The expatriate life has its trials and tribulations. There are some wonderful advantages to it all, which normally revolve around the lucrative salaries that are offered, and the opportunity of travelling to countries that many people will never see in their lifetimes, and the opportunity to gain international work experience. There is also the feeling of new beginnings, the excitement of a new life and what can be beautiful surroundings. However there is also the down side of it, which anybody who has had to uproot their lives, and sometimes their entire family’s lives, in order to move abroad, will have experienced, and that is the feeling of isolation. The feeling of being a “foreigner”. Although this feeling of not quite belonging, will as the months and first years go by, become less encompassing, it may never quite leave you.

The initial hurdles of finding your way around, adjusting to a new home, a new lifestyle, to a new culture, often also a new language, new currencies, and making new friends, will with time become easier. But as things become more familiar and you start forming some sort of network around you, quite often at the back of your mind, you have this feeling of “what am I missing out on?”

As time passes, you can so often stop thinking about how long you have been in your new life, and rather start feeling the loss of how long you have been gone, from your old life. You start to realise that life back home has gone on without you. That the people who were such integral parts of your life, and that you hold so dear to your heart, are getting on with their lives. This can leave you feeling isolated, and as though you are being forgotten. This feeling of missing out, on birthdays, weddings, holidays etc. often intensifies with time, and gets harder not easier. Having to start afresh, and rebuild an entire life can be exciting, but at the same time can create incredible anxiety and make you feel very alone. And even for those who have been expatriates for years, they can still feel as though they are foreigners, and don’t truly belong. For those living abroad for extended periods, it is hard not to spend some of your time longing for the life you had before, and counting the days down to when you can go back and visit, even if it’s just for a few weeks, where you can become the person you were before you moved.

When you live abroad, you can feel as though you will always be a foreigner. There can be a part of you that yearns for your home country, for your old familiar life, and there will be times where you lie awake at night and yearn for the life you had before, and for those you hold dear to you, that you have had to leave behind.

The reality is that there are some expatriates that find that after the novelty has worn off, they have some regret having moved, but have often given up so much in the process that it’s hard to go back in time, and they are forced to stay put and make the most of the situation.

It is always such a huge decision to make, and until you have experienced living in a new country, you are never going to know how you are going to adjust, or even if you are going to adjust. The only way to really know is to try it. However if you have the means before making this life changing decision, try to visit the country first, and get some idea about what you are going to be letting yourself in for, before making the move. Visiting a country where you stay in a hotel, and eat in restaurants, and spend your time sightseeing, is not the same as living in a country. Ideally you need to try to spend some time in the country, where you throw off any idea of being on holiday, and spend some time in the local community, living like a local, doing your own shopping and cooking, and making time to get to know the people, the culture and the lifestyle.

There are expatriates who love their new country and life, and don’t ever really look back with regrets, but for many it’s hard, often way harder than you would ever have imagined. So always do your homework very carefully, weigh up the pros and cons, because regardless of whether you are going to love or hate your new life, it is going to be a life changing event.

The expatriate life is not for sissies, you have to be resilient, and you have to be able to bounce back, when things are not going well. So if you are able to throw caution to the wind and want to have the opportunity of living in a different country, then make the move.

However before doing so, you need to be honest with yourself, and why you are considering the move. You cannot take the job if it is just going to be about the money. You need to be happy. You have got to have a yearning to explore new places and experience different cultures. Being an expatriate has its advantages, but it can cause a lot of heartache, it is an adventure and is not for the faint hearted. It will give you the opportunity to see the world, and you will embark on a journey of tremendous self-discovery in the process, but you need to think very carefully about what is motivating you to make the move first, and it does need to be for the right reasons.

11 Responses to “Life as a mining expatriate, it is not all sugar and spice”

  1. Bridget Knight-Mensah

    Though i do not have experience in the technical field but a degree degree in the social sciences and would like to take a new challenge in the minining field. Thank you Susan for this elaborate explanation of one’s expectation in the mining field.It is important to know the heddles ahead to be able to plan and organise appropriately before a step is taken in reaching for success in life.I will alert a friend who want to be with your company to read this before applying, very necessary.
    Thank You.

  2. S.M.Nagdeve

    I agree with this. When you are Bachelor,somehow you can manage, but if you are married and family is behind your native country , it becomes difficult.

