Loneliness: How to Connect and Open Up as an Expat
If you know a little about Greek mythology, you probably have heard about the 10 years of Odysseus’ (or else, Ulysses’) adventures all around the Mediterranean Sea before he eventually reached home.
Even though he didn’t “sign up for it”, he spent 10 years (plus 10 during the Trojan War) away from his home, and every single day of these years was a lonely journey, a resistance to resignation and despair, and a painful reminder that there is nowhere like home.
Ithaca, Odysseus’s home place, is a symbol of the roots we all leave behind us when we start a new life at a different place.
Why expat life feels lonely
The expat life is lonely. Period. It doesn’t matter whether you like the new place or not, it still feels lonely at times.
Feeling lonely as an expat is quite a normal stage in the integration process. In fact, it starts even before you land at our next destination: you are in the middle of packing your stuff and you are already flooded by a nostalgic feeling of all the places and the faces that you will definitely miss.
And then you move to the new country: you are immersed in a completely new culture with a different set of values and way of life, you meet different people, you don’t speak the language, you miss your friends and family, but most of all, connecting with the people around you is really hard (especially in the beginning). You have no idea where to start, how to approach people, and most of all, how long it will take until you feel at home.
How to Make it Feel Like Home and Connect as an Expat
1. Acceptance is key.
First of all, let’s accept two things: 1. it will never be exactly like home and 2. It’s ok to feel lonely. With these two realizations, you are actually relieving yourself from the heavy and sometimes unrealistic expectations that you have to make expat life feel good all the time. This is your life, with its ups and downs, with its ebb and flow, and you are doing your best, but you know that this feeling of no-local, or outcast, is a feeling that will take years to go away.
2. Embrace difference
Accept that we are different and that’s ok. Yes, you are different from the locals or the other cultures you meet, and that is exactly what makes you interesting to others. Instead of believing that you are the outsider, start seeing yourself as a person making the most of this diverse canvas you live in.
3. Learn the local language (verbal and non-verbal).
Making the decision to learn the language is a very smart one. Not only because you will need it for your daily communication with the locals, but also because you will feel more alike and less different from your surroundings. You will belong. Moreover, it’s very important to observe how the locals greet, laugh, or express their feelings. It’s a useful lesson in order to communicate with them better, but also to avoid misunderstandings.
4. Aligned socializing.
Choose social events wisely so that they match your background, values and interests. It has been proven that we feel less lonely when we join in activities with people with the same hobbies, experiences and values.
5. Be patient.
In those meetings, everybody is scared and everybody is protecting themselves from getting hurt. Real, authentic, meaningful relationships take time. When interacting with like-minded individuals, try to practice empathic listening and to get into their shoes. Be unapologetically authentic and honest when you are around them. But try to be curious about them too and not judgmental about their life and their experiences. Accept them as they are and provide support. And, who knows, you might end up meeting unique and wonderful people.
6. Be kind to yourself.
The step you took to move to a new country is a brave and yet a challenging one. Being an expat is not a walk in the park. If you are expecting yourself to be back to normal a few days after you’ve landed in a new country, that’s a high standard you’re setting for yourself. Take your time, allow yourself to observe the environment, explore, be curious, and most of all, be compassionate with yourself especially when you are struggling with this transition.
7. Old connections, new connections.
Last but not least, maintain the connections with your friends and family back home, but don’t compare them with your new connections; that’s an unfair comparison. That will only lead you to idolize the past and keep you with one foot at the door all the time. The new friendships you are making don’t carry all the memories, the history and the emotions of the home relationships, but they bring some freshness and excitement in your life. Enjoy your new country and make the most out of this new opportunity.
Once again: Ithaca is not an actual place, rather than a symbol of the roots we are all looking for in order to feel safe and loved.
You are not alone.
About Vassia Sarantopoulou
Vassia Sarantopoulou is the Founder, CEO and Head Psychologist of AntiLoneliness, a company offering mental health services in The Netherlands and also worldwide. She is also a Trainer, a Perfectionism Expert and a Mental Health Ambassador, promoting Inner Peace, Mental Strength and Healthy Relationships with others and with our Self. AntiLoneliness offers support to those struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, burnout, loneliness, relationship issues, transition/change, expat life.
Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peekabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.
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