Ways to Cope When Living Abroad

by | Tips to feel better

There are many reasons to relocate to a foreign country: to see a different world and experience a new culture, to further studies, to explore different perspectives or relocate for your foreign spouse…

Entering a new environment definitely creates some form of stress at the beginning. It can affect your emotional level. It may start with a ‘low’ feeling prior to departure due to the stress of the move. With the initial lack of awareness regarding cultural differences, cultural shock will set in, followed by various ups and downs during cultural adjustment. Self-regulation skill is essential while living out of your normal support system.

Changing lifestyles and environment along with the culture shock usually occurs all at once. Health check procedure, new transportation system, new direction in new area, new local foreign community, dealing with climate change or even new food are only some of the more obvious changes. Other changes may lie in the interpersonal realm. Your relationship can be put to the test when your foreign spouse lacks the cultural understanding of your background. In fact, it’s quite normal for a relationship to temporarily become strained when you initially move into your spouse’s world. 

Another realm of adjustment lies in finding a fit in the job market where you may experience the feeling of being a member of a minority culture living among a majority culture. The sense of vulnerability becomes more acute without a good social support system. These feelings can often trigger your worst self.

The truth of the matter is that you are still the same person no matter where you are. Don’t give up and take it calmly. Here are some examples for coping when living abroad.

1. Be honest about your feelings.

Stay true to your own feelings. If you have endured too many difficulties, be honest with yourself. If things are upsetting you, don’t keep it to yourself and don’t pretend that you’re fine with it. Find a place and time to be alone and reflect on what happened and what you’ve been through. Write it down to express your feelings. Express yourself with anything that makes you feel comfortable. For example, crying, journaling, writing or drawing what really makes you feel lost, ashamed or scared. Try to understand these feelings and what triggers them. Learn how this feeling affects you and triggers the feeling of suffering. It can be helpful to talk to someone about your feelings. Reach out to someone who will listen and not judge you regarding your feelings. Stay open with yourself and be prepared for any circumstances that may happen to you.

2. Embrace personal discovery.

Personal discovery is a good form of discovering your own nature, resulting in a better understanding of realising what is going on in your surroundings. This level of self-discovery will increase your self-compassion, empathy and attention to others. This sense of empathy and attention to others will lead to improved connection in solving issues. This must be nurtured by your own self. If you’re unable to identify the issues but feel like something is wrong, this may be due to incorrect perspectives or misunderstandings from your past experiences, which usually you aren’t fully aware of.

Leaving our familiar social surrounding widens our cultural horizon.  Feeling ups and downs through the cultural adjustment is normal since we struggle to understand how the new culture operates while simultaneously leaving our previous culture. You may find yourselves more sensitive than your usual self when little problems affect you easily, making it seem like you are unhappy most of the time. Your feelings became over magnified, making you feel very vulnerable at times.

Do not be afraid to contact a counsellor or therapist to assist in your situation. Counsellors are a great resource to impart skills for helping and managing your difficulties. You can obtain strong therapeutic results when you share your best and worst self with a counsellor.

3. Enhance your self-care.

It is crucial that you take care of your body, mind and spirit. Practising self-care isn’t always easy. Engaging in a daily self-care plan can help you regain a sense of personal agency amidst all the changes. When living abroad, your social life may be limited as you are building a new community. By focusing on simple self-care such as practising sleep hygiene, eat right and exercise in a manageable way, your stress level can be well managed. When you are well, you will naturally attract people into your life.

4. Join a club/group/team to deal with the loneliness when living abroad.

Join a group, club or team to meet people with common interests, whether it’s around cultural and sporting events, bringing coffee lovers together or finding other entrepreneurs. You may also take a class to help cope with the loneliness. Language classes are good for meeting other expatriates. It’s fun to have such great opportunities to get to know people from other countries.

Summary

Changes in any situation you’re in can definitely and inevitably cause stress and feelings of unhappiness. Fear, anger and anxiety are common. However, understanding the best method to adjust is the key. You may consider seeking guidance from counsellors to help you keep calm, expand options and find good solutions. Treat this journey as an opportunity to develop resilience in you.

Joe is a registered & licensed counsellor with postgraduate studies in counselling. She provides sessions for children, teens