Moving abroad to France was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Although moving to another country is rewarding in so many ways, I’m the first to admit it hasn’t been easy. Anyone who tells you life abroad is exciting and glamorous all the time is not living in reality and is either lying or hasn’t been abroad long enough. What makes me say that? Well, it’s because life abroad is still life and no one’s life is exciting and glamorous 24/7 and moving abroad comes with its own set of challenges.
With such a major life change, it’s only normal to doubt yourself and your plans before moving to another country and probably after you get there, too. Here’s what to remember when you feel doubt about moving abroad start to creep in.
Moving to another country doubts
Over the past year, I’ve received more doubt-ridden emails from readers out there than ever. Many of you were doubting your decision to move abroad to France and that’s what I want to to get into today. Let’s talk about moving to another country.
Doubt is all about feeling uncertain. We are unsure of the right path forward and want to know with certainty that the choice we’re making is the right one. But unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. You either jump and find out or you live with regret — or at the very least, you wonder “what if.”
Doubt is rooted in fear. We fear the unknown, what others think, and all the emotions fear brings. Maybe we are indecisive in a certain area due to a lack of life experience. It’s uncharted territory, so how can we be sure of ourselves?
We fear we may not have the skills and patience to cope with whatever our new life has in store. We fear we’re not making the “right” choice. We fear we won’t cut it. But going through life means we’ll gain confidence as we go and the only way to do that is to experience life.
Doubt is also part of being human. Our brain is trying to protect us from struggle. Stay where it’s comfortable and easy, says our subconscious.
I also feel like doubt can take over when reality doesn’t match up with our expectations. For example, let’s take adapting to a new work environment. We might think we’ll move abroad to another country and have a really easy time adapting to our new job in two weeks. Maybe not an easy time, but it’ll be fine and manageable. But instead, the reality is a lot harder. We find ourselves isolated in the office, unable to speak the local language, working late hours, and feeling a bit lost even after six months. This is a mismatch between what we expected and the current reality.
This expectation vs. reality thing can apply to anything such as apartment issues, learning the language, whatever. The next step is the same. Then our mind goes on overdrive and we doubt that the job is right for us and question whether moving to another country was the right choice. We spiral.
This can also happen if we have romanticized ideas about what life abroad is like. When life is just normal life, we wonder if we’re doing something wrong if it’s not a big, exciting adventure 24/7.
Other people seem to have it all, so are we doing this whole living abroad thing wrong?
Doubting your decision to move abroad doesn’t automatically mean it’s the wrong choice. I’d even venture to say that it’s more normal to have doubts about such a major life change than to not. Only you know the answer to what’s right for your life and it takes time to rationally think through all of that.
Even if you know in your heart that moving to another country is the right choice for you, our mind likes to make us second-guess ourselves. When you’re having doubts about moving abroad, all it means is you’re making a big life change and need time to process all the emotions that come with it. You need time to let yourself go through the experience.
Then when you touch down in the new country, you need even more time to adjust.When you're having doubts about moving abroad, all it means is you're making a big life change and you need time to process all the emotions that come with it.Click To Tweet
When all is said and done, maybe you’ll end up abroad for life. Or just a year or two. Or not at all. They’re all OK and we’re allowed to make choices for ourselves that make sense at the current moment and then reassess as time goes on.
Seeing others move on with their lives at home without us can create doubt too and we wonder about what a life would be like if we had stayed put. It’s one of the major cons of life abroad. This is something I struggle with. While I rationally know I can’t be everywhere at once, my mind wanders to the path I didn’t choose. We see our loved ones move up in their career, start a family that we won’t get to see much, and experience life in a place we no longer know.
We doubt ourselves and our choices when we see others seemingly thriving. Or when something hard happens abroad. But remember, we all struggle in our own way at some point or another.
Anyway, let me stress that it’s only normal to have doubts when you’re about to make a life change as big as moving to another country.
We want to minimize future pain and struggle as much as we can, so that niggling feeling inside of us that makes doubt creep in is normal. With a big change inevitably comes a bunch of challenges and our doubts want to convince us to play it safe and stay where it’s comfortable and familiar. It’s a defense mechanism that our mind deploys to protect us from that scary unknown.
This past year has unearthed buried doubt in a lot of us and made us question so much. When we’re stressed, the thought of voluntarily adding more stress to the pot is going to make us take pause.
Whether you moved abroad during the pandemic, are planning to move to another country soon, or you’ve been abroad for a while, here’s what to remember when doubts start to mess with your head:
1. Remove “should” from your vocabulary.
You should have this many friends by now. You should be speaking the language at this level. You should have been promoted already. You should have stayed home. You shouldn’t care so much about this or that. You should be strong! And the list goes on.
“Should” is a word that makes you feel like you aren’t measuring up to some pointless measuring stick that doesn’t even exist. “Should” leads you down a slippery slope that has nothing but more self-doubt at the bottom. It’s a place where you go to beat yourself up, play the comparison game, and wonder where your life went wrong. Avoid it at all costs and train your brain to NOT use the word should. I’m serious about this.
Nothing good comes from scolding yourself over what you should or shouldn’t have achieved. It’s in the past and you can’t turn back time. All it does is put you in a negative mindset that will keep you stuck.
Who is in charge of what you should and shouldn’t do? Only you. Be kinder to yourself. And I’m telling you that so I hear it myself. We’re our own worst enemy sometimes.
Only measure yourself against yourself. It doesn’t matter if other people seemingly have a better career, more kids, more money, travel more, speak the language better. This doesn’t mean you “should” be like anyone else. We’re all on our own path and we go at our own pace.
Dark side of expat life in France >>
2. Remember it’s about the experience.
The best way to find out what you want in life is try different things. Find out what you don’t want. Try things. Experience places and people and things. If you don’t care for a particular place or way of life, then at least you have the experience under your belt and have learned something about yourself and the world.
Life is a collection of experiments where we constantly learn about ourselves. Maybe we succeed at what we set out to do and/or we learn something. If we’ve learned, we haven’t failed, so never look at anything you do abroad as a failure. Hear me when I tell you that.If we've learned, we haven't failed, so never look at anything you do abroad as a failure.Click To Tweet
3. Give it time.
The first day of school is always scary. Remember when you were 5 years old and walked into a class of kids you didn’t yet know? It’s a lot. But with time, you found your way. Moving abroad can make you feel like that little kid on his first day of class — unsure of himself and the new situation he’s found himself in.
Everything takes time and we don’t adjust in a matter of days or even a matter of months. Give yourself some time to settle in before taking any of your doubts seriously. Then, ask yourself if your doubt is coming from one area, like feeling unsettled because you don’t speak the language well. Or unsettled because you live alone and haven’t met anyone yet.
Or is that doubt all consuming and always present no matter what? For how long now? Does it feel like it’s more than just doubt and instead an indicator of a bad life decision?
Is it the decision itself of moving abroad that makes you doubt your move or one aspect of life that you haven’t quite been able to manage yet? See how you feel a couple of weeks later. Time has a funny way of getting things under control.
4. Let yourself feel.
Moving abroad includes a rollercoaster of emotions and it’s OK to let those feelings out and try to come to terms with them. For me, one of the worst things I can do when feeling emotional is to pretend my feelings don’t exist and sweep them under the rug. That’s a surefire recipe for having them come back 10 times stronger later and lead to a total meltdown.
Find someone you can trust who will listen and then try to process whatever you’re going through. Maybe that’s as simple as writing it out in a journal. Sometimes it’s hard to talk to people from home about any struggles you’re having abroad because they won’t get it and can often be dismissive, so write it out.
Or just talk it out. You’re not crazy if you vocalize how you’re feeling to an empty house. You’ll feel lighter afterwards.
I’ve even found myself only sharing certain things with trusted people in real life in lieu of sharing on my blog because people aren’t always kind. Do what works for you.
The worst is when people say, “But you live in France, how bad can it be?” in response to any issue you’re having, as if living in France is a magical cure-all for all of life’s ills.
Newsflash: It’s not. Life in France is not a 24/7 vacation and people here can have a hard time like anywhere else.
It’s validating to be heard, so don’t let anyone make you feel like your feelings aren’t valid, no matter what it’s about or where you live. Like I said above about journaling, sometimes just the act of writing something down or verbally expressing it to someone is enough to remove it from my physical body and get it out into the ether, outside of myself, which can feel like a weight has been lifted off of you.
