Living life as an expat is nothing short of riding a rollercoaster; however, it is definitely an emotional one, 24 hours a day 7 days a week! While some days can be full of fun, adventure and excitement, others may get you downright low and depressed. Things are bound to get more challenging in a number of ways if you have made taken the decision to move alone. Being on your own helps you become more independent and self-sufficient but at the same time, it could also make you feel extremely lonely. Expat loneliness as a phenomenon is becoming more common among people of all ages.Almost everyone experiences the sensation of being isolated when they are living or working overseas. This normally happens after the transition period is complete and you are finally settling into your new life. The first few days of relocation are usually hectic, taken up by learning a new language, familiarizing yourself with a different culture, looking for a place to live and exploring your home. In fact, you probably won’t have much time to miss your old life, family and friends for the initial weeks. However, be prepared to experience a bout of homesickness once the dust settles, as a result of being out of your comfort zone and without any of the familiar faces around you. Culture shock may aggravate matters to a great extent.
A number of people find it difficult to make friends, even in their home countries. For them, forming social connections outside of work or school in a foreign land may feel like a herculean task. Many people are therefore prone to loneliness and depression when they move overseas. Many new immigrants try to fill the void of family and friends by interacting with new people around them but this helps only for a while. The absence of their loved ones eventually reduces their ability to deal with the everyday problems that come their way, problems they may have easily taken care of had they been back home.
Fortunately, there several ways in which you can overcome the hurdle of solitude. The first step is for you to stay in regular contact with your loved ones back home, so that you don’t feel completely cut off from them. It is also important for you to making socializing a priority. Take the first step by inviting your colleagues, neighbors and other acquaintances out for a cup of coffee. Let them know that you are new to their country and would appreciate their company as you explore the place. Seek tips on how you can settle in with more ease.
Expats all over the world understand how difficult it can be for a first timer in an alien land and many of them go out of their way to help newcomers feel more at home, not just for the initial period but throughout their stay. Today, you will find thousands of websites and forums which have been designed specifically for expats in and from certain nations. Apart from offering basic advice and help, a number of these sites actually organize social events for residents, through which people can connect with one another. These resources are a great way to beat the feeling of homesickness.
Social media has taken interaction to another level in this day and age. It has made the world a smaller place by reducing the distance between people, regardless of which continent they live in. There are numerous video and audio chat applications through which you can keep in touch with people from any country, without racking up a huge phone bill. You can share an unlimited number of text messages, photographs, audio clips and even videos with as many people as you like, all over the world. Not only can you use these platforms to maintain old ties, you could actually make new acquaintances too.
In addition to setting up a personal support system, you may want to consider seeking help from qualified and experienced professionals. Many expats are now turning towards counseling to cope with the absence of their close ones. While some of them just need someone to listen, many are actually looking for advice on how they can make their situation better.
Therapy sessions are no longer as difficult to access as they once used to be. It now isn’t necessary for you to take an appointment several weeks in advance, travel to far-off facilities and pay hundreds of dollars per hour. Online and telephone counseling have made things easier for those who are in need of help. Many therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists have come together to provide online, region sensitive cross-cultural care for the international expat community worldwide. Their expertise includes helping people deal with culture shock, loneliness, depression, stress, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem, family concerns, parenting issues, marriage problems, and relationship trauma.
Telephone counselling can be best described as a professional relationship between a therapist and a client, where they talk to each other over the phone instead of meeting up in person. Most reputed counselors provide their customers with a designated telephone number that they need to call at a pre-arranged time. Like with face-to-face sessions, telephone therapy usually takes place every week, at the same time and on the same day. However, a majority of counselors offer some level of flexibility to their new clients.
