If you’ve lived abroad long enough, you’ve surely come up against periods of frustration and struggle when you don’t feel at peace with your situation in life. That’s a life experience we all go through and you certainly don’t have to live abroad to struggle. But those of us who do live abroad long-term have unique challenges, and if you find yourself in one of these down periods where nothing seems to be falling into place, and you’re stressing about not adapting the way you should like everyone else seemingly is, you are not alone. There’s one mindset shift that you might find freeing. I did.
Do you ever feel like an outsider who is doing everything abroad wrong? And is it intensified when you have a bunch of life stresses coming at you from all directions on top of it?
A couple of years ago, a family member’s health challenges shook me to my core. Combine that with job changes and financial stress and you have a recipe for feeling like you don’t know which way is up. Add in the fact that you live far away from all that was once comfortable and the reality that you live your life in a foreign language in a foreign land, and you can forget what makes you YOU and how to overcome the current challenges.
Luckily, most of that is in the rear view mirror now for me, but I started thinking about all the challenges of living abroad the other day while walking Dagny at the park. I do my best thinking when I’m alone in nature and used the time to prep for my YouTube video collab with Unintentionally Frenchified about the hardest parts of living abroad in France (video at end of post).
Something I’ve learned over the years is that it’s essential to be who you are and carry that with you no matter where you’re from and where you find yourself living in the world.
In times of struggle, if you can’t be 100% who you are in how you think, feel, and act, the hard periods abroad will be even more difficult because you’ll be pushing against something instead of finding your place within it. Don’t change who you are in your heart to fit into a mold that wasn’t built for you. Being comfortable abroad is a process and one that’s made infinitely harder if we fight it trying to live life according to some other place’s standards.
Yes, go out and discover your new surroundings and experience all France has to offer to the fullest. Take the parts with you that work and leave behind the parts that don’t mesh with who you are. This next part is super important and was a major mental shift for me after a couple years of living here that I found incredibly freeing. Maybe it can help you.
I came to France thinking I had to learn everything about France and the French way of life and then do my best to be like that to thrive. I stupidly thought I had to dim my spirit and what makes me Diane, and by doing so, it can chip away at who you are. You can still honor and respect French customs and culture in your own way and be all the happier for it.
Once I made that shift and allowed myself to express my personality in everyday life, somehow life challenges that came my way seemed much more manageable when I wasn’t trying to be anyone else.
For me, living abroad can sometimes feel like I’ve lost a part of my identity or had to reinvent myself. Sometimes I act like a model foreigner. Above all, we need to keep ourselves grounded and connected with what makes us happy. Don’t force yourself into someone else’s timeline of when you should be at ease with the language and culture or when you should get that promotion at work or buy a house. Timelines don’t do anything but add stress to an already frazzled mind.
We need to give ourselves space and grace to know what we need.
I know I need to stop saying “should.” It’s self-defeating to say we “should” test at this level, should understand everything on TV, or should see this many countries by a certain date. Shoulds suck. Shoulds make us feel like we’ve failed at things that were never ours in the first place and won’t get us to where we want to go.
If you’re abroad and questioning your choices and being hard on yourself, my advice is to just let yourself be. Let all that crap go and detach from the stories we tell ourselves that serve nothing but our anxiety.
I think as humans, especially ones who live abroad and see our new homelands as shiny and new and a place in which to better ourselves, it’s so easy to see what we want for ourselves in others. In doing so, we ignore all the wonderful qualities that already exist within us. Maybe we seek to be more fashionable, better traveled, successful, and just more, when what we already have is more than enough.
If we slow down and stop looking, we see so much to be proud of within ourselves.
Don’t lose a part of yourself trying to be more like someone else. It’s easy to forget who you are when you’ve been too busy to ever stand on your own legs. There’s no value in playing dress-up with your life.
It’s freeing to just opt out of the bullshit. The living abroad experience is not one size fits all.
Make it yours, do what gets you inspired and excited about life, and the rest will fall into place. And that feels really good.