The life of an expat may seem like a glamorous one. Many expats move abroad for better job opportunities, or for the lifestyle, or even for the fantastic weather and to enjoy a big adventure. From the outside, life seems full of possibilities and excitement…but being an expat is fraught with an array of unique problems that those remaining in their birth country may never understand.
Here are seven ways expats struggle more than others.
1. Communication barriers
Most expats speak English, but that doesn’t help when you are relocated to a country where they don’t. Even if you speak English at home and at work and you are doing your best to learn the host country’s language, it takes time to settle in, and in the meantime you are left struggling with issues that would normally be a walk in the park. Simple things like letters from the doctor’s office or the council; your television not working but not understanding the message that pops up on the screen; calling a company on the phone and not understanding the automated recording or what number to press – these tiny little inconveniences can lead to a sense of frustration, anxiety and in some cases anger or feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.
One of the many reasons that expats look for work abroad is to submerge themselves in a new culture, but the flipside of that is that some cultures are hard to integrate into and difficult to align with your own customs and expectations…no matter how hard you try. Coupled with the communication barriers, it can sometimes feel very isolating and frustrating, you may feel cut off from your community and confused – or even worse, regretful of your move.
3. Losing your identity
Most expats move abroad for work – but if you move as a family, what about the other partner? What are they expected to do? Even though in a lot of cases one partner has moved the family because their new wage justifies the life change, the second partner is left to carve out a new identity for themselves. Do they embrace this change and start a new career? Train in something new? Reinvent themselves? Or will they be left feeling inferior, lost and unsure of their new role? These feelings of uncertainty, and sometimes resentment, can have a negative effect on the entire family and put pressure on the marriage. Without the usual support network around you, this shift can be even harder to manage.