I thought moving abroad would be an amazing opportunity to explore what I wanted to do with my life. I imagined that breaking out of the monotonous routine I’d spent over a decade building since college would spark the creativity and inspiration to power the next phase of my life.
It does not take long, looking at glossy, idealized social media posts extolling the virtues of the #expatlife, before it also becomes clear that living abroad comes with its own set of issues. A quick search of the term “trailing spouse” brings up several references to the depression, loneliness, and loss of identity and self worth that many (mostly) women experience when leaving a life and career behind to follow a spouse to a new country for their job.
What actually happens?
After moving, I learned that the sheen and novelty can wear off without warning making room for negative thoughts to creep in if you aren’t careful. With the extra time I had after attending to the needs of my husband and toddlers, I explored neighborhoods, adopted new hobbies and soaked up my new surroundings. Though, in other ways, it highlighted why structure and purpose can be so crucial. I felt unsettled in the knowledge that it wasn’t clear to me how I should be spending my time. How could I not use this time to do something extraordinary? When would I know what that thing was? I was quickly learning that motivation and inspiration do not spring eternal quite like hope.
Let me explain…
Digging into expat life
When I first moved, I was completely overwhelmed. Other trailing spouses I met had figured out how to carve out careers teaching fitness classes, working as lifestyle consultants and building mini empires from their crafting talents. Their grinds were inspiring, but it left me wondering how useful my skills truly were. Not that I had time to dwell on that. I was supposed to use my time to discover hidden and uncultivated talent in order to pursue my true calling – whatever that was supposed to be. I started some new hobbies, including this blog, but I realized that finding a new purpose wasn’t going to be that simple.
I have learned so much more about myself than I anticipated over the last few years. Living as an expat may not be for everyone, and you may have more moments that feel like comedic tragedy than cinematic perfection. However, I think there are three important things that can make expat life incredible for anyone making the decision to live abroad for the first time.
Moving abroad for the first time? Don’t forget these 3 things.
1) Be careful what you wish for. Living as an expat can be attractive for the adventure and discovery that comes with learning about a new land and culture. It can also be isolating to pick up and move away from many of the people you care about most. Being there for your friends and family isn’t as easy as it once was and there will be moments when you want to connect but time zones make it inconvenient. Be prepared for the, joy and the pain, the sunshine and the rain because, in the wise words of cookout mainstays Frankie Beverly and Maze, “they’re both one in the same.”
2) Make the most of your opportunities. Unless you are moving for a job, there will be a lot of free time. This is especially true if you end up with a visa that prohibits you from working. However, that does not have to be a setback. Lean into the new opportunities that a move abroad may present to you – even when it is unclear what will come of it. Some of the most meaningful experiences and friendships I have developed over the last few years have come from simply committing to opportunities presented to me.
3) Stay open-minded. Not all expats find themselves living in the city of their dreams. Regardless, it is important to remain open to the possibilities a new place can offer. It is certainly easier said than done, but small steps can reap great rewards. Instead of deciding that you hate everything about your adopted home, make a point to find one thing you enjoy. Find other expats to commiserate with, and also look for ways to connect to the local community like taking language classes. Fill your time with new challenges. It might be the thing that unlocks a new place for you.
What resources have you found to help ease into expat life?