Years ago when we were a whole lot younger we moved to Jakarta. We chose Jakarta over a few other places because we had lived in Kuala Lumpur and loved it. For reasons unknown we thought they would be similar. Three months in we hated it. Admitting you hate where you are living can be hard because once you do you need to do something about it.
We were bored, lonely and just fed up. We made a plan to stick with it for another three months and if we still hated it after that then we would come up with an exit strategy. Since we were young and poor leaving before our contracts were up was a big deal.
We asked around a few colleagues about where to go and what to do on the weekend. One of them mentioned that Chili’s had free salsa and corn chips on a Friday night and there were often other expats there. We both kind of rolled our eyes and thought the Chili’s scene wasn’t really us. Eventually, we talked each other into going. That night was the start of one of our favourite years of all time.
We met three other young people around our age who were feeling the same as we were. Before we knew it we had friends all over the city and were partying ourselves to exhaustion. Granted not a lifestyle I would want to be living now but it is an expat life lesson that has stayed with me.
It can be really tough if you hate where you are living. You feel trapped and lonely. However, there are always some things you can do to try and pull yourself out of your funk. You often have to really work at it to change your circumstances. At a minimum, there are ways to make the most of your situation even if you feel like you have exhausted all your friend making avenues.
5 ways to improve life if you hate where you are living
1. Give it a really good go
Give it everything you have, at least for a while. Make a deal with yourself that you’re going to give it your best shot for a set period of time. This might mean actually writing down what you are going to do each week. Something to make sure you truly put yourself out there. Think of it like dating. You just need to keep going on those dreadful dates in the hope that eventually you will find Mr/Mrs Right.
If it all seems a bit overwhelming then put a time frame on it. Tell yourself you are going to make an all-out effort for two months and then do it. This can be even harder to do if you have been in a place for a while and have had friends and acquaintances leave so you feel like you are starting again.
Maybe you are the one who needs to set up something that appeals to you and might draw in different people you have not already crossed paths with. Think of diverse things like a Messy Kitchen or a Mahjong club. In the long term, it is usually worth the short term effort. If you keep putting yourself out there eventually you will find your tribe. Even if that ends up being a very small tribe it is better than no tribe.
2. Fake it until you make it
Get out and about and take lots of photos of your world. Post them on social media in spite of yourself. Talk about the things you like whenever you can. Give yourself little pep talks and force yourself to find some positives in your day. Stay away from expat forums where people like to complain about everything. Slowly your mentality will change and you will figure out the things that bring you at least a little joy.
You may never learn to love a place you hate but you might learn to like parts of it. It only takes one like-minded person, one fabulous coffee shop or a great exercise class to change the way you feel about where you live. You may not end up with a seismic shift in attitude but you might be able to generate enough joy from the small things that you end up feeling less isolated and alone.
3. Live in a bubble
This is only going to work for some people. People who like their own company and are happy being in their own space. Give yourself permission to retreat into your own sanctuary. It is not really a good long term solution but it can keep you going for a while. Sometimes it is nice to set yourself up in your own private bubble and pour your emotions into something just for you.
Schedule phone calls with friends around the world, catch up on Netflix, rewatch old movies you used to love, go for two-hour walks, learn yoga. You could find an online course or one in the community doing something you have always thought you would enjoy. Just focus on yourself. Set yourself a challenge to do something you have always wanted to do. Indulge yourself.
4. Plan escapes
Spend time daydreaming and planning escapes. Figure out some places you want to visit and then work on making them happen. It might be to meet up with friends from previous postings or family time away. It is amazing how much time can be taken up planning and booking the perfect escape.
Planning time away gives you something to focus on. Then you get the reward at the end of a great escape! Try for at least five days away every now and again. It feels like a real break and gives you time to reset your mindset to help keep you going once you get home.
If you truly hate it and can’t seem to find your way to enjoying anything about your situation then you always have the option of leaving. After a while, people are going to get sick of your sob story and this only exacerbates your situation. It might be tricky to break contact and you could face financial penalties but ultimately it is your life and you are the one responsible for your own happiness.
It may seem harsh to say ‘suck it up or leave’ but at the end of the day that is the reality. If you don’t want to break contact or can’t afford a financial hit than you will have to deal with it for a bit longer. Although at some point, to stop making the situation worse, you might have to start keeping your mouth shut. People get fed up of hearing other people moan and then you end up with even fewer people to support you through.
I don’t mean to leave you with such a grim ultimatum but eventually, that is what it might come down to. The best way to avoid getting to that point is to try all the other ideas 1 through 4 before you get too fed up. You might even have to go back and have a second crack at some of them.
I think the most important thing to remember is that you are responsible for your own happiness. If you hate where you are living there is lots of blame to go around. You can blame your frustrations on the country, the school, the mentality, the traffic, the food etc but only you have control over how you view and manage your own expectations. You ultimately made a choice to be where you are. If it was the wrong choice then it is up to you to either make the most of it or figure out an exit strategy.
Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.