How To Cope With Expat Blues

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Prior to coming back to Indonesia, I was reading a lot of expat blogs focusing on feelings of displacement, homesickness, sadness and other such expat woes. It helped a lot in bringing the size of the problem down to ordinary proportions. Knowing that what I was going through is normal for expats, and reading stories of those who have gone before me and flourished despite the homesickness & displacement put me in my place, so to speak.

I was also surprised to find out that even those who’ve moved from one Western country to another (for example, US to Australia) would still feel depressed! Truly, I couldn’t relate to this because my ‘problems’ seemed bigger in comparison. For instance, the language, the lack of things to do outside the home, the sleepy nature of this whole place, and quirky things such as still having to eat with your hands at the local KFC outlet, finding squat-type toilet bowls in the malls (scary if you’re pregnant and not used to it), wait staff at restaurants forgetting your order or delivering the dessert before everything else (annoying if you order ice cream or lava cake like we do), and people freely jumping queues at an international ferry port without regard to others or authority.

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live, noisy ‘gargoyles’ poised to raid our garbage bins

At this time though, I’m over it. It’s old news. My eyes have glazed over. This hot momma is moving on ….

I’ve since come to a peaceful acceptance of all these things as simply part and parcel of my environment. Getting irked over them is choosing to be ignorant. Besides, focusing on things you have no control over is a recipe for misery. Sure, I’m still homesick, I still feel uprooted and have even come to accept that I might never find belonging in this country.Β  That’s okay too. All the more reason to find ways to foster happiness any way possible.

Here’s what I’ve learned from all those blogs I was reading

In order to help cope with expat depression, we need to focus on these 3 things that are within our control –

  • create the future
  • create new routines
  • create happiness within

Did you notice that they all start with “create”? There’s so much power to that word, so much authority. And it doesn’t mince words, the ball is in our court.

happy minion

Create the future

I read somewhere – again, I should’ve bookmarked it! πŸ˜•- that the future is not something you step into, it is something you create. And if all we have, honey, is an internet connection, then we already have everything we need.

Is there something you want to learn? Do you want to become something in the future? Chances are, there’s an online course or video tutorials for that and an online community too. If you’re fortunate to be in a country that offers live classes (in a language you speak), then use that as a platform to socialize and make new friends as well. Let’s get busy learnin’ and let’s amaze ourselves a year from now!

I keep a list of things I want to get into. Here’s a short version of it. I also have becoming IELTS certified, becoming a book editor and becoming a daycare owner – and I just keep adding more (I’ll narrow the choices down later). I’ve put all the major ones on hold though because of the (coming) new baby but once conditions become conducive, I’m going to tackle that list with gusto πŸ‘πŸ˜ƒ

Create New Routines

Something about having routines that involve as much of our new environment as possible helps to anchor us to the new place.

I have to admit though that this is somewhat of a challenge for me because I haven’t found anything worthwhile outside of the home to ‘latch’ onto. But examples would include identifying a new favorite coffee shop you could visit every morning or twice a week for some ‘me time’, a restaurant you go to for dinners with your husband every Friday night, maybe a park to jog in, a church to hear service at, a library or hobby outlet to lift your spirits … Go out and explore. Let’s find those nooks and claim them!

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Create Happiness Within

This one is what I’m all about at the moment πŸ€— This is very easy to do and has the most impact, in my opinion. Simply ask yourself what would make you happy and do that. Or buy it. Like in my case, it’s real books that I can hold and inhale the smell of. I have to buy them online because there are no English books here, so buy them online I do.

It could just be as simple as creating a mood boosting morning routine. A personal treatΒ  every month to look forward to. Dance exercise videos. Throw pillows & curtains in favorite colors. Blogging. Starting a new hobby.

I’ve begun a project at home of surrounding myself with things that, in the words of Marie Kondo, spark joy. I tend to plants and see them bloom (or not!) under my care. I’ve begun buying stuff that help me cook better because -and this is new to me- there is satisfaction in preparing a good, well-thought out meal.

My goal at the moment is to make my my house a place I’d never want to leave πŸ˜€ I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve that but the process sure is fun and worthwhile.

