If you’re here, it’s likely that you know moving to a new country can bring a huge mix of emotions. There’s excitement, nervousness, fear, and even grief of the life we left wherever we’re moving from.
When I moved to Dubai in 2018, I knew it’d be an adjustment. But for some reason, I figured I’d be alright because I’d moved before – to New York City and then to Toronto, Canada after living a digital nomad lifestyle for a while. In my mind, it would be no big deal!
That was funny.
This move was different because it happened two weeks after getting married in a courtroom ceremony really none of my family thought was ideal. It was also the first time in 15 years I wouldn’t be working, at least until I got settled in.
So, for the first time – I found myself with an open schedule. Free time – it was the dream right? But for some reason, it drove me crazy. I had no idea how much I had found my value and my identity in being a single, independent woman – and now I found myself in the desert, almost completely dependant on my husband.
For me, the culture shock of living in Dubai hadn’t felt all that difficult. I was, in every sense of the word, in a privileged position in a privileged environment. So when I realized I was depressed, I felt even worse.
Under the glamour and excitement, how do we find the feeling of home? That real feeling of contentment, or even a semblance of belonging?
I wanted to share with you as a wonderful reader of YAY FOR TODAY, a couple of the things I did that helped support me out of my funk and into more aligned living.
3 tips to working with your expat emotions during your move abroad:
1. Tell someone the truth about how you’re feeling – no matter how long you’ve been there and “settled in”
It was so easy for me to be on catch-up calls with family or friends and say that everything was fine. That I was figuring things out slowly but surely. But on the inside I felt like I was losing it and I couldn’t let them know so they wouldn’t worry.
The minute I finally started to share with people I was having a hard time, I felt relief. And I was able to let myself feel supported.
The same goes for when you’re feeling really great about life! Maybe you’re loving that you have more free time, you had an amazing time at a networking event, or you’ve settled into the charm your new home has to offer. It’s okay to share about the joy of those things too. The truth is, many of us feel guilty about them – but they’re an honest part of our experience.
To help you: When someone asks you how you’re feeling settling in, be honest. It can be as simple as “You know what? Today feels kinda hard.” So many people have gone through the same thing. You’ll give them an opportunity to realize they weren’t alone in their experience either.
2. Try not to blame all your frustrations on being an expat
There are many annoyances and frustrations that can come with technicalities of our new homes – paperwork, language barriers, or finding ingredients you need at a market!
But everyone is figuring out life, trying to do their best. This is true whether you’re an expat or a local. One of the most telling moments in my move was when I attended an event for expats and there happened to be a local Emirati woman there. She came up to me afterwards and shared, “You know, we’re feeling all of these same things I heard ladies today talk about. We have struggles just like expats do and I hope one day people can understand that it’s not just you.”
This really stuck with me. I think sometimes as soon as we plop that Expat label on ourselves we begin to think that we are having extra “special” struggles, that our life is especially hard. But try not to think of this experience you get to have this way. I was reminded that everyone has their own journey and struggle and my feelings of loneliness and missing family and friends were not unusual, it was just my version.
3. Reassess the expectations you have about yourself, your partner (if that applies) and about your new home
I dedicated an entire chapter on this in my book At Home Anywhere because it’s that important. Before your move, you had an entire picture in your mind about what life would be like. How you’d spend your time, how you’d feel, what you’d work on, and so on. After you’ve had some time to settle in, it’s helpful if you take stock of how things are going. This will help you see if anything that’s been bothering you is because of an unspoken expectation.
As an example – I moved to Dubai because of my husband. And I couldn’t figure out why I was getting so frustrated that we didn’t always have things planned to do on the weekends. I realized there was an unspoken expectation of him I’d created in my mind.
That because I “moved here for him” he would always want to make sure we were doing something in the time he had off. Rightfully so, after a long week of work, sometimes he wanted to relax at home! But we had never discussed this outright.
It wasn’t until I asked myself what I was expecting of him that I realized why I was getting upset. Finally, I could explain it to him calmly and constructively!
I also expected that I would easily transition into life here because I’d moved countries before. But as I crept up on months 7 and 8 in Dubai, I started to get frustrated with myself for not “having it all together yet”. My assumption that I’d be able to adjust the same way was unfair to myself.
To help you: If you notice you’re feeling frustrated but can’t pinpoint why – ask yourself if there’s anything you assumed your new life would be like that’s not happening yet. It might be time to cut yourself (or the city or your spouse) some slack.
The truth is, the journey of living away from the place you grew up, or your closest family and friends, is an ongoing journey of emotions. Expat emotions are real! The minute we feel like we’re finally settled, we miss a wedding or a baby shower, or someone is dealing with an illness.
Know that joy and sadness can exist in the same day, in the same minute, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. And there’s never anything wrong with reaching out to someone – including professional therapists or counsellors – to help you go through the journey supported.
You’re not alone!