“The lonely expat.” Is there such a term? Do we, expats, resonate with this title at some point in our expat life? Who is this lonely person? Is this person a loner, who has given up socializing and trying to integrate? Or is this person joining every possible expat event and meetup from wine-tasting and book-reading to partying and speed-dating, and still suffering from loneliness?
You feel lonely. And that’s ok.
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.
Then you move and the real challenge knocks on your door: you are in a new culture, you don’t know how people talk, behave, argue, communicate, connect, laugh, move. You eat lunch at a different time of day. You socialize differently. You don’t even speak the same language. The cherry on top? The locals don’t seem to support you in this struggle. They don’t seem to understand why you take differences and misunderstandings so personally.
This feeling of being different, the outcast, the expats vs the locals, is a very lonely, alienating, isolating feeling. It’s left to you to find new people and new places that feel like home so that the ebb and flow of homesickness will be smoother and less painful every time.
However, remember our anti-loneliness mantra: You are not alone. Many people in this situation feel exactly the same. You may think you are different, but actually you are more similar than you think: we are all struggling for some connection with the people around us, and, believe it or not, expats and locals have the same needs for communication, friendship and reciprocity.
Healthy Loneliness and acceptance
Loneliness is inevitable in everybody’s life. It’s a wound that needs tending to and that will heal soon. Whether you are getting a divorce, or you move to a new house or change jobs, loneliness is there to remind you of all the things you don’t know and are afraid of. At the same time, loneliness can be a very productive period: it is the opportunity to re-connect with the people around you and to start building meaningful relationships, where you can be honest and where you feel safe to be your Self.
Make the most out of your Loneliness and overcome it
When the first part of the integration process has passed and you are still feeling like a fish out of water, then you may need to re-evaluate your strategy. Let’s first answer some questions:
And remember, you are not alone.
In a nutshell:
Let’s not blame ourselves for feeling lonely. It’s not our fault.
Let’s accept that all people go through this at some point.
Let’s accept the challenge and turn it into an opportunity.
Let’s allow loneliness to be part of our life, temporarily, and take care of ourselves in the meantime.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.