No matter how busy you schedule is or where you are located, you could feel a whole lot better just by talking to an expert for a few minutes once a week. This could be over a phone call, a web chat or a video chat. The advantage of this service is that many of the specialists have been expats themselves and are therefore multi-lingual, and also understanding of the issues involved. To access an exhaustive list of such professionals, along with their description, location, areas of expertise & contact details, log on to the International Therapist Directory. You may be able to get in touch with a therapist from your home country, or in the place you’re currently living. Telephone counseling is ideal for those who:
• Have a busy lifestyle with little time for themselves
• Work extended hours and tend to be exhausted after that
• Travel a lot and find it difficult to stick to a schedule of regular face-to-face sessions
• Live in remote areas such as small towns, which have limited services for expats
• Would like to keep their sessions a secret from others
• Have mobility restrictions
• Are apprehensive about counseling and would like to give it a try
• Feel too depressed to step out of the house
• Do not speak the local language
• Simply prefer talking to someone over the phone, instead of face-to-face
Several people argue that when it comes to counseling, online and telephone services are not likely to be as effective as personal sessions; however, this isn’t entirely true. A study conducted by Wagner, Horn and Maercker in 2013 shows that people have found online therapy just as effective as a personal session. Similarly, a report published in the year 2006 by Reese on “The Attractiveness of Telephone Counseling: An Empirical Investigation of Client Perceptions” in the Journal of Counseling & Development showed that 58% of the people who had received both personal and telephone counselling, found the latter more beneficial.
Some may prefer to meet their counselors and talk to them face-to-face but a number of people actually find it a lot easier to speak with someone they have not met. The element of anonymity and privacy helps them to open up. Of course, this is only true if you work with a counsellor that is qualified, well-experienced and licensed to conduct sessions over the phone or online. However, experts always encourage patients to make sure that their counsellors can hear their voice, rather than having a text-based conversation. This not only protects your privacy (as there are no transcripts) but also keeps them more tuned into your feelings.
Some of the other advantages of telephone counselling for expats include:
• Flexibility: A majority of the services are operational round the clock to cover all the time zones and this allows you to speak with an expert after work or even on weekends. You will not need to take time off from work for these sessions.
• Easy accessibility: No matter which part of the world you are in, your counsellor will be just a phone call or a click away. This means no waiting hours for your turn. Of course, do keep in mind that most professionals prefer to follow a schedule.
• Convenience: Finding good counseling services is nearly impossible in the smaller towns and villages. Many people spend hours travelling to the nearest major city, just to consult a specialist. You don’t even have to worry about leaving the comfort of your home once you opt for an online counselor.
Getting started with telephone counseling is a relatively easy and straightforward process. Below are the usual steps to follow before, during and after your call:
• First, get in touch with the professional of your choice by sending them an email or text message, to set up an initial consultation session. Clarify the cost of consultation as well as the transfer terms beforehand and make sure that you use a secure mode. In all probability, you will be asked to make a payment in advance.
• Ensure that you are in an area with good network for an undisturbed connection during your call. Remember that you will probably be on that call for an hour so try to choose a comfortable environment. You may also want to use a hands-free device to avoid holding the phone to your ear for an hour.
• During your call, discuss what you feel like and seek clarification on how the counselor plans to help you going forth. Most of them are happy to answer questions about themselves and their credentials too.
• Once the session is over, ask yourself if you were comfortable with that therapist and would like to continue receiving counselling in such a manner. You may only be sure (either way) after a couple of calls or online interactions.
Do keep in mind that telephone counseling is not the ideal solution for everyone and while some people have benefitted immensely from it, others may find it only marginally useful. It is therefore best to consider other options that can also help you combat loneliness. Below are a few other suggestions that may help you cope with the move to a foreign country.
• Join any kind of association that suits your interests and enables you to meet likeminded people. This could be a fitness center, a sports club, or even a library or reading group. If you cannot find anything you like, use the internet and social media to create such a forum in your area.
• Enroll yourself in at least one class, through which you can learn about the culture of the new place and interact with the locals. A language class is the most obvious choice, but it is not the only one. Cooking classes are a great way to familiarize yourself with the local cuisine and at the same time, you may pick up a valuable skill.
• Maintain a diary so that you can convert your thoughts and feelings into words. Alternatively, you could use poetry, art, music or any other way to express yourself. This has been recommended by therapists for years and it is still an effective way to deal with depression, stress and anxiety.
• Get comfortable with yourself and learn to enjoy your own company. This will definitely be a challenge for you if you are an extrovert. However, maintain a healthy balance of being on your own and having people around, even in your personal space.