Playground at Hampstead Heath
Hey – I’m a kid at heart!

This is my third year and second country living abroad and it hasn’t gotten any easier. And in all fairness, I’ve had it easier than most when moving abroad.

In Martinique, I had a job already set up and a community of other assistants to socialize with.

When I arrived in London, I had a place to stay and I found a well-paid job within 6 weeks. According to many, I had “fallen on my feet”.

That doesn’t mean the experiences were without their difficulties. My second year in Martinique I was plagued with boredom and isolation that resulted in minor relationship issues being dramatized into bigger ones. We had to break up. Martinique and me, that is.

London has been fun and I already knew people living here besides Tom, but it still has its ups and downs.

All of this made me wonder – what do other people have difficulty with when they move abroad and how do they cope? For me, it’s ennui. I get bored easily, mostly when I’m not challenged, and that can lead me to a dark place.

If you’re living abroad, hopefully it will help you see that you’re not alone. If you’re considering moving to another country, maybe the answers will prepare you or help you see that the good outweighs the bad!

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“The hardest part about living in London was missing all of the big events back home” — Jen, The Trusted Traveller

Pimm's London, The Trusted Traveller
Jen’s first Pimm’s in sunshiney London

I was at an age where most of my friends were getting married and having babies. While I was gone I missed three weddings and two births, with one of the weddings that of a very close friend. It was tough but living abroad was something I’d always wanted to do and no matter when I had chose to do it, I would have missed out on something.

London has a very big expat community, especially other fellow Aussies and Kiwis. While I enjoyed meeting lots of Brits and Europeans during my time there, it was my fellow countrymen that helped me get over bouts of homesickness and joined me for some unforgettable experiences. Being away from your home and in a strange place makes you build bonds and friendships with others in similar circumstances that are a lot stronger than those you meet in familiar territory. I’ve never felt such a close sense of community than what I did in London.

There are not many cities in the world that are as incredibly diverse as London. Being able to go to different neighborhoods and experience different cultures cuisine was one of the best things about living in London. I felt like there was endless opportunity for me in terms of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. There is always a sense of excitement in the air in a big city like London and I loved walking the streets just looking up at the iconic landmarks and amazing architecture and thinking to myself how lucky I was living in a place like this. If it wasn’t for visa regulations, I’d be back living there in a heartbeat.

“I left a comfortable life in Cape Town, South Africa, where I had my own flat, belongings and a car, for a new adventure in the UK.” — Kasha, Lines of Escape

Kasha, Lines of Escape, Top of Monument, London
Kasha successfully climbing the Monument on her first full day in London

The hardest part about living in London is not being able to live on my own (Editor’s Note: Tell me about it!!). As a single person in Cape Town, I really enjoyed being able to have my own space to come home to after work. Due to London’s ridiculously expensive costs of living, it’s almost impossible to afford your own place, even if you earn a decent salary.

I think it just takes time for a new place to feel like home. Until then, I focused on the positives about my new homebase – and, simply, I took the time to explore it! For the first six months (and even now sometimes), I acted like a complete tourist in London. I went to the sights – touristy or otherwise – and, by doing that, managed to prolong the excitement of being in this massive, exciting new city.

I love that London has so much history; every street, statue and building seems to have some sort of interesting story attached to it. And while the city is definitely a historic one, I’ve never been in a place that has so much going on at any given time. No matter how quirky your interests are, there’ll definitely be something that caters for it somewhere in London!

My ultimate go-to cure for those moments of homesickness for Cape Town is catching the Underground to Waterloo station and then going for a long stroll along the South Bank. The sights, the river and the mix of locals, expats and residents always remind me that I’m living in one of the best cities in the world.

“I accepted that some friends you won’t talk to as much, and the ones who really want to keep in touch will” — Kirsten, Kirst over the World

Kirsten in Melbourne
Kirsten in Melbourne

The hardest part about living in Melbourne was keeping in touch with friends back home when you were leading such different lives. And for Australia, the time difference is really difficult with the UK. Another thing is the initial working out of little tricks you knew back home about a country – where to get the best priced type of food you want, working out a whole new system of transport, etc. I think this is something we can sometimes forget we know so well in our home countries, but when you’re in a different country you often have to adjust your mind to a new way of processing and working – to a new rhythm.

