you’re invited to go out. You’ll find that some friendships develop and others don’t, but in a world where people already seem to have their friendship groups and everyone is generally quite busy, we really have to push ourselves out there.
As exotic as learning a new language sounds, we all know that new grammar and new vocabulary is a bit of a headache, especially during the early stages. You struggle to keep up with conversation, the natives speak so differently to what you’ve heard in class and sometimes you just can’t find the words to express yourself.
It seems impossible to find the time to learn a new language whilst working full- time and maintaining a social life, but you need the language to fit around you. So to help commit to it, you’ll need to integrate your language learning into your everyday life. People generally don’t care if you make a mistake and they will definitely appreciate your efforts. Finally, if there’s something you don’t know, just ask.
Sooner or later homesickness will creep up on you. For me, homesickness doesn’t mean that you want to physically be back home, but rather just have those people from home around you.
It’s OK to feel lonely or a bit down, but with time it does ease. Learning to enjoy your own company and picking up new hobbies is key. Whilst we won’t stop missing our loved ones back home, it does become easier with time as you also begin to build up a life in your new location, which gives you more of a sense of home.
4. Cultural barriers
Cultural barriers is another one that can make an appearance when you least expect it. Everything is going fine and then suddenly you hear yourself saying “huh?” and wondering why on earth people would do such a thing or why it even crosses their mind in the first place.
Keep an open mind, be patient and be ready to adapt. I had already studied in Germany but still managed to be shocked and confused by some of the cultural norms when I moved here indefinitely. Shaking hands and getting naked is definitely something that I wasn’t used to!
Rather than ‘change’ itself being a problem, the problem lies with when you return home and realise that you’ve changed but everything else is more or less the same.
You may sometimes feel like you no longer fit in and begin to lose your sense of belonging.
It’s important to recognise that moving abroad has provided you with opportunities that will undoubtedly allow you to have new perspectives and grow as an individual. Whilst returning home may feel like you are now in a different place, just remember that developing as a person is only positive and there is absolutely nothing wrong with changing.
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Alisa Jordan. After studying abroad in 2011, I moved from London to Frankfurt in August 2016. Publishing weekly, I share everyday expat experiences on alisajordanwrites.com and have been connecting with expats all over the world. Enjoy expat life and feel free to check out my blog for more insights.