Remember, you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through.
Life abroad is not one size fits all >>
5. The grass is not always greener.
There are pros and cons to life everywhere. Nowhere is perfect and life will never be perfect. Try not to frame life back home as being better or worse — it’s different.
I think it’s so easy to see home with rose-colored glasses because it’s where you go on vacation and see people you love through their highlight reel. When you visit, your days are fun and exciting and it’s so easy to compare life at home to what it feels like when we visit. Maybe you even feel some degree of expat guilt for leaving people who seemingly need you.
But if we moved back, we know life wouldn’t be perfect. What do you need out of life right now?
No matter where we live, it’s easy to think the grass is greener elsewhere, especially when we’re going through a rough patch. But it’s not. Stay the course.
If you’re considering a move to France or are already here and having doubts, hang in there. Things get better, I promise! Have you been through this when moving to another country? What helps you when you’re having doubts about something?
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Karen Lewis says
This is a great post, Diane. I learned when I moved away from home to Southern California when I was 21 that doubt is okay. I determined that I could (1) make the move and stay, (2) make the move and decide it wasn’t for me, or (3) never make the move but spend a lifetime wondering if I *should* have moved. At that point I realized that if #2 was what happened, it would not be a step BACK but a step FORWARD. Taking the move to an experience is always a positive, even if we decide that is ultimately not the experience we want any longer. Doubt is a big thing, especially for us women. Can I? Should I? Will I be successful? We need to embrace the ‘stepping forward’. Thanks for a superb post!!!
Keith Van Sickle says
I can relate to this. When my wife and I moved to Switzerland, everything was different and even the simplest things suddenly became hard. We had to ask for help all the time. After we had been there a few months, my wife turned to me one day and said, “You know, I used to be competent.”
I also remember the extremes of emotion. In that first year saw some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life.
And, as you say, living abroad is not nearly as romantic as people think. You still have to work, go shopping, do the laundry. The business of daily living still takes up most of your day.
But oh, the rewards! Living abroad opens your mind and your senses…if you let it. It’s one of the best things we ever did.
Thanks–I needed to hear this right now! I’m already abroad, but I’m currently interviewing for a new job, and if everything works out I’ll be moving to the other side of the country this summer. It absolutely feels like the right thing to do, but moving in the middle of a pandemic is hard, and I’m going to miss the life I have right now!
I’ve found that it helps to remember that most experiences aren’t 100% good or 100% bad, and learning to do things despite being afraid also comes in handy. And yes, giving things time helps. I think having my home country as a safety net when I first moved abroad was also helpful. Even if I didn’t plan to move back, knowing that I could move back at any time took some of the pressure off of having to make things abroad work out, but at the same time didn’t take away any of my determination to make things work out.
Hi Diane, appreciate your blog as always. Can I make a small suggestion? I have observed that the stock photos you choose for blogs about living in France tend to always only feature white people. France being a very diverse nation especially with large numbers of folks who are originally of francophone African descent it would be really positive & lovely to see more diversity in the photo representation here.
Thank you so much for the reminder, Summer! I will make more of an effort to do that in the future.
QiaJenae Hamilton says
Bravo! Well said! Another grand blog, Diane!
Sheila Evans says
Excellent post! I loved every word of it, and found myself very moved. I have been struggling with doubt over the decision to move to France to marry the love of my life. While I have no doubts about him or Marseille, I am feeling sadness and panic about the people, comforts, and a hard-fought independence (as well as competence, as someone wrote in the comments) that I am leaving behind. I was thinking about the “shoulds” in my car today, and recognizing how they contribute to the useless feeling of guilt. These feelings were bothering me so much that I took to Google to see if anyone else had faced, and how they had managed, similar emotions. When I came upon your post, it was so affirming, so validating, that I wanted to write in gratitude. Thank you for a thoughtful, helpful post!
Hi Sheila, thanks so much for your comment and letting me know that this post has helped you. It’s the best compliment anyone could give me. A move abroad won’t be easy but it’s worth it. And just remember you’re never stuck. If you come to France and things change in a few years and you realize it’s not for you, then you’ll reconsider your options then. Take it one day at a time until then. Above all, just know that what you’re feeling is normal. Wishing you the best of luck with it all! ;-))