I coped by coming to accept that some friends you won’t talk to as much, and the ones who really want to keep in touch will – as will you with them. To adapt to a new rhythm of the place I considered it a good challenge, knowing I’ll soon get into the movement and have that happy feeling that I’ve worked it out (which I did – yay!). I asked locals what their advice was, I found out by trial and error sometimes (especially when it came to Melbourne trains and trams!). Practice and just getting out there and doing it is the best way to learn after all.

I stayed because it was the experience of a lifetime and even though I can get scared, I love throwing myself into something new. I became more confident, made lifelong friends and travelled around a country I’ve always admired.

“I moved to Berlin only for six months, but I realized that I wanted to stay more and lost the count of the days” — Ilana, Ilana on the Road

Berlin, a work in progress
Berlin, a work in progress

I spent a lot of time abroad, since being 14, and most probably will continue to do so for the time being. I’ve been an expat in Switzerland, US, Japan and for the last 5 years, I’ve lived in Berlin.

The hardest part about living in Berlin is learning the language. This is not necessarily because it is very difficult (and yes, it is), but because there are so many opportunities to work and use any other language (Spanish, French or English, to name a few) and survive honourably. When it comes to job searching, it took me a while to understand the relative lack of flexibility that requires a qualification for every position you want to apply. There is no German equivalent of the ‘American Dream’: you can’t start as a peddler and end up like a corporate CEO; in the best case scenario, you can retire as an over qualified top-peddler.

I am quite adaptable as a person, and I tried to move fast: enrolled to a German class, tried to attend as many German speaking events as possible, tried to use German at least for 10 minutes every day, reading newspapers or magazines. Still working on it…

I moved here only for six months, but at the end of the project I realized that I want to stay more and lost the count of the days. Berlin is an open city, with many cultural and historical opportunities, an affordable life and excellent travel connections with the rest of Europe and the world. Add to this an efficient health system and a bureaucratic system that once you understand and accept its stringencies you can live with.

“Combined with a bit of a fear of change, I found it quite devastating each time I moved on.” — Amanda, Not a Ballerina

Photo courtesy of melcwire
Photo courtesy of melcwire

Quite seriously, the hardest part about living abroad was leaving or moving on. In each country I had made wonderful new friends, learnt to really love the local lifestyle and just got used to that location.

The hardest part about living in Japan was the first few days when I understood nothing and couldn’t even figure out how to buy basic foods; I coped by making mistakes (and eating weird stuff) and bit by bit figuring out how everything worked there.

The hardest part about living in Slovakia was learning about communism and realising what different lives people my own age had had, when they were intrinsically so similar. I still find it extraordinarily unsettling to think that I have all this privilege (ability to travel, work abroad, etc.) just by the accident of the country I was born in. I will never really cope with that because it’s just unfair.

The hardest part about living in Germany was not breaking the rules! I lived in a particularly conservative apartment house in a quite conservative town and my elderly neighbours were not especially welcoming to a foreigner; if I broke the rules (e.g. washing my car on the wrong day, although I didn’t know the rules) they would leave me an anonymous note. I coped by trying to figure out more of the rules and to get a thicker skin and accept they were just like that and it wasn’t as malicious as I thought!

“All the things which make Paris great come at a high price.” — Andrea, Rear View Mirror

The Champs Elysee Photo courtesy of wallyg
The Champs Elysee
Photo courtesy of wallyg

The hardest part about living in Paris was managing my finances. The fantastic food, cafes, shopping and even going to the movies is not cheap. Not to mention the exorbitant cost of housing. Much of the fun of living in one of the greatest cities in the world is diminished when you have to live in a shoebox apartment and prepare simple meals at home.

Coping with the high cost of living wasn’t easy but I always tried to remind myself that I was fortunate to even be able to live in Paris when it’s an unattainable dream for so many people. I limited my spending by having a picnic by the Seine or in a park instead of eating in a restaurant and doing as the locals do and lingering in a cafe over one drink.

It goes without saying that Paris has many redeeming qualities, qualities which for me made the financial sacrifices worth it. Being able to walk for hours discovering new neighbourhoods and pretty parks, living in a city where every cinema shows world movies and independent films, and getting to speak what I believe to be the most beautiful language in the world pushed me to stay in Paris longer than I ever imagined.

“The hardest part about living abroad is not being able to engage in a more serious, long-lasting love relationship.” — João, Joao Leito Travel

Love abroad. Photo courtesy of kool_skatkat
Love abroad.
Photo courtesy of kool_skatkat

I’ve lived in 8 countries so far: Portugal, Morocco, Ukraine, Finland, Turkey, Kazakhstan, USA and Brazil.

