…if you’re not careful, that is. That’s right, I’ll say it again — moving abroad will absolutely disappoint you if you’re not prepared. Some of us moved abroad for a job, for school, for love, to be with family, to experience a new culture or some combo of the above. But if you look at your new home only through rose-colored glasses, it’s an unsustainable way to see things. With time, the place’s allure will wear off and you might find yourself disappointed. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s why moving abroad will disappoint you if you’re not careful (and what to do about it!)…
Why moving abroad will disappoint you
I’ve heard all too often former expats’ stories that go something like, “Oh, I just didn’t like it and decided to move back home.” Fair enough.
But what didn’t you like?
The people, the culture, your job or what exactly?
I’ll be the first to admit that if I didn’t have Tom in my life, after my stint as a teaching assistant in 2009-10, I would have returned home and probably pursued job opportunities in the U.S. — and I’d still be in the U.S. Living in France at that time was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed it, but would I have actively pursued returning to France for good? Alone and single? Probably not.
But all it takes is one person, one experience, or one opportunity to change your life.
And I hope it’s for the better. For me, that “thing” was a person, who is now my husband.
What if you’re abroad and not feeling it? Well, even if one aspect of your new life abroad disappoints you, other parts will be life-changing and impactful on a multitude of levels even if you don’t realize it at the time. If moving abroad wasn’t your choice, there are ways to make the best of it. If you don’t immediately love a new place, that can change with time. You can change it.
The more you put yourself out there and open your eyes to what’s around you, it’s easier to find those life-changing parts that maybe you didn’t see at first.
I’m a huge proponent of making the best of things when life doesn’t seem to be going your way. In hard times, cry about it, scream into a pillow, talk to friends and family and get it out. And then move on. Try your best to find the one thing that brings you some joy and adds positivity to your situation. From there, things can only multiply.
The lonely expat problem: Making friends is hard >>
When moving abroad, consider the following:
Moving abroad will disappoint you if your expectations are too high.
Disappointment is a part of life. Sometimes the reality of a situation just doesn’t match up with our expectations. So keep in mind that regardless of what you’ve heard, moving to a foreign country does not equal guaranteed paradise all the time. While a new country might be exotic and beautiful and exciting because of all the tourist pictures on Facebook and stories you’ve heard from those who loved it, it’s a country with people who have problems just like anyone else. Once the vacation ends, real life settles in, and sometimes it’s hard to handle no matter where you live on the globe.
Your experience abroad will be shaped into what it is by what you bring to it. 80% is all you.
Nowhere is perfect, so if you go in with that mindset that everything will be wonderful all the time, you might get the surprise of your life. In the worst way imaginable. While we can’t control a place’s government, attitudes toward foreigners, and bureaucracy, can can control our reactions when faced with these uncomfortable new realities.
No, I’m not “lucky” to live abroad >>
Moving abroad to escape something might only be a temporary fix.
Need to get out of a toxic relationship? Or maybe you’re just tired of the same old desk job? I get it. But don’t let that be your only reason to leave where you currently are. Make sure you truly want to move abroad for the opportunities and life experiences you’ll have there and not just because it’s a way to get away from where you are.
Are you leaving your home because you want to escape something or because you genuinely want to find something where you’re going? It’s a distinction worth thinking about.
If you dwell on only the disappointments, you’ll only see more disappointments.
Sometimes when there’s something negative going on in my life, it’s all I can see. One little issue with the French bureaucracy reminds me that I hate how all the stores are closed on Sundays and then I hate how the banks are never open and one thing leads to another. But before you fall into that destructive cycle, take a step back and open your eyes. One little disappointment isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t define who you are and your place in your new country. See what else is going on around you and pinpoint something positive that makes you happy. Dwell on that and before you know it, that disappointment will be a distant memory.
Moving abroad without integrating might leave you alone and depressed.
So what’s the easy fix here? Learn the language (if applicable) and put yourself out there. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but even if you use an online language learning program until you are conversational or meet others through an online forum or blogs one on one, that’s a great first step. You don’t need to look at it as “all or nothing.” Start small. Do your part and you’ll see the difference it makes. Staying home and only going out with other expats might work for some people who are only somewhere for a few years, but to feel somewhat integrated for the long haul, it’s important to at least make an effort to learn the language.
Mistakes I made when I moved to France >>
And maybe most importantly, always, ALWAYS put things in perspective.
