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.