The High, Highs and Low, Lows of Being an Expat

Exploring a foreign land is exciting.  New smells, new sights, and new sounds.  Along with these things, come new emotions.  And old ones.

The emotions come in waves much larger than we’re used to.  The highs are really high and the lows, extremely low.  And the time in-between, very short.  There’s little time to prepare.

The old emotions, which some of us think we’re going to escape by moving to a new place, don’t always vanish as we might hope.  Instead, they become temporarily hidden by our excitement and busy schedules preparing, and busy schedules settling.  We get distracted by soaking in all this new information of our new home.  We get distracted by our dreaming and reinforcements of our own fantasy of this new place being the one, true answer we needed.  And maybe it actually is.

Regardless, slowly and surely, the new becomes more familiar.  The distractions become quieter.  And life starts to become more routine again.  The high wears off and we’re hit hard, quickly.  Really hard, by an old emotion we haven’t seen in a long time.  One we thought wouldn’t be able to find us so far away.

It hits harder, maybe because we didn’t expect it.  Or maybe it hits hard because we don’t feel as stable in this new place.

Maybe it hits hard because we didn’t really know how to cope with it before leaving.  And now, here, we have fewer resources.  We haven’t been in our new place long enough to develop deep friendships.  Our friends back home may not understand our troubles.  Or maybe we’re too afraid to reach out to them because we want to keep feeding the image they have of us living the carefree, adventurous expat lifestyle.

We might be tempted to cope in ways we wouldn’t normally do.  Negotiate with our values a bit.  Make unnecessary exceptions to our personal rules.  In an attempt to return to the previous high, or, at least, the comfortable middle.

Don’t try to make a quick, easy escape.  It’s important to move towards those emotions, not away, because the longer we run, the heavier they hit us later on.  Sit with those emotions.  And, if it becomes unmanageable, or if you just want some extra support, find it:  family, friends, spouse, partner, professional help.

We moved to a new place for a reason.  To experience something new.  To grow personally.  To get to a new place in life.  Not to get deeper into unhealthy coping methods.  Or develop new ones.  Keep sight on why you’re here.

To do that though, takes courage.  It doesn’t come free.  And nothing worth doing comes easily.  It takes soaking in the highs, and hunkering down through the lows.

Leave a Reply