On Being an Ex-pat. The challenges of living Abroad

On Being an Ex-pat

In our increasingly globalized world people move countries like never before. This means we enter cultures we are unfamiliar with and we live in countries where we have little or no network. Expatriates usually refers to highly skilled migrants who live in a foreign country temporarily. Some work for large international corporations, others are diplomats. The children of ex-pats go to international schools.

Typically ex-pats adjust well to the new country, but occasionally the adjustment can turn out to be more challenging. Ex-pats may feel alone and isolated which puts more strain on the family or if the ex-pat is single isolation could turn into depression. 

Questions of identity are common as ex-pats have to fit in and adjust to new customs and ways of behaving. It may be difficult to understand the local people at first and understand the cultural norms. Some ex-pats engage and meet new friends while other ex-pats isolate themselves or stick to people from their home country. Either way there there is often a cultural gap and a sense of not belonging. Ex-pats may have a sense of separation from the local society and people. This can mean work becomes the primary focus of the ex-pat which leads to even more separation. Work or other addictions can provide a sense of belonging or soothing, but is a vicious cycle. The imbalance between work life and life outside can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Another common issue for ex-pats is the issue of the ‘next step’ and the sense of being torn inside between countries. There might be a longing for ‘home’ or family in the country of origin and a constant ruminating about ‘should I move back home?’. The ex-pat might have a constant sense of missing, homesickness or longing that is felt like a sadness or depression. Or it might be a feeling of emptiness inside and of not being in the right place.

If the ex-pat has moved many times there is often a sense of not belonging anywhere. This can be confusing. All options are open and this can be both worrying and exciting. Living in the present moment in the here and now is difficult as the mind always wonders to other destinations and possibilities. 

Eventually the  rootlessness can lead to unhappiness and emptiness. 

Typical issues for ex-pats are:

  • Problems adjusting
  • Work stress
  • Work addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Marital problems
  • Sense of culture shock
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Feeling torn between the home country and the new country
  • Identity questions
  • Homesickness

Living and working abroad in another culture can be a great learning experience and a challenge worth exploring. It can give you new skills and you discover new aspects of yourself and life. You grow and mature as a result. You learn to understand people from diverse backgrounds and you see that life can be lived in many ways. 

If you are struggling with your ex-pat experience psychotherapy and counseling can help you deal with the challenges. You can learn about yourself and how to overcome these challenges. 

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