Not everyone loves living overseas and even people who do will still find a few difficulties from time to time.
These are the top 5 things I found most difficult:
1. Understanding that his friends are not necessarily my friends
I hear a lot of expats complain that they have no network or find it difficult to make friends. When I first moved to the UK I had a ready-made group of friends in my boyfriend’s social group. Sort of.
They were people to hang out with and I sometimes did things on my own with them, but I remember once when everyone was well into an evening at the pub a woman in this group turned to me and complained that my boyfriend was so much more fun before I moved over.She said it in that way some people have of feeling they have bestowed a favour on you by opening up and sharing their feelings, and yet you can’t help but feel that you could have done without this privileged information. They weren’t my friends, they were his.
Once I developed my life in the UK I made friends through my work and eventually I made friends at the school gate and most recently through online networks. Hurrah for the Internet!
2. Empathy from my partner
Or maybe it would be fairer if I title this one, “Better communication with my partner”.
I think because I moved to the UK to be with a UK native rather than moving with a fellow expat, another difficulty I had was that my partner didn’t understand what I was going through. I loved the UK, and I loved the adventure, but I was homesick and I was experiencing culture shock, which he interpreted as a difficult personality and offered no help or comfort other than exasperation—which of course, made everything so much worse.
I didn’t know much about culture shock then so I started believing it too, that I lacked emotional resilience. That was a dark time.
I think knowing other expats would have helped me on this one.
3. Lack of money to buffer the difficulties
Well, we can blame lack of money on a lot of difficulties, not just expat issues!
I think being too poor to pay for airline tickets to visit home for major family events such as weddings and funerals as well as Christmas and Thanksgiving, contributed to my homesickness and sense of isolation.
Other expats, I realise, have moved to escape those things so other people may not share that one!
4. Difficulty making friends with other expats
Sounds weird, right? The very people I have a lot in common with I found most difficult to make friends with. The reason was simple: I didn’t know how soon I’d say goodbye to them again. It is hard to invest a lot of emotional energy into developing a relationship with the foreknowledge that the other person would be moving on soon.
As I got older and as the Internet got better I realised one can continue relationships in different ways no matter where we live. Hurrah again for the Internet and its services to expats everywhere!
5. Glorifying home
Because I didn’t get home very often (the longest I went without visiting home was about 5 years), and because I was so homesick, I began to forget the bad things about home. I still loved living in the UK but I started glorifying my home so much that it became a bit ridiculous. That makes coping with homesickness and trying to make a life in the new country much more difficult.
I’m past that now, partly because I’m aware of the tendency and so I make an effort to maintain balance, partly because I can get home a bit more frequently and see it for what it really is (a cool place, but with flaws like any place) and partly because of the internet where I can follow blogs from all over, including home.
What about you?
I’ve heard of other difficulties expats have that I haven’t experienced, such as feeling anger and resentment towards their partners because it’s their partner’s fault that they’re there going through all that misery.
I’ve also been on some expat forums and seen some really angry expats who take their feelings out on the host culture. They hate everything about it, the whole system is rotten, the people are mean, etc. I feel really sad for these people, because they must be so supremely unhappy.
I know some really struggle with the language or a sense of total confusion when everyone is talking about cultural references, or experience a clash of parenting styles.
What about you, what have been the most difficult things for you as an expat? And have you found any solutions for them?
Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there!
Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.