I can get dramatic and make big deals out of nothing, but I always step back (once I’m done flipping out) and look at the big picture. Also, remind yourself that disappointments big and small happen at home, too. The subject matter might be different but the disappointments and hardships are still there. A dispute with a friend, road rage, a work situation, a health scare, etc. They’re not unique to you or your situation. And above all, wherever you are, it’s all about how you react to them.
My advice when moving abroad? Try to have realistic expectations. Talk to as many people as you can, read blogs and visit the place you’re moving to BEFORE you move there (preferably for more than a vacation). Try to set up a network ahead of time so you have others to talk to who have gone through the same thing.
Also, if your move is a choice and not because of a family member’s job or another circumstance, ask yourself what the new place has that your current country does not. What’s your motivation for going? Make sure those things are absolutely worth all the frustration, culture shock and bad days. The more real you are with what moving abroad entails, the more likely you’ll be to embrace it and have the time of your life.
I agree: never make a major life change because you’re trying to escape. Figure out the problem first and make sure you move with a happy heart. =)
Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips in Paris! says
I completely agree. I think the only reason my move here (all be it short term for right now) has gone very smoothly was because of all the research I did prior to moving. Knowing as much as you can before actually making the move about the language, culture, etc, is so helpful in the long run!!
Susan Walter says
I agree with some of this, but not all. I think it’s perfectly fine to make major life changes to escape something, and to move abroad without much planning, especially if you are a serial expat. The longer I live abroad the less I know what people mean by integrating and the less important I think it is that one worries about it or works at it. To me, being integrated would mean that my friends and neighbours would never think of me as foreign. Well, that’s never going to happen, and actually, there are lots of advantages to being foreign.
It’s very easy to over plan a move, so you end up with very fixed ideas about how it is going to be. Just as dangerous as arriving with a head full of fairytale fantasy. I also find very few of the expat online forums very helpful. There is a lot of wrong information there, and a lot of information that simply doesn’t apply to my situation.
It worries me slightly that you refer to the US as home. One thing an expat needs to know is that their country of origin may never be home again. When you go back it will be a different place and you will be a different person. The longer you are away the more pronounced this becomes.
Don’t spurn other expats and only socialise with the locals. You will miss out on some wonderful people who have a lot in common with yourself if you do. Having said that, do your best to take every opportunity to practice the language, because having the language will make your life so much less stressful and gain you some control.
I agree that focusing on the disappointments will only cause further disappointments to rear their ugly heads. Above all, remember that mostly you regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did. Give yourself 3 years before you make a decision about whether to move on or not. It takes that long to settle into a new life.
Holy crap, that comment turned out a lot longer than I thought it would be :-))
Hi Susan, thanks for your comment and sharing your point of view. Just to explain, I think the integrating part happens organically in many cases but for French citizenship, one has to be “integrated” enough for the French to grant citizenship, so it is important to a degree if and when someone wants to pursue that. And I agree about the forums — I used to visit them more often but didn’t find them all that helpful.
And I’m not going anywhere… we just bought a house!!! Thanks again for stopping by!
Juli Townsend says
An excellent post, and a good one to keep in mind on those days when the ‘new’ world loses it’s lustre.
Cosette from Stumble Downunder directed me here.
Hello! Thanks for checking out my site (love Cosette’s blog!). Glad to have you here 😉
This is such a great article and it hit home on many points. Moving abroad has been an eye opening experience that has taught me so much but it didn’t come without work and hardships. It’s not always “paradise” like people think and see in pictures. Sure there’s beautiful beaches but surviving, living and finding your true happiness in a place you’re not used to is no piece of cake. Thank you for writing this great article – linking it in my post about common misconceptions about Costa Rica 🙂
I don’t want to say I’m happy you could relate because that’s not what I mean (don’t want anyone disappointed!), but I salute you for taking a chance and just going for it despite whatever hardships have come your way. Although things aren’t always easy, I do think the experience is worth it. Thank you for checking out the post!
Wow! Thank you, that was really interesting. That’s something that I’ve never really thought about. I tend to think that life over there will be perfect. I know it’s right for me to go over there. And I know I’m going for good reasons (not the reasons you had mentioned). It won’t always be easy and it’s something I’ll have to work at. That’s just something I’ll have to understand and not get discouraged when it’s not perfect. Anyways, Thanks again Diane! Great post!