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.
4. Relocating family
It’s hard enough to move abroad and start afresh by yourself or as a couple, but what if you’re also trying to settle your children into a new school and a new way of life? Although children are pretty adaptable, and the children of expats probably more so than most, the knock-on effect of an anxious child can put pressure on the parent and affect marriages and alter the family dynamic.
5. Feelings of isolation
It takes a long time to create a community around you and to make friends. As a child, making friends and connecting with people is a normal part of life – but as you get older if becomes more forced and harder to do. When you are busy at home with family, and at work, how do you go out there and force yourself to get involved in your community and seek alliances with others?
An expat life can be a lonely one at times. It’s difficult to be separated from good friends and family, and it’s hard to live without emotional or practical support at hand, which is why some expats lose confidence or suffer from anxiety issues which they may previously not encountered.
With the current political and financial climate, no job is a guaranteed job for life. So what happens when you experience feelings of uncertainty but you are abroad and dependent on that one job that brought you there? What if you are unhappy but there are limited options outside of your current role? When most people don’t like their job they are free to seek another nearby – but for an expat, that move is likely to be a huge one, one that affects the lives of the entire family including the children’s education, the partner’s job and the family’s lifestyle. When you feel like you lack choice in your career, it can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, stress, depression and ill health.
7. Lack of confidence
What makes us feel confident? The decisions we make in life, the encouragement and support of friends and family, our sense of worth at home and at work, and our own definition of who we are in society as a whole. So what happens when we are stripped of all of that? How do we feel when we are in a foreign country where everything we know, and everything that we feel defines us, is no longer the same? It takes on average a year to settle into a new country, and in that time you can experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
Being an expat is not all negative, far from it, or millions around the globe wouldn’t be jumping from country to country chasing exciting new job opportunities – but it is challenging.
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