  3. alemayehu guyassa

    It is a wonderful comment one can see that the commentator is aknowledgable person of high caliber. Thank you.

  4. Geologist 6+ expart

    Thanks Susan.What an article.What you have outlined are all facts and true.I have more than six years and I have seen/I am seeing everything you have mentioned.Just to add on,from my findings,>80% expats working in the mining industry are either divorced,separeted,single,etc!!One needs to have a strong marriage before trying ‘this game’

  5. Mika

    Having travelled my entire childhood with parents in expat contracts, and now embarking on my own international career, I can fully endorse Susan’s observations of living as an expatriate in these industries. Most of the expats I am in contact with are struggling with separated families/divorce, cultural issues, and homesickness. I would, however, suggest that much of this comes down to a state of mind. If you are taking on an expat role for the first time, give yourself 6 months and then review your situation. Give yourself a deadline to make a decision to stay in this lifestyle, or to return to a more preferred way of life in your home country. But whatever you decide, do it with a positive and energetic force of mind. It is the only way to be happy and stay sane in these situations! Remind yourself (when things are not going as well as you would have hoped) that you did make this decision for yourself, and you just need to get yourself across the desert until you can rest at the next oasis. Even the Sahara can be traversed if you really want to…

  6. Osvaldo

    I agree with you in many issues.

    I have been expatriate for 34 years.
    You have to learn the languages where you go, identify with their culture, and you will be fine

  7. Gonzalo

    Thanks Susan, excellent article! you perfectly explain the situation of our particulate life style.

    … careful with the decisions, because after some years it is possible to feel as an expatriate in your born country.

  8. John Berry

    Great article, Susan. I’m 71 now, and regard myself as a citizen of the world. I first left my home country (UK) at age 18 to spend 6 years as a student in the USA. Returned, found no work at home, and went off to Zambia for 6 years. Then 2 horrible years in the UK as a post-grad student with a very sick wife, during the years that the Miners’ Union was trying to destroy the country. Returned to USA, and have been based here ever since, but with assignments of various (relatively short) lengths in Australia, Japan, India, Korea, Chile, Brasil, etc. My first (American) wife died, and thank goodness we were in her home country for her long final illness. My second wife is Swedish, has lived in the USA 40 years and never given up her Swedish citizenship. We have two VERY American children and one grandchild.

    I could never go back to live in the UK, and I can’t stand American politics. I am reluctant to get involved politically here, because this is the true home of “If you don’t like it, go back where you came from.” We are aware that my wife, though she is a legal resident, is not fully protected by American laws. We would both probably like to live out our days in Sweden, but our American children would not be able to move there.

    All that seems very negative, but we have a great life – we have a wide and wonderful circle of friends, we have kept in touch with family in Sweden, the UK and Australia, we have both had very satisfying careers, and now that we are retired we travel widely. We felt more isolated in our early years here, when it was too expensive to phone “home” and there was no internet, and for years traveling back to the UK was financially impossible. Now travel is relatively cheap, we have Skype and Facebook, and staying in touch is much easier.

    I cannot understand the despair of exile expressed by writers from Ovid up to Thomas Wolfe. When you become an expat you never know whether you will ever be able to go “home”. When know you might not be able to go home you build your own network and interests, learn the language and customs, etc., of the country you are in. I know that in a fundamental way I will never be American, and sometimes I fail to understand the locals at all (e.g. guns, the death penalty, American football), but that doesn’t stop me enjoying the company of my friends and colleagues.

  9. Rob Reid

    Excellent article – after having worked overseas for 5 years I understand the joint foreigner feeling both overseas and back here in Aust. Gave up the expat role 4 years ago to work back home on a FIFO roster have not looked back.

  10. Peter

    Well at least an expatriate gets a good salary and experience. Having lived in 4 countries by the time I was 11, I had no choice. My father struggled to support us, once being a coal miner in Belgium after fleeing the inevitability of what the iron curtain would provide.

    It is a matter of choice and accepting the consequences. If you choose you should also choose to overcome all adversities. I had no choice yet overcame my adversities by simply concentrating in the the positives of my situation.

  11. Zohair Cader

    Thanks Susan, really this article is more benefit for me. As a Post Graduate student it’s more relevant to my area of study. Excellent contribution.


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