When you relocate, and have to say goodbye to your family and friends, you really hope that you will at least receive some visitors. You look forward to the chance to show them the new country you are living in, and the different life you have built for yourself.
But how does it feel for you, the Expat, after their visit? You’re the one who stays behind when your best friend, or mum and dad leave, often returning to the place that you used to call ‘home’? Maybe you feel down? Alone? Isolated? Perhaps even abandoned? The homesickness that you thought you had overcome, returns again.
Until recently, this was a typical cycle I’d go through each time visitors arrived:
Before visitors arrive
Before friends and family arrive there is the anticipation, the excitement. Someone is actually going to get on a plane, travelled hundreds of miles to see YOU!
I go into major planning mode, working out how to best use the time I have with them, the exciting places we will go, the food we will eat. I see it as an opportunity to do some of the more tourist type activities, or visit an expensive restaurant that I wouldn’t normally be able to justify going to. Maybe that’s just me?
Then they arrive
Once your visitors arrive, it’s a whirlwind. You want to savour every minute with them. Catch up on all the face to face time you have missed. Show them the best your new city has to offer. Share with them some of the activities and experiences you have enjoyed. Demonstrate to them that you are thriving, that you’re making the most of your expat experience. However, all to soon, it’s the last day with them. Your time is up. You’re driving them to the airport to say goodbye.
Your visitors have left. It’s just you again. The house feels quieter, a little bit empty. Bigger. You strip the beds, tidy the house, restock the fridge, but then what?
I was privileged to have not only family, but also many friends make the effort to visit me in Montreal. But when those visitors have left, the feeling of loneliness and isolation was sometimes overwhelming, especially in those early days of my expat experience.
6 ways to remain happy once your visitors go home
Imagine if you didn’t need to feel that way because you followed a few simple steps to get you back on track.
1. Allow yourself to be sad
Inevitably you miss your family and friends. Part of the expat life is coming to terms with being away from the people you are close to. Give yourself some time to mourn the fact that they aren’t there with you anymore, but don’t dwell on it for too long.
2. Plan in advance for when they’ve left
Once I know someone is visiting and the date they are going to leave, I plan something for the next day or so. It can be hard to get used to being on your own again, so I’ll arrange a meet up with a friend, or group of people to connect back in to my life here. Because it’s already planned, I do it, however low I’m feeling.
3. Take some time to recover and refocus
Hosting visitors can be exhilarating, but it’s also exhausting. Be aware of how tired you are once they have left. Give yourself the opportunity to have a day just to catch up. Once you’ve recovered, use this time to refocus on what is next for you. Before the next visitors arrive.
4. A visitor’s book
This was my mum in law’s idea, and I love it. I encourage all our visitors to write in it. It’s an excellent record of who has visited, when and what they enjoyed. I savour the moment when I sit down to read what visitors have written, reflect on the time I just had, and re-live the special times we shared together.
5. Develop a regular routine
When visitors come, routines get broken. It’s like a holiday. However I have worked hard to establish a strong weekly routine that works well for me and my family – a routine that gives me purpose and maintains a healthy balance between work, family and me time. While I love having visitors, I do miss this routine. After visitors leave, I welcome the opportunity to go to my yoga class, to respond to unanswered work emails, to attend my French class. To do the things that have become part of my expat life.
6. Make a plan to reconnect
Before they left, I used to agree with my visitors when I was going to connect with them next. I don’t mean just a text to say they’ve arrived, but a proper meaningful conversation, albeit virtually.
Next time your visitors leave, try these simple techniques and let me know how you get on. If I’ve left something out that you use to get back on track, let me know in the comments. It would be great to hear from you.
Kathryn Eade is a facilitator, coach and expert in change resilience. Though based in the UK she supports expats in different places around the world. She has lived and worked in Venezuela, Zimbabwe and most recently with her family in Canada. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryneade/