A few months ago in an expat group I follow on Facebook, an American woman living in France bravely posted about her struggles with depression and anxiety ever since moving here.
She was looking for support and probably thought a few people would do their best to help, but to everyone’s surprise, over 100 people in the group replied with their advice, words of support, and their own personal stories of experiencing the same thing. No trolls! No jackass comments!
Their words of encouragement and willingness to lend a hand were really touching and reassured all of us that we’re not alone and that kind people out there genuinely do want to help. The woman who posted about her struggles encouraged me to write this post, so to that end, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the dark side of expat life that so many foreigners abroad are afraid to speak up about.
Expat depression: Dark side of expat life in France (and where to turn for help)
This isn’t a fluffy feel-good post on how life in France is OMGAMAZING 24/7. Nowhere is perfect day in and day out and that’s the truth. This is a post about mental health. I don’t think it does the expat community any favors by sweeping this extremely important topic under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. So let’s talk.
Let me ask you a question. Do you tend to react positively or negatively to the more challenging things in life? 2017 Diane is going to choose the positive option 98% of the time because if it’s in my control, I’m going to see the glass half full. Mentally I feel better choosing this option and others perceive us more positively as well.
If you’ve been here awhile or know me in person, you know I love the life I’ve created abroad 98% of the time, but life has a habit of getting in the way every now and then.
It’s OK to talk about the struggles we face and expat depression.
Talking about them doesn’t mean we’re being negative; it means we’re just going through life. The hard times are more bearable with a caring support system and people to turn to. I also mention France specifically in this post because that’s where I live but foreigners living anywhere will be able to relate to this post. It’s by no means France specific.
Check out this post about that “If you hate France, go home!” attitude that is problematic. >>
My goal with this post is threefold:
1) To let anyone out there who is struggling know they are not alone. So often we keep feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression to ourselves thinking people won’t understand, don’t want to be bothered with our “negativity,” or worst of all, that there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t 100% in love with life abroad every second of every single day. We’re ashamed, scared, or want to pretend like we’re fine and expat depression isn’t a thing.
2) To provide resources (scroll to end) for anyone who doesn’t know where to turn and might be struggling with expat depression or anxiety.
3) To let prospective expats know that life abroad isn’t always easy, in case they thought otherwise. Living in France is not always in line with romanticized versions we so often see. That might sound like a major “DUH, Diane, of course it’s not always easy,” but you’d be surprised at how many people I encounter via my blog who have their rose-colored glasses strapped on with duct tape unwilling to let any clouds of reality peek through.
I’m asking you to read on with an open, empathetic mind. I’m sure that someone in your life is struggling in silence (or has in the past or will in the future).
If you’ve lived abroad for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly confronted one of the issues in the InterNations graphic below:
Even experiencing just one of the issues pictured above can add fuel to an already burning fire with no extinguisher in sight.
Now hold up a second.
I’m sure that at least one of you out there reading this right now is thinking, “Oh I’m sorry to hear life isn’t easy for all of you who chose to move, but I love France and think it’s great. I would never have trouble like that!” or “When I move to France, it’s going to be perfect because I know so many people, etc.” or “Sucks for them but this would never happen to me because I don’t have mental health problems” or maybe “If you have so many issues, go home!”
None of these reactions is helpful or kind.
I assure you that many of the people who I spoke to before deciding to write this post did and still do love France. They came here prepared and with high hopes. Many came with a French partner, a job, and decent French skills that have only improved over time.
Expat depression and anxiety don’t discriminate based on age, gender, class, or anything else. The way our body reacts to life is not a choice and is not always in our control.
On keeping it real
If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ll know that I try to paint an even picture of what life can be like for a foreigner in France. But I admit, the majority of posts here show La Belle France in a positive light. Why? Two reasons. Because the truth is that I love living in France. My life is good here and I enjoy sharing my travels, cultural commentary, stories, and photos with all of you.
But I also keep it positive because I know that’s what people want to read.
No one likes a Debbie Downer although there are plenty of less-than-perfect things to share about life abroad. Or life anywhere.
There’s a difference between being negative and being real.
By only talking about the positive aspects of life in France, I’d be doing my readers a disservice. I’ve written before about how living in France is completely different than vacationing in France, that no one is “lucky” to live abroad, and a big ol’ post on reflections after 5 years. The whole “living in France is real life and not a 24/7 vacation” point is one that is lost on a lot of people who see France only through their rose-colored glasses.
This mindset of “perfect France” is generally from people who have never lived here, or if they have, it’s only been for a year or two.
I’ve noticed on my blog and on other people’s blogs and social media, when someone writes something critical about France, people seem to get very defensive.
They seem to take any critique about France — no matter how valid — personally. It’s like they think of France as a human friend that we’ve just offended that they need to defend.
It’s the strangest thing.
Some people also like to blame the person suffering for their own problems, as if anyone would actually choose to feel miserable all the time.
Along with that, when foreigners in France complain or courageously speak up about feeling depressed or needing help, people who don’t get it respond with, “How bad can it be, you live in France?” as if simply living in France is a cure-all for all of our problems. Or worse, “Well, then just go home if you hate it so much!” or “Stop whining!” or “You don’t deserve to live abroad,” as if it’s a prize.
Again, not the right answers at all and certainly not helpful. I see it play out time and time again on my own social media networks.
In other life situations where people are having a hard time, are we so dismissive and critical? Imagine telling a new mother who is having trouble adapting to life with a newborn that maybe she should have never had the baby in the first place. She complains that she has no time for herself and it’s taking a toll on her well-being. Would we tell her, “Well, you chose to have a baby!” or that she doesn’t deserve to be a mother? No, we’d offer a supportive ear!
Before you say, well, that’s different, I assure you that it’s not! Someone having a hard time is speaking up and if they deserve anything, it’s our support.
It’s responses like these and people’s unwillingness to try to understand that make it harder for people struggling to speak up and get help.
It’s why bloggers sometimes focus on only the great aspects of life abroad and pretend that shades of gray don’t exist and that the hard times are just minor things not worthy of discussion.
Alexandra Guitelmann over at Les Lolos writes,
“There are so many articles selling expat life: What a wonderful, fulfilling experience it is; how you should embrace your host country’s culture to truly appreciate it. Not enough prepare you for balancing a foot in one place while the other’s back home. No one teaches you how to cope with the constant anxiety of something happening to loved ones 10,000 miles away. You’re certainly not prepared for sadness sneaking up on you, triggered by a Facetime with your best friend showing off her latest Monoprix purchase. Or simply the absence of the daily phone call. That one hurts, too.”
If we’re made to feel ashamed, it’s much easier to put the negative feelings aside and try to distract ourselves. But sometimes that’s not enough. It’s not a sign of weakness to speak up and ask for help. There’s no shame in reaching out to a therapist or support system. Or taking medication. Or writing posts like this one.
I think it’s very easy to focus on the positive sides of life abroad so much (especially the first couple of years) that we almost feel guilty if things aren’t always amazing.
We feel even more guilty if we’re dealing with anxiety or expat depression and that something must be wrong with us if we’re not loving it all the time. Or when a life issue like job loss, divorce, addiction, health scare, or death gets in the way of us being able to live life to the fullest. Especially when someone close to you is struggling with one of these issues very far away and you’re not physically there.
Life can be hard anywhere.
Add in a new language, culture, job, family, and things can even get worse. The dark side of expat life begins to rear its ugly head.
Feeling like you don’t belong anywhere while watching others around you seemingly move forward can be crippling. Alex Ellsworth, a former New Yorker living in Seoul, South Korea, wrote in this New York Times piece:
“Expat life has a dark side: getting stuck in limbo, neither here nor there. I’ve watched as peers back home have married, had children, bought houses, advanced in their careers. Meanwhile, most of us here in Seoul find ourselves living Peter Pan-like existences. I’m entering middle age with nothing tangible to show for it.”
The hardest part for me?
For me personally, integrating and making friends has been the biggest challenge. While I speak French, there’s always more to learn and I don’t think I’ll ever be as precise in French as I am in English.
Even after 5 years here, I don’t think I’ll ever have “real” friends, despite my best efforts to network and put myself out there. And that hurts because I’m a social person who thrives on personal relationships. I realize this is not a France-specific problem and that people anywhere deal with the same issues, even those who move within their home country.
That’s not to elicit sympathy but to show that it’s not always simple to just pack up your life, move abroad, and live happily ever after.
M.E. over at Surviving in Italy writes, “What I’m NOT saying here is that you shouldn’t live abroad because it’s hard… I’m also not saying that living abroad is hard for everyone. Every situation is different and sometimes getting away and moving to another country can be healing.
My first two years in Italy were like a wonderland la-la fest and the best time of my life. The subsequent three years were filled with stress, anxiety, and feeling more alone than I ever have in my life.
What I’m saying is this: Prepare for the struggle and get help when you need it. It’s okay to ask for help.”
I want you to truly hear that. It’s OK to ask for help.
The snowball effect
Another point I want to bring up is how life abroad can play into one’s overall well-being — even if you’re “fine” at home. Life problems can affect us anywhere and it’s when they snowball that I personally have the most trouble. Even if you were able to deal with similar issues in your home country without a hitch, your experience abroad may not be the same.
Take, for example, a bad day at work where you arrived late and then messed up a presentation. You brush it off and move on. Then you get into an argument with a friend back home via text message over something trivial. This gets you down. Then a few days later you get some bad health news about someone you love or yourself. Then you lose your job, etc. Then you snap at your husband. It’s all just too much to deal with.
Maybe all that is a little extreme, but even just 2 or 3 little things together can have you hating life — and they often sneak up on you.
That’s when I tell Tom I hate France.
But it’s not France that’s to blame. It’s just life. Being far away from what’s comfortable can make life struggles — that can happen anywhere to anyone — that much harder to handle. I choose positivity when I can, but I’m not immune to feeling down or getting into a funk. And that’s OK. We can talk about these things. 😉
Now for some resources….
Mental health resources
(Please note I have no affiliation with any person or business listed below.)
Dr. Julie Askew
Dr. Julie is an Anglophone Counsellor / Psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience, working with individuals, couples and families. She’s based in the Mayenne (53) region of France, and services can be offered face to face, or via Skype for clients living in other parts of France and Europe.
An English-speaking therapist in the Lille, France, area.
A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in coaching and counseling for children, adolescents, individuals, family therapy and play therapy. She maintains a private practice in Hawai’i and an online practice worldwide.
Dana Nelson, Ph.D., and The Mindful Expat Podcast
Dana is an American psychologist practicing in Lyon who specializes in counseling and psychotherapy for adults and adolescents. She explains what she does best on her site: “[I help those struggling with] emotional and psychological difficulties and who want develop greater self-awareness and self-compassion, feel more grounded, and develop more meaningful and satisfying connections with those around them. I also specialize in working with intercultural couples and couples whose relationships have been impacted by their life abroad.”
Be sure to catch her podcast here for “expats and other overseas adventurers in search of some guideposts for emotional wellbeing and resilience in their lives abroad.”
Counselling in France
A great directory of therapists of all types offering therapy in English throughout France.
Angloinfo’s counseling & therapist directory
A website with over 2,000 licensed therapists where you can get help in English.
If you’re struggling with the dark side of expat life or expat depression, I hope the resources above will be of some help. I invite you to share other resources you’ve come across in the comments.
You’re not alone. We are not alone. There is no shame in talking about mental health.
Sending you all some virtual support. Be good to one another. Hoping a few of you will chime in below if you’ve experienced the dark side of expat life.
Feel free to post under a pseudonym if you’re more comfortable with that…
PIN my returning home after living abroad depression post:
Thank you for this post, Diane. It’s excellent and the topic is important. I’m very glad that woman found support in that Facebook group. I have left expat groups because people were not allowed to talk about these feelings. Readers got defensive and the basic message was ‘love it or leave it’. I keep a lot of this to myself now.
Thank you for reading it, Cosette! FB groups can often be really toxic with a combo of people behaving badly and mods not stepping in to do their job and actually moderate. It leaves people angry and hurt, especially when certain personalities show no empathy whatsoever. I mostly lurk because I find people to be really short with others and it’s not a good environment in some groups. That’s why I was especially surprised when people were SO supportive toward this woman — the group usually has a bunch of negative people who poo poo on others so it was great to see that so many people understood and wanted to help. And even more surprising, so many people were having similar issues!
It’s a shame we’re made to feel that we have to keep stuff to ourselves. I’m always here for you….
Just finished reading this Diane and really loved it. An important piece to put out there and I really liked that you put in resources as well!
Thank you! Appreciate the kind words. I hope the resources will be helpful for people and maybe others have some additional ones!
That was such an insightful article. Thank you so much! I’ve pretty much been an expat my entire life, so I don’t know any other life. I have no roots and I can’t really relate to “leaving loved ones and familiar surroundings behind” because I have almost always lived away from parents and siblings. But what I struggle with is making friends where I live. Because I have moved so much and always know I will eventually move again, I’m often not bothered to make any deep and meaningful relationships anymore. That’s one moment where I wish to settle down for somewhere at least 5 years to know it’s “worth it” to make friends. Do you know about the website http://www.onvasortir.com? If you don’t, you should definitely check it out. I think it’s such a great initiative! Have a lovely week, Lisiane
Hi Lisiane, thank you! Remind me again if you grew up in a military family… I know you told me but I forget why you moved around a lot. It’s really interesting what you said about not knowing anything different than a life where you always moved around. That’s a concept I can’t even wrap my head around and I don’t know what it would be like at all. I’d think it would be impossible for me, but if you grew up always moving, it’s your “normal.” Super interesting.
I AM familiar with onvasortir.com but haven’t had much luck on it. I find that in my area, there are a lot of redneck types who aren’t really interested in people from other cultures. I met a few duds who turned me off to the site. I also met my stalker on there (a weird woman who harassed me a couple of years ago). Even my doctor warned me that it’s full of “paysans”, which was funny that a busy guy like that would know about this stereotype. But I tried it — maybe it’s changed since 2014 — just didn’t have much luck!
Thx again for your comment!
Taste of France says
Great post–as you say, it’s one of those things that happen but don’t get talked about. I would say it’s not so much related to France but to moving. I felt the same way when I moved from my hometown to NYC, and again when I moved to Africa and to Belgium. I was very depressed when I moved to France, not so much because of France, but because we left bustling NYC to move to a tiny village in a very rural area and we had only one car, which my husband used for work. So I was stuck at home, no place to even walk to, with a baby and no family or friends, and no work. All that changed with time–well, not the village part, but I have a car, the baby is grown, I work and have lots of friends. Even if the rocky transition is temporary, it still is hard while it’s happening.
Thank you! Yes, moving (even domestically) can be really difficult and traumatizing even if you DO want to move and know it’s for the best. When you’re in the moment and everything seems to be hard, it’s not easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m so happy to hear things started to look up for you with time!
This is an excellent post, Diane ! Many people are in illusion about living abroad, especially if it’s in France. Travel and the opportunity to live abroad can be a wonderful experience. But all too often people try to run away from their problems by doing this. Sooner or later reality sets in. Ultimately we have to face ourselves. Issues that have long been ignored can no longer be covered up. Nobody can run away from what’s on the inside. Issues of co-dependency, addictions, self esteem and financial limitations all come to the surface. People can live in denial all they want, but they can’t escape what’s on the inside. They pack it up and take with them to the most picturesque of environments. That’s why this is so important ! You are so right on !
Thank you very much! I think living abroad has an allure to it and people idealize the lifestyle making it whatever they want it to be in their minds. It’s so easy to focus on the positives but detrimental if when people neglect to consider the very real reality of what things can be like if you don’t speak the language, if you live in a rural area, if you lose your job, if a sibling at home gets sick. etc. That’s not to say living abroad isn’t worth it — for many it is. At least for a while. I just felt like I needed to speak up about this because painting pretty pictures about how life is so amazing all the time isn’t real, not for me at least. Thank you for your support and kindness, as always!
This is such a beautiful post. Really it’s all the emotions I have felt as an expat. Also thank you for the links for help, I considered a counselor at one point and it was difficult finding resources for English speakers. I’m glad I have a few options if I ever feel like I need to explore it again. I think what annoys me the most on blogs and Facebook groups is people don’t seem to realize that it’s not always as easy as “hey I’m moving to France”. There are many paths here but usually the rose glasses people are retirees who sold their houses in Britain and were able to buy chateaus here and get their British groceries mailed in every week. They don’t need to work and have already lived their lives for the most part. That was a clear choice on their part. Sure they deal with some red tape but their biggest worry is about how their marble tile for their renovation isn’t going to be delivered until September because it the vacancies. Yet they seem to be the first people to tell me to just leave if I hate it so much here or have anything but a 5 star review of France. Some of us (me) don’t never gave a crap about France and never wanted to live here, yet here I am. Shocking words I know! My husband was sent here so we didn’t have much of a choice. It was either France or stay in Italy making 800 a month. Moving here meant more money not only for us but also we could support my husband’s family back in Italy since the crisis hit really hard there. making the choice to live somewhere isn’t always as romantic as blogs makes it out to be. There is always a sacrifice somewhere. People that say just go home are over simplifying. Say I do go home (to the US for example), I’ve been out of the workforce there to over a decade, it’s not clear how my husband’s skills would transfer there, we’d both be working 40+ hours a week for the same or even less money, and he’d be so far away from his family which i know he mentally can’t do as an Italian lol. So we just live with what we live with. France isn’t in my top ten places I’d love to live but it’s not on the bottom of the list either. It just is what it is. There are things I love, things I hate and things that confuse me just like there are in Italy, Belgium and the US. I think it’s so unfair that people will get flak if they mention any downsides.
Thank you, Jessica!
I completely understand your point of view. I think everyone’s experience is valid and what infuriates me is when people tell me I’m wrong because my life is different than theirs is. Of course life is going to be yippy skippy if you have a fat bank account and retire here with only your decor choices to fill your days and refuse to learn French, but then don’t email me and say that my experience isn’t valid. People who live in a bubble should be avoided at all costs because you can never win! Anyway, my point is that all of our experiences are valid because we’re all living life our own way. It’s when we refuse to consider that other people do things differently that the problems start. I have no patience for people who refuse to help others and lend a helping hand (or ear).
Love your comment. Thank you!
I am a retired psychotherapist hoping to initially live in France for 3 months at a time and them eventually move permanently. Thank you for writing this. Yes, the myth is that life will be perfect in France. How could that be true? I’ve considered coming out of retirement when I moved there. Sounds as if that might be helpful for expats as I specialize in depression and anxiety, also marriage counseling. Thank you for being real.
Hi Carolyn! Thanks for your comment. I feel like the people who think life is perfect here are people who want to keep their rose-colored glasses on tight and fantasize about moving here but never take the steps to do so. It’s easier for them to keep France on its pedestal and think life here is perfect, refusing to see any criticism (even by the French themselves). And that’s fine. We all do what we need to do. I just think everyone can be a little more open minded and allow some space in their head for shades of gray. Where do you practice now? Feel free to link to your website if you have one…. Thx again
Website above. I closed my practice last year after 30 years.
I love many of your posts, and I especially love this. It’s really accurate. It hurts a lot that people were more “emotionally involved” with our social updates when we used to live in a 3rd world country 2 years ago, but now that we’re in France, I can count the number of people who REALLY care on one hand.
I am positive that they believe that living in France is easy and I agree that that thought has been highly romanticized and sugarcoated.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks so much, Saliha! I think moving abroad shows us who are true friends are, and as hard as it can be to let friendships go or realize people don’t care as much as you do or as much as you thought they did, it’s eye opening and for the best. For me, it’s better to have a handful of people who I can count on who really care than a bunch of people who only stick around when it’s convenient for them. Again, appreciate your comment!
I found myself nodding a lot when reading your article. So many points are very true and very relevant!
I never really hung out in expat forums (and I don’t consider myself an expat but an immigrant), but it can be very frustrating to find help when you’re far from home, immersed in a different culture. The people you trust and have a long common history with (for instance, family members) can’t always understand the unique challenge you’re facing abroad because they aren’t familiar with this environment. People close to you abroad may not react the way you expect, either telling you to “suck it up” or simply complaining along with you (which can be comforting at first but doesn’t always help in the long run).
Anyway, each challenge, each situation is different but it’s important to stay realistic, balanced and to acknowledge issues before they snowball.
Merci beaucoup, Zhu!
We do face a lot of challenges living abroad as expats, immigrants, students, whatever. Even moving somewhere within our own country and people sometimes don’t try to understand. I just wish people would be kinder to others sometimes because it’s a lot easier to stay realistic and balanced when you know you have people on your side!
Appreciate your comment!! (and love your site and how you say it like it is)
Jo-Anne the crazy lady says
Even though I would never more to another country to live I still found this very interesting
Thank you, Jo-Anne! So happy to hear that!
Thanks Diane for posting it. So much of what you said about expats being protective of France is so true and so annoying. France merits criticism just like any other place. People just need to relax.
Expat groups- love and hate, as you know.
I’m so glad I found an English-speaking therapist. It’s something I pay for out of pocket but I know is helping… 🙂
Yes, I think the ones that take criticism of France personally are those who have never lived here and want to keep the idea of France (not the reality) a certain way in their minds. As if we’re spoiling it for them if we show cracks in the facade. Now of course that’s not free rein to shit on France, but valid criticisms/concerns, as long as they’re respectful, shouldn’t be a major issue. But yet people still flip out. Oh well, there are worse things in the world. Just something I wanted to point out 😉
Yes the FB groups bring an interesting mix of people together and most of the time they provide value but not always.
That’s fantastic news that you have an English-speaking therapist! I think we all could benefit from one no matter our stage in life. You don’t need to have mental health “issues” to benefit from therapy.
Excellent post. As an immigrant, first to Northern England for 32 years and then here in France for 15, life is much as you describe it. Hard to find people to talk about immigrant problems. I have one very dear French friend who thinks I don’t like French people or France. Others, French or not French I speak French fairly well to one or two people who speak only French, do get touchy as you said. One day I hope to write something as long as you have, but thank you for writing as you did.
Hey Tom, thank you! You seem the be the token man here in the comments section. 😉 I’m so glad you found the post useful. I hope you’ve developed a little network of people you can trust over the years. Where are you from originally?
Louise Romain says
Upfront disclaimer: I’m now registered as a certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
Oh how I wish I’d had better self-empathy skills when I moved to France in 1993. Empathy can be a life-saver, and I mean this literally. If air traffic controllers in France’s airports are encouraged to learn about NVC to manage their stress without verbally beating themselves up, then surely it’s easier for the stress of ex-pats (quoique…)
Hi Louise, NVC sounds really interesting. How did you get into that line of work? Do you teach in France or are you no longer living here? Will check out your site!
It was a relief to read your article. Thank you. I’m 64 and until last year had a very challenging and interesting career in my home country, Australia. I’ve been living in rural France with my UK-born husband since last year. Not working, so I guess what’s known as “retired”. We planned to stay for 2 years, but he is very keen to stay here forever. He has suffered from severe Depression, now medicated, and I dread its return, which may be triggered if we go back to Australia. But all my dear friends are there. To be in a country where I have no history with anyone, and where I have little contribution to make, is going to be a challenge. No easy answer. Please don’t stereotype all expat retirees though. We have our own dilemmas!
Hi Pippa, thanks for your comment! I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you’ve been facing. There are no easy answers. I apologize if I stereotyped retirees. I think that in my experience, most of the people who email me or comment on social media with their rose-colored glasses on tend to be people nearing retirement age who haven’t spent time in France beyond a vacation, so that’s where I was coming from there. Totally based on my experience and it’s frustrating because real life is real life. But there are people of all ages and walks of life that have idealized ideas about a place. Thanks again!
// grenobloise says
Thanks so much for sharing! This is a very real and very widespread issue that is not spoken about enough. I had some really low lows here in France that were really bad.. I definitely had to seek outside help and it may have saved my life.
Friends from back home would message me, while I was in the middle of a huge life crisis, saying “Ohhh, how lovely your life is. Glad you’re doing so well!” because I put a basic photo of a French street on Instagram. I was livid..
I’m fortunate that my boyfriend was always by my side and hoped to support me, but had he bed a bad seed I would have been literally trapped with nowhere to go! It can be a big risk to relocate abroad..
France is not an easy place to live socially, and if anyone needs totalk they can feel free to email me (contact info on my blog).
I recently did a big and scary move…Moving from the solitary and isolated Alps to Paris — a more connected place with more opportunities. I was really on the edge and I’m so glad I took the leap! But, again, if it wasn’t for outside support I wouldn’t have been able to do it!
Thanks for the links; I will be sure to check out the podcast!
Hi there, thank you for your comment! (not sure I know your first name… please let me know!)
I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a rough time while in France but am so happy to hear your partner is supportive and you got help.
It’s hard to strike a balance with friends and family back home and not mislead them in any way about the reality of life abroad.
Completely agree that France is not easy socially.
Congrats on your move to Paris! All the best
I’m not an expat, but I enjoy reading your posts. I discovered your blog roughly a month ago. As an American and as someone who enjoys travel and learning about other cultures, I enjoy reading about other people’s lives abroad. I am so thrilled to have discovered your blog, for I find the writing to be excellent, and I find your posts to be very informative. And, I love the fact that you keep it real. Life is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s important to give a balanced view of life. I think that you do this very well. And this is coming from someone who is a former editor and reads ALOT.
I am 51 years old and decided to learn French about a year and a half ago. This has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager, but like an idiot I listened to people who said, “Why do you want to learn French? You live in America. You should learn Spanish because there are a lot of Spanish people here.” While it is true that we have a much larger Spanish population in the United States as opposed to a French one, I was always interested in French. And, I just wasn’t interested in learning Spanish. So to make a long story short, at the beginning of 2016, I said to myself, “Fu*k it, I’m gonna learn French.” So I set out to find myself a tutor that would teach me privately. (I really didn’t want to enroll in a college course.). My first tutor was a nice Belgian guy who I met for a few sessions in NYC. While he was very nice, I found our sessions to be too difficult for me since I needed a quiet environment since I wear hearing aids. I found another tutor who meets with me in my home and that has worked out much better for me.
What I have learned since trying to learn French:
French is a nasal language as opposed to English, which is more guttural. The irony is that while growing up I went to 16 years, yes 16 years, of speech therapy, to unlearn speaking nasally, which afflicts those who have a hearing problem. So after learning to speak through my throat as opposed to my nose, I now have to return to speaking nasally when I try to speak French. I find this extremely funny and ironic, but I think you might only find this funny if you have a hearing problem.
Learning a new language is hard, damn hard. Sometimes I want to give up, but I keep pressing on.
And, what is really hard is that although I know I am a smart person, I feel really dumb when trying to communicate in this new language with its weird grammar (e.g., adjectives after the noun – mostly). I’ve gained more compassion for those who use English as a Second Language.
Okay, I have rambled on enough. I just wanted to say I’m so glad I discovered your blog.
P.S. I understand you are from New Jersey. Are you familiar with Cape May? I love that place.
Hi Carolyn, welcome! To start w/your question, yes, I’m from New Jersey but several hours from Cape May. Tom and I visited Cape May though a few years ago and loved it! NJ has some incredible beaches and I was so fortunate to have gone every summer as a kid (a bit north of Cape May).
You’ve brought up a bunch of things, so where to start….
I really appreciate your kind words about the blog. I know typed words on a screen can seem hollow but I truly mean it when I say thanks. It’s hard to strike a balance sometimes in the blogosphere and everyone is going to have their opinion, but I’m so happy my posts are of interest to you and that I have your support!
Congrats on studying French. It’s such a rewarding endeavor, so stick with it and you’ll get there little by little. That’s great that you have a tutor who has worked out for you. Don’t worry about feeling dumb. We all go through it and it’s the only way to learn. Like you, I’ve become so much more compassionate toward people w/accents, people who are foreign, etc. after living abroad and having to live in French. It’s not that I wasn’t caring before, but I just didn’t see things through the same lens. Keep at it and the little victories in French will make your day! 😉
Anyway, thank you again for stopping by and hope to see you in the comments in future posts!! All the best!
I forgot to put a period in a sentence that I wrote above. LOL. Yes, I’m being OCD. It’s in the third paragraph, last sentence. There should be a period after “when I try to speak French. I find this…” Sorry that I’m being anal about this. I’m the type to edit my Facebook posts for spelling and grammatical errors. 🙂
No problem, just fixed it. Let me know if you want me to delete this comment about the error! I type too fast and make all kinds of typos, so I understand!
Barbara Martindale says
yes sorry..last words unnecessary.
Jeanne Teleia says
Hi Diane, I was just in France for 3 months in preparation for a move and met LOTS of people who struggled with these issues. I am also a therapist and wondered about the mental health care resources for English speakers and how I can be of service so thank you for listing the resources and feel free to add me to the list. I work remotely so it makes it easy for anyone to get help. I also find even in preparation for moving overseas family and friends are not at all understanding, thinking that it’s just a whim or because I’m somehow rich (I’m trying to find a CHEAPER place to live than where I am now!) or the are jealous or resentful or whatever. So then you move there with little support from home and have to find friends fast. Ex-pat groups help but are not the total solution. I’m so glad you posted on this and see you’ve gotten a great response. Congratulations!
Hi Jeanne, thank you for sharing your point of view. I completely agree. Moves of any kind (even for people who are positive about the move and want to go to the new place) can be difficult, even within their own country, so a move to somewhere “foreign” can wreak havoc on our entire way of life and psyche.
Family and friends don’t always get it and some are absolutely resentful or jealous not realizing that life somewhere else isn’t always a paradise or that it’s better and worse for reasons that you kind of have to experience to fully grasp.
I will update the post to include your site as one of the resources. Thank you! I’m undergoing a slight site upgrade and this comment along with changes I make are going to be wiped so I will have to manually update anyway. Promise I’ll add you once everything is done. Thx again!
Karen Bates says
My book Faking it in France caused a storm when it was first published 5 years ago. It wasn’t the jolly we all lived happily after moving to rural Normandy book and I did get slated- I did however get an awful lot of messages from ex pats from all over the world where the themes of homesickness and loneliness resonated through.
I throughly enjoyed this article and I think we need more awareness of the darker side of living in a foreign land.
Hi Karen! I’ll have to check out your book!
I find that the people the most upset if anything critical is said about France are either 1) folks that have only visited France on vacation or lived here for a period of time with an end date (school, 1-yr work contract, etc.) 2) folks that have never visited but want to idealize France in their minds like some kind of pastry-filled Disney World where everyone is thin and polite and perfect.
I think everyone’s points of view are important and valid but it’s when people get disrespectful that I tune out. There’s no reason for that and I’m sorry if people were rude to you and trashed your work. I know how much that can sting. But on the other hand, what I mention here and what you wrote about affects so many people so there’s nothing wrong with getting a discussion started. Hopefully we help those who need it even in the smallest way and those that have perfect lives will keep on living in their bubble. 😉 Appreciate your support!
It’s my first time to see and read your posts.
Great thoughts, I Love all your posts. They are really touchable as well as your responds.
Have you ever thought of writing a book?
You must write a book, I think you are ready to try this new experience and you have the potential to be a writer.
I am not an expat, but I have an experience. Few years ago I went to America, Arizona, for about seven months and there I tried the feelings of an expat. the same as most of you really felt abroad.
The good news for me there is , I have my sister with me and we were together financially capable to rent a house near the university (were we took English courses) as well as a car too, so we have good memories for our stay there that lasts till today.
Regarding France, I am a big fan of the irrrrrrrrrr acsent since teenager (I am in 50s) and I always wanted to be perfect in it. I am now joining CoffeeBreakFrench to learn french and watching french films on YouTube.
Thanks a lot for your post, I really have enjoined reding it, wishing you the best and hope to see you a famous writer ( your words touches the heart and coming from your heart ❤️).
Haha, well I’ve never considered writing a book but I do have a bunch of stories, so I’ll never say never. 😉
How was Arizona aside from the difficulties of being a foreigner? I’ve never been there! Not sure I could adjust to the heat. Sounds like an overall positive experience for you, though.
Thank you again for your comment and kind words. 😉
Thanks for your reply.
you know! Not everyone has the ability to put his ideas into pages or express his thoughts smoothly except those who have a talent, and you’re one of them. Speaking a language doesn’t means one has excellent skills in writing too; No, some people are good in writing skills but can’t show to speak as they’re not fluent in speaking skills as their writing skills.
Again, you may go back to your posts and I hope you will recognize and understand what I meant , plus why I incourage you to take your step to write a book. You may even wish to seek an advise from the professionals, I think your posts can be revised, rewritten and published. Many journals’ writers in our region did so ( they published their posts).
Arizona, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson .. I think they are all have the same features were most of them are known by their deserts and mountains. They’re indeed not far from our deserts in the Gulf Region and heat; so no problem with us to be there because there weather is similar to our weather around the year except in the winter as there mountains are topped with ice.
I think Arizona (Scottsdale, Tucson) is not a recommended place for visitors during summer, and if anyone wants to go there I would highly recommend “MT Lemmon”, Tucson a tourism area located up on the mountains .. up there there are restaurants, gift shop selling souvenirs, food etc.. check it on YouTube.
You know!, some of the North American citizens go south during winter time and some of them have homes there.
In all, I think every place in the US has it’s own uniqueness. In every city one can find local and private shops related to the city and cannot be found elsewhere, many have new ideas for different things and items as well as a wide range of selective products belongs to the place itself.
Please, don’t hesitate ever to write more about new ways to learn and improve the French language level for expat. as well as foreigners. Good luck, time is tiking ⏳
An American in France says
I wrote a blog that touched on the topic as well and it was one of the highest read ironically, since it does seem people prefer the happy stuff.
For me, I find it difficult to vent to people back home because the response often seems to be some variation of, “well, just come home then.” Sure, that would solve my issues with not understanding the language and the culture, but I don’t actually want to return to the US. I get more sympathy from my French friends about the difficulty in adjusting.
Even after a 3 month assignment, I underestimated the difficulty in living in France. I find that I avoid needed doctor’s visits, dentist, etc. because I just don’t want to deal with the non-English speaking receptionist (even if the actual doctor, dentist, etc speaks decent English).
When people contact me who are interested in moving to France, the first thing that I tell them is to learn from my mistakes and not move with an A1 level of French because they will struggle in EVERY.SINGLE.PART of life. I set myself up for a tough time with learning a new job, language, culture, measurement system, etc. all at once. At least I’d switched to a 24 hour clock several months before!
Great post! It’s difficult to admit that living in France is not always “living the dream.”
Hi there, link me to your post please! I may have read it but I know I was having issues commenting on your site for a while so I’ll have to check. Would love to (re)read and maybe so would others.
The language difficulty is something I think many people underestimate either because they think they can get by in English (wrong!) or they think they’ll just pick French up like it’s super easy. When I first arrived (and you’ve probably heard me say this before elsewhere on my site), comprehension was SO HARD and I struggled for the longest time. Just being here or having a French partner doesn’t make any magic difference in how fast you learn.
And the more frustrated you get, the less motivated you become. Been there, so I feel your pain!
I think “living the dream” is winning the lottery and being on a 24/7 vacation. Living in France for me isn’t a prize. It’s life. It’s a life I chose and it’s a life I love. It has it’s perks and drawbacks like life anywhere. I loved NYC too. It’s just life!! People don’t get it and certainly not people at home.
Thank you for taking the time to comment!
I am French and i live in the Netherlands since january 2016 with my dutch boyfriend.
I am glad to see that i am not the only one in this situation, it is very hard for me to make real friends here, the dutch language is an obstacle, i am learning it but it will take a while before i get very confident with it!
Thank you for this interesting post!
Moira swindell says
I too have blogged about this recently, and a wobnle that my husband had. The support from my followers was wonderful, in fact some thanked me for bringing it into the open. I have always said a blog should be real, and have included how much harder it is to just ‘live’ in France, especially if on a budget. Would we change it? A resounding no, but it is inportant for people to understand that living here and holidaying here, or anywhere Is not the same.
Lovely to know fellow bloggers are bringing mental health to he fore.
Hi Moira (Moisy?), thanks for your comment. I’m going to go check out your site. I think sometimes people shy away from topics like this because they’re hard, and that’s OK, but I felt like I needed to say something so I did. Glad it was well received for you too. 😉
Thank you for writing this and for sharing these resources. I like that you always share your honest perceptions of France – you always have a positive attitude, but you keep it real. I get sick of seeing France/Paris put on a pedestal like it’s a magical place where everything is better. Yes, there are lots of wonderful things – I miss them a lot – but not everything is perfect and not everything is better. There are good things and bad things, like anywhere. Everyone lives it differently and that’s okay.
My four years in France were mostly positive – I loved where I lived, I had good friends, I was able to work, I speak French – not a lot to complain about, on the surface. But there were also times, especially at the beginning, where I felt very isolated and “other”, where people talked down to me or ignored me – and I knew it would be a long time before anyone took me seriously professionally, and maybe I would never be able to do the kind of work I wanted to. But when we moved back to the U.S. I felt like I lost part of my identity – if I wasn’t an American in France, what was I? It has also been a difficult adjustment for Hugo to be an expat here too, even though we both like living in California. All that rambling to say that living in another country can be a mix of wonderful and hard, and I appreciate that you’re encouraging people to be supportive and seek support for all the weird stages and feelings we go through.
Oh I so needed to read this today! As a recent expat to Lyon, France and a newly wed (got married in France,) the move, culture change, LANGUAGE CHANGE, has led to feeling isolated and alone. Friends back home seem to have drifted away, thinking my life must be so spectacular or just have gotten so busy with their own lives that with the time difference I don’t seem important enough to stay in touch with. As I’m still in process with my security social I have to pay absolutely everything out of pocket while it’s being processed and don’t have the extra money to spend on a therapist weekly. I did contact the therapist in Lyon for a phone consult to see if she is able to work with me so I’ll let you all know what happens with that. That feeling of being brand new in a foreign country with all its possibilités wears off at some point and you are then left feeling isolated and alone at times. Very much so in my experience. I’ve made a few friends, all through my husband who has lived in Lyon for almost 40 years and although they are nice, I didn’t meet them on my own and I don’t feel comfortable expressing my concerns as I don’t want to come off as a spoiled, never happy, typical American! It’s such a mixed bag as I do not want to go back to the States (ever!) and don’t feel like America is home anymore (was back visiting 2 months ago,) and love living in France but just have bad patches where I get down and depressed. I know it will pass and things will improve and I need to continue to be proactive in moving forward with my new life here in Lyon. I think I may feel less isolated once I have a better grasp of the language and am hoping OFII helps me get into a language school that doesn’t cost thousands of euros a month. I have another 8-10 weeks to wait and find out. Sorry for the rambling, but thank you to you for posting and understanding what us expats go through and thank you to those that took the time to post their stories of challenges and hopes. You all make a difference to me!
Thank you for writing this! I just stumbled onto your blog. I am living in Germany (very close to the French border 🙂 and have been struggling lately with a lot of these issues. We are here for my husbands job, and my four kids are in school for part of the day and I sometimes struggle with being alone, no friends here to connect with beyond hellos with my neighbours. I do speak German, but also feel that I can’t adequately express my feelings like I would in English. The weather this winter certainly hasn’t helped. Thank you for your encouragement and for letting us all know that wherever we are in the world, wherever we go or stay, life is life!
Hi Jill, welcome! Sorry to hear about your struggles. I think it can be really hard to deal with a shift/loss in identity and purpose. It can happen due to a bunch of life circumstances but I think is particularly common for those of us who live abroad. I hope things start looking up for you this spring. Always feel free to write me… 😉
Carol Kelley says
This is a great post. It brought back the year I spent in France 2 years ago. I was struggling learning the language, and was alone. I went to language school and was hoping it would offer opportunity for friendships. However, that was not the case. I was a bit older than the other students and for some reason, connected only at school. I ended up searching out English speaking films just to hear English, which I sorely missed. In Paris for the winter, I was not prepared for the desperately grim weather–so heavy and gray. I started feeling a bit depressed and knew I could not last another year. That said, I love France and travel by train. The history is beyond interesting, and the Loire Valley sent me over the moon. I also love Lyon, Provence, Bordeaux, Normandy–you get the picture. Next time I will return with an French speaking friend.
This is a nice post that really hit home. I’m in the doldrums right now after living in France for almost 3 years. In all of that time, I don’t feel that much has changed despite my efforts at language, social activities, jobs, and even moving across France.
I am here because my SO is French. As many have mentioned, the language is key for unlocking many opportunities. It is so important, I think about it every waking hour of every day that I’ve been here. I am pretty exhausted, though I force myself to continue trying to learn, because I am tired of being shut out of everything.
(for the record, I am at intermediate level B, but fluency at C seems to be needed for any respect.)
Normally, I’d be very proud of having an intermediate level of a second language, because I worked really hard. Unfortunately, I keep running into native-speakers who tell me that I’m not good enough even though I officially tested at intermediate. Where are the nice people hiding?
Interestingly enough, one of the most common comments is that people shouldn’t move to France unless they speak French — but are told that the best and quickest way to learn a language is to be immersed. This is very conflicting advice. I just wished that people were a little more understanding about our efforts to learn then being immersed wouldn’t be so difficult.
I haven’t had much luck with expat groups online, and the few foreigners I’ve tried to meet are so busy that it is difficult to keep in touch. I live in a small sized city, and the resources for immigrants are not good, regardless of their origin. That said, I keep trying to make bonds at work and with outside activities, but so far, no luck.
So it has been really tough. I don’t want this place to steal my shine, but I’m out of ideas…?
If I had known that the storm to go on as long as it has, I probably would have pushed against moving here.
Thanks for letting me vent.
Karen Barnes says
I stumbled across your site, as I want to set up a blog about my move to France next year and writing in general, so was just doing a bit of research on what others are posting. I am in the process of buying a house less than an hour’s drive from Limoges. Whilst I’ve done lots of preparation: made some contacts in the small town I’ll be moving to, learning the language, researching the French way of life, etc., I am under no illusion that it will be a bed of roses all the way.
I feel really excited about the move (next summer 2020). I’ll be giving up the day job in London to move to France and write stories/a novel. Everyone tells me it sounds idyllic and they are ‘so jealous’. For me, I see there will be days like that – fresh baguettes and pastries from the local bakers every morning, coffee at the cafe by the river, or over to the local library to sit on the terrace and admire the fantastic view whilst I pen a bestseller! However, I also see that it will take a great deal of effort on my part to feel part of the community and there will probably be days – weeks even – when I will feel isolated and wonder what the hell I’ve let myself in for. Erin hit the nail on the head with regard to how I think I might feel: “Friends back home seem to have drifted away, thinking my life must be so spectacular or just have gotten so busy with their own lives that with the time difference I don’t seem important enough to stay in touch with.” (posted October 17, 2017).
I just hope I can keep things in perspective as it’s hard to ask for help when you’re not used to needing it. But now I’ve read your post, I feel relaxed that it will not be the end of the world if things don’t go exactly how I want them to go. Life’s like that most of the time anyway, it just gets thrown into the spotlight when you add moving to another country into the mix.
Thank you for a great post.
Another day in paradise?
16 years now…. slowly but surely spiralling into self destruction and self pity, turning on those close to me, too stubborn, maybe too scared to ask for help, too afraid and embarrassed that others will judge.
Needing help, but…. what, who, where?
Hi Mark, I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling. Do you have a trusted friend or family member you can reach out to? Is it a possibility to explore some of the resources on my list? Hang in there…
Sadly I’ve foolishly turned away an offer from a friend… mustn’t show weakness you know!… hah.
Not sure if the doctor is the first port if call or a counsellor… I live in dept 87.
Hi there, again. There’s nothing weak about telling someone you need a little bit of help right now. Even just being able to say the thoughts out loud can take some of the weight off your shoulders even if it’s a friend or someone who doesn’t know your situation super well. That has helped me. Like speaking the words or even putting them in a journal gets them out of my head and body and into the ether. Somehow that makes me feel a little lighter with it all when there’s an outlet.
I don’t know the particulars of your situation but if you’re scared you might harm yourself, please reach out to your doc or therapist. Sometimes it’s easier to do so online. Sending you strength from afar…
What an honest, eye-opening post. I have always dreamed of living abroad. And this is exactly the kind of information I would/will need going forward. While I may be late to this post, or even to traveling, it is this kind of honesty and caring that make the difference in exploring leaving our safety net and going for it! Thank you for this.
Clearly your content above is spot on for various reasons. It stays away from the accustomed pitfalls and traps too many fall into- getting bad alternatives. Keep it up!
For me, the main disappointing thing about being here so far is how nasty the French men (and other men) are with women in public. On one hand, people can be very considerate and polite and yet on the other hand, there’s this misogynistic vitriol. It’s totally deranged. I can’t believe this is tolerated and allowed to flourish in a so-called civilized society. Making animal noises and mumbling insults (yes, insults!!) as you pass women on the street who are minding their own business is not civilized, to say the least. And no, I’m not in Paris. I will move elsewhere in the country but if this continues, then I won’t be here for long.
French expat in US says
Blue, As an expat French woman, I am very sorry that you have experienced such bad treatment in France. These men are not French. There are on paper because of the insane politics of immigration in France. They come from another culture, have a different religion which has no respect for women, whom they treat like cattle. I know exactly what you mean. Unfortunately, this type of behavior is not reported in the press, and nobody does anything about it. It is unacceptable. Thank you for mentioning it.
French expat in US says
Diane, I am very interested in your writings – from a different perspective. I was born and raised in France. I left the country in my late 30″, and permanently moved to the US. Now, after 30 years+ of US life, I feel the “pull”. The vacuity and soulessness of a culturally bereft American life has creeped on me. I would like to return to France.
I am retired, living in a sumptuous house with a great husband. The brilliant career I left behind in France never re-materialized here. Too many cultural differences. I have had, and still have acquaintances, but no friends. All my relatives in France have passed away. My husband does not speak French.
I feel like sitting between 2 chairs: France has “evolved” – (or may be devolved?) while I was abroad. Every time I went back to France in vacation, I felt the gaps widening: the gap between the France I left behind and what has become of it, and the gap between the French woman I once was, and the Americanized woman I have become. The problem is that I am not really French anymore, and I will never be American. This translates into a lot of isolation, sometimes depression, and a life out of balance. I am living a few inches above the ground, with no real roots.
Although I master perfectly the American English language and the cultural codes, I am still feeling like a fish out of water. When we used to go to France yearly, until a few years ago, my husband was telling me how different I am in France. Suddenly the chrysalis becomes the butterfly. I know who I am, where I belonged, I know the subtle codes of French culture. But while visiting, we were always navigating between luxury chateaux-hotels and upscale restaurants. The real France as I knew it seems to have almost disappeared. The flamboyant French character has been supplanted by sheepish behaviors, intolerable harassment of women everywhere, and the impoverishment of the population is palpable. The out of control immigration is killing the real France. Living in France would mean dealing with that France too. The France of the “grand replacement” – I could not tolerate it.
Becoming an expat must happen young. If you tried after 30 years old, worse, 35, you will never adapted fully. You are already molded, may be have been married once, divorced, had a child, lost some parent, had a business. You have a history in France. During your active years in expatriation, you will be busy with work, family, real estate, and you will get glimpses of the “pulling” toward the mother land, but only when you retire you will really feel the need for taking the painful decision: where am I going to die? Knowing that you will never be at home anymore, neither in the mother land, neither in the country of adoption. If you have a spiritual life, you will go inside to find home. If you do not have a spiritual life, it will be more painful.
Dear French Expat. Thank you for posting your reply…from the other side of things. Besides being very poetic, it speaks to the feeling of one foot here, and the other foot there. I understand that feeling. I am a Canadian anglophone, and at age 55 moved to France to be with My French Fella. He was to come to Canada, as per our original idea, but when he came to visit me there to begin making contacts for work, he didn’t care for it, or rather the person I was when I was there. So I moved here to Le Berry.
I will never be French, but I do love it here, but my lack of language makes integration challenging, and I cannot have the same status I have in Canada. I also think of where will I grow old (er?) and die? But I see my country through different eyes now, I am changed by my time here, and I do not belong anywhere anymore. My situation is a bit different, but I am feeling, like you, of neither place.
I would have like to see the France of your youth, one that was distinctly French, but maybe I’m romanticising from all the older movies French Fella has shown me.
I suspect you are delightful as your “French Self” despite your husband’s concerns.
All the best to you.
Ankit Sagar says
I am glad that you posted this and i am not alone in this situation.
I came from India to France for three year PhD programme, currently i am in middle of my second year.
Before coming to this new place, i was a very different person, i could socialise easily and have a very positive body language. In the beginning, i was confident that i could survive easily with my average English. After few months reality finally hits me. I was happy and focused when i am working from office, but during holidays it became too difficult to pass the time as i don’t have real good friends here. How hard i tried, LANGUAGE was always a barrier for me to socialise. To be honest, French people have difficulties while speaking English, and with my poor French it became impossible to express myself. I feel like i am in depression. I am always wandering alone. I feel like my body language, my attitude, my confidence is too low these days. Even i am not speaking English so much here, i feel like i am loosing grip on English too. Eventually, i am trying hard to cope up with this situation. I would bike occasionally and trying to spend most of my free time talking with my family and girlfriend back in Delhi. I didn’t told her about my situation, because i don’t want her to see me as a broken person. But i am trying hard to come out of this.
This is the first time i am expressing myself in years.
It’s a 4 year-old post, but still relevant and accruing comments. I moved abroad 22 years ago and for a long time I indeed thought some of the problems were all my fault; people actually try and convince you that this is the case. When you move to a place for something like study you know your timescale and reasons. You also tend to have built-in structure and a network. These are the people who talk about their marvellous 3 years in a country.
Then there are the ones who stay… and those who arrive with an open-ended approach. Depending on what you’ve already got when you arrive it can make a big difference. Some unpleasant considerations are things like: what about if my relationship collapses? Back home you can just back away from it and still be among people you know who will support you fairly unconditionally. Abroad this might not be the case and then you will feel totally alone. In your home country you already have the basic tools of navigating about because it’s your own culture; abroad you are both living and learning it at the same time and it can be exhausting and frustrating.
It can be a shock to discover that your social butterfly ease which worked at home, does not work quite so well in another culture. The language, even if you can work pretty well in it, marks you as being not on a social par with everyone else. Every ex-pat has experienced that. For every person giving you a chance to learn, there’s another making it known that you’re not making the cut. So in jobs, socialising, organising daily life, getting a train.. you can feel second-rate.
Originally I lived abroad in France (near Cognac), then south Belgium and finally in the Netherlands. With partners and without. Friends come and go at a faster rate as you move around and they are harder to make anyway. I accept that people generally want to socialise with people who share background and culture, it’s more comfortable. So you can also end up with ‘too many’ friends among the ex-pat community. Sometimes that’s just a safe haven rather than real friendship.
And missing home and family. Being forgotten almost. It all weighs heavily. I’m settled, but not settled. For me particularly Brexit tore the rug from under me (and many others). So what those people in Seoul said rings true: people move on and you’re in limbo.
What about solutions? Well learning the language to the best level you can always helps. Submitting yourself to the culture and understanding it. You actually have to surrender a part of yourself before you’ll ever ‘fit in’. The strong-headed probably fare the worst in this respect and end up finding every difference an obstacle. In truth you don’t ever ‘become’ like a native, so you’ll always be a foreigner to some extent. It’s not always a curse, it can give you value and character. Admittedly some ‘foreigners’ have more cachet than others, which is unfair. The best advice I wold give is for anyone to think hard and make decisions before they really end up in limbo between two countries – roots enough to keep you slogging onwards, but not deep enough to feel connected and safe.
In addition to recommendations above, I would like to suggest non-prescription supplements.
Depression and bipolar problems run in my family and some of the things that have helped me
– Strong white light ( some use a light box ) for about 30 minutes in the morning.
– Exercise with music like Jazzercise.
– Thyroid tabs ( many people have a low thyroid and the typical MD,s do not use a correct test )
Broda Barnes material is helpful.
– Carlson Vitamin D 3 ( I take 8,000 units every morning )
– Carlson Fish oil with lemon ( I take 3 tablespoons just before bed )
– Extra virgin olive oil ( I take 3 tablespoons just before bed )
– 500 mg niacin tabs ( I take the version that gives a flush )
These are the main ones but I also take others.
I recommend that a person do their own research and there is a lot of info on the Internet.
Check out: http://www.doctoryourself.com
Also: Orthomolecular Medicine
Fantastic and timely post. I have sailed close to the choppy seas of life since moving here. A couple of really good neighbours have given me tremendous support and I am indebted to them for that.
The major players in my black periods were poor language skills and loneliness. I erroneously thought that my amazing workshop and studio would inspire me to wonderous creativity, but I failed to factor in the lack of feedback from like minded souls. Sue I could email and zoom them but its not the same as sitting surrounded with work and debating its pros and cons. I have not, so far , met any like minded creatives whom I can have a good chin wag with.
Obviously covid has not helped and the present situation will affect the buying public’s purse but I’m sure it will pan out.
It is SUCH a relief to know that there are others out there going through the same phase, and it’s not just me !!!