Realities of Expat Life: Waking From the Dream
Contributing Author: Vittoria Barbara
The realities of expat life can be a far cry from the concept some people have about this journey. Expat life challenges are plentiful and can cause even the most seasoned expat or traveler to doubt the experience altogether. Learn from Vittoria Barbara as she shares her extensive expat experience - and some of the hardships it has presented.
When people say the word ‘expat’ they conjure up all sorts of imagery and narratives about who you are and how you live.
They imagine you living in luxurious compounds, or quirky little apartments with all the mod cons, beautiful furniture, cases of expensive liquor and a ridiculous amount of leisure time (especially if you are the partner of the one who took a contract overseas).
And that may well be the case for many expats living and working around the globe right at this moment.
But there is one thing that I have found from my expat life in reality, and it is that being an expat can be exceptionally lonely, emotionally draining and physically taxing. No matter what your expat life looks like, every time you move to a new country you start from the very beginning and that takes a lot of energy both physically and mentally.
Realities of Expat Life
Taking the Plunge
Expat life realities hit everyone at different stages in the experience. When you take that first gut-wrenching, dizzying step to move to another country, you don’t really comprehend the level of stress you will be under as you start your new life abroad.
I am not saying that it isn’t beautiful and exciting and good scary, because it is all those things and more.
The fact that we are on this expat journey shows that we are motivated by a sense of adventure and an eagerness to learn more about the world in which we live, but these emotions are also intersected by intense moments of anxiety and loneliness which can be exacerbated by external stressors out of our control.
For me, even though there were large expat communities in all the countries in which I lived, I would often feel very lonely.
I was the one at home while my partner was at work socializing with colleagues, so I felt very much out of the loop and on the fringes of the expat community.
Let’s face it, as you get older it becomes increasingly harder to make friends. It’s not like when you were a child and you could just run up to someone in the playground and say, “Hey, you wanna be my friend? OK, let’s go on the slippery dip!”
As an adult, there is this strange friendship dance where it almost feels like you are about to ask them on a date! I will never get used to that. It takes a lot of energy to build up your friendship base again and there are moments I am like … nope I am not investing time in this friendship and there are other times when I have invested too much and been burnt.
Live and learn I guess.
Expat Life Realities
It Gets Lonely
The reality of expat life is that it gets lonely. How do I fight the loneliness?
In short … I don’t.
I accept that I am here with my family, in a foreign country with no real support network. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are days when I am crying like a baby in the shower so my kids don’t hear me thinking “What the hell are we doing here, why are we here and why has no one asked me out for a damn curry?”
My other grounding rock in those moments of free-fall is family and friends back home. All I have to say is thank God for the internet because I think I would be lost if I couldn’t speak with my family and friends.
We have to realize that not everything is going to be perfect, that even though we are living in an amazing country abroad we still have to do the washing, cleaning, paying the bills, do the school run and all those totally mundane things that we did back home.
Apparently, there’s no escaping it. Who knew!
All I am saying is: Be prepared and have a really good sense of humor.
Oh, and a well-stocked liquor cabinet.