The fact of not being able to engage in a more serious, long-last love relationship is one of the hardest parts about living abroad. Some girls understand that a guy from another country will one day leave so getting nice, serious girls out for dinner is harder. But possible.

Living away from your family is difficult as well. I guess that for me, being away from my family is okay. But I do understand that them being away from me can be harder. So consciously bearing the idea of someone that loves you, actually missing you like crazy is hard.

I mostly adapt to a country basically not making foreign friends. So I only make local friends, trying to fully integrate with the community. I also try to learn the local language, because I deeply believe it opens the doors to being more accept by the society. Also, my sister moved to Morocco near me back in 2009, so she loves to have me around!

The case of living in Morocco, where I still live, after I moved there, I built my own business and became even more attached to the country. Everything I own, everything I possess is in Morocco at the moment. Usually though, whether I go or stay is because of an inner feeling rather than logic or reason.

“Despite the craziness of Bangkok, there’s almost a serenity underlying it.” — Leyla, Women on the Road

Rural Thailand Photo courtesy of eprivass
Rural Thailand
Photo courtesy of eprivass

The hardest part about living in Thailand was the language.

Rather than stick to the expat community I decided I was going to try to integrate as much as I could. I took Thai lessons, learned how to speak enough to take care of basic needs (although the alphabet utterly eluded me), felt my way around the bus system, and made Thai friends – that was easy since I wanted to practice my Thai and they wanted to practice their English. I spent a lot of time visiting rural areas where expats were far less common and where I’d have to manage with or without the language.

Despite the craziness of Bangkok, there’s almost a serenity underlying it. The bustle is overarching but underneath it are tiny corners, almost villages within the city, were groups gather, chat, exchange gossip or eat together, a string of little communities that together make up the city. From one block to the next I felt I was leaving one village and entering the next, and each was different – food from Isan or the South, different faces, different clothing, waterways crossing roadways, refugees, street people, huts often at the foot of high rises in which the wealthy lived.

The diversity was both magnetic and repulsive, the disparity among inhabitants being hard to take at times but their varied origins and lifestyles a joy. After an initial two-month shock I settled in for what became two of the most agreeable years of my life. Bangkok was tech-savvy, people genuinely tried to help (I had arrived from France, which was quite the opposite), the food was extraordinary, the history intriguing and yes, the air unbreathable, the noise ear-shattering and the language incomprehensible, making up the effervescent city that is Bangkok.

“Family want to visit, but it’s like there is a mental block in regards to actually doing it…” — Susan, Vibrant Ireland

Susan's uncle and aunt finally make the trip
Susan’s uncle and aunt finally make the trip

The hardest about about living in Ireland is getting some family members to finally get a passport and visit! (Editor’s Note: RIGHT?! I lived in Martinique – the CARIBBEAN – and still no one came to visit me! 🙁 ) They want to visit, to see Ireland, but it is like there is a mental block in regards to actually doing it. I understand; even our extended family had never travelled, and I felt the same. I wanted to, but going abroad seemed rather insurmountable. When I finally did it, I realized travel to Europe doesn’t have to cost a fortune, it is do-able, and it is brilliant fun!

I moved by my own choice, and I never was ‘homesick’. The hardest thing was being very poor until I could finally get a job, especially in Ireland. But I really felt Ireland was my home and I just wouldn’t give up. At one point I had to return to the States and waitress for a month or two to get more money to live on in Ireland, but I returned as soon as I had enough to live very frugally on again.

I just LOVE Ireland. The sense of community, the more relaxed pace of life here, the interaction between people, the friendly and funny naturalness of chatting so many people have, the natural beauty, the history and creative arts… Even little things, like fewer loud TV ads, not as much crap added to foods (even same brand names–try Philly brand cream cheese in Ireland VS in in US and you’ll see – I got such a reverse culture shock one trip back to the States.)

I’ve been here about 18 years now and I’ve never ever wanted to live anywhere else. Ireland is a terrific base for travelling, and I always enjoy being home in Ireland, too.

 

9 thoughts on “How to Cope with Homesickness and Other Expat Difficulties”

  1. Hey,

    This was a great article, loved reading about other people’s experiences of living abroad. So inspirational.

    Thanks,

    Louise

  2. Thanks for including my story in this post Alyssa. I found it really interesting reading everyone’s experiences and can relate to something from each.

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