Living in a different country is a privilege, however, it can be dramatically romanticized (especially by social media). Simply open the Instagram of an expat and you’ll see how exciting their lives are.
But let me tell you a little secret… we usually only capture the best snapshots and the best moments.
It is not often that people will talk about the fact that when you move abroad you don’t fully belong to the culture you’re in and yet when you go back to your home country you also can’t fully fit in there anymore. Expats are known for living in this limbo between pioneering and homesickness.
I call it pioneering because it is a daily exercise of forging new paths. Whether it be language, friendships or vocation, it is a path you wouldn’t have experienced if you stayed in your homeland.
Pioneering is indeed an exciting journey. You are discovering new lands and experiencing new things on a daily basis. The sense of hope for the future and wonder to the many new opportunities presented to you gets you excited like a child in Disneyland.
However, as exciting as this journey is, it is also undoubtedly lonely. Pioneering is hard work. It feels like your first day of school every day, and you’re always the new kid. The constant newness wears off occasionally and the desire for what is known and comfortable speaks louder. And they come at random unexpected times. Maybe through a memory, a smell, an experience you would’ve loved sharing with a loved one or a tough day.
The truth is, an expat needs to have thick skin to brave the challenges of living in a different culture. It is not for the faint hearted. It is for those who know WHY they want and need to be in this new culture for a purpose. Knowing your WHY will become an anchor in tough times. It is what will keep you focused when you feel like giving up and give you the stamina to carry on, come hell or high water.
The life of an expat will test your emotional and sometimes even physical limits. You constantly feel vulnerable. Even when you finally feel more confident to operate in this new culture sometimes something happens that throws you back on your knees to keep you humble. And once again, you need to pick yourself up, dust off and start again.
So, what is the solution?
In my own experience it is community. Making a community is essential for longevity in a new culture. This community is the place where you have a voice, where you can be vulnerable and share your struggles without judgement. Community comes in all shapes and sizes and might even look very different from the community you came from. But community, true community, is what will keep you grounded and remind you once again, what a privilege it is to live as an expat!
How about you? Have you gone through something similar? What are the things that helped you? Leave a comment below.