~~ oOo ~~

Give me some advice: Are you an expat suffering or have suffered from expat blues? What one or two things can you do right now to lift your spirits up? What have you done to create happiness away from your home country?

 

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17 comments

  1. A few years back I reacted negatively, but I don’t think I got depressed. I simply became irritated with a few things like peoples’ concept of personal space which in turn made me not want to go shopping or go anywhere. I got over it by turning boring things like waiting in line into an exercise in patience. I’d actually make waiting in line a weekly goal. It helped me to get used to having strangers nearer to me than I was used to and not getting flustered about it. It still irks me but it is no longer an “obsession” or something that disrupts my calmness. I can talk to a cashier without seeming upset while another customer is invading my American personal space. In America personal space has a perimeter of maybe miles in comparison to what it is here.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good on you for turning an annoying thing to your benefit. That’s exactly the shift in focus that keeps situations you can’t control from stealing your joy πŸ™‚

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I only have limited experience, which didn’t end well. I tried speaking a different language but couldn’t afford lessons, the natives didn’t understand my efforts. The best thing I did was join a library where there was a small selection of English books, and borrowing a book doesn’t require much, and now, no spoken language. I enjoyed visiting markets , museums and art galleries the best, but on the whole was glad when my husband decided he didn’t like the job he had and we came home. Still I have the knowledge that I tried.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aww, going home must’ve felt awesome 😊 Learning to speak the local language can be frustrating, especially if the locals don’t even bother to slow down when they’re talking to you, and there you are all flustered & confused, and all you actually needed was a cup of coffee on the rare occasion that you did venture out of the house … I’m projecting πŸ˜† 😌 But I agree, you have to keep trying and eventually, you’ll find something.

      Thanks so much for sharing πŸ’–

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve never been an ex-pat, but I have moved a LOT. And, your advice is great for anyone moving to a new community. We can’t always (or even, very often) control our circumstances, but we can always “create” our attitude and reactions to difficulties. Thanks for your excellent post.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I can’t say I’ve ever really experienced that, and I’ve been an expat for more years (in two different countries) than I’ve lived in my native country by now. Sure, there’s been things and places I’ve missed from time to time, but I’ve never been homesick in that regard. I actually felt more homesick for Denmark when I left there, than I ever have the Netherlands. But then, I think I’m more the exception than the rule in that regard πŸ˜‰

    I get the frustration about language, though. When I first moved to DK, I moved in with my (now ex) boyfriend and his parents. His mom spoke English, so no issues there, but his dad spoke only Danish. I spoke none. Boyfriend was in school fulltime, and she worked full time while the dad was home. With me. Quite literally the only foreign word he knew was “shit”. Fun times. Worked out in the end, though. They happened to know a guy who had been a teacher once upon a time and was now retired. He was kind enough to give me lessons one-on-one.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love this peace,
    It’s honest, and clear, but you’ve also shared what has helped you – that’s an incredible part that most of us forget: the growth.

    I moved from my native country in Canada to the UK just over 2 years ago. I also experienced some serious expat blues when I first arrived as result of both seasonal depression and having had an image that I’d be following my dream to being a teacher, and realising this dream wasn’t actually what I thought it would be.

    It’s tough, and being away from simple pleasures can be sad, but the internet is an incredible thing, as you’ve noted it’s allowed us to stay connected AND explore passions to helps us CREATE our future.
    Love this x

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have lived for 2 years in Singapore and 7 years in Australia. I am a new Zealander myself. I was lucky that English is spoken in both countries. I found that you have to leave your house to have more fun. If the shopkeepers don’t understand English well then hand gestures etc can usually help. I attended a church in Singapore and met people that way, went shopping, checked out zoos, parks etc. Books I could get in both places but as you say you can get them online now.
    Find out what will upset the locals and try not to do it. Be as nice as you can be. Learn from local people that have enough English to help at the start. Involvement is better than isolation. Asian people love babies so you are ahead there.It is different from home; check the differences out and grow to be a person with more knowledge of the world than your friends that stayed at home.

    Liked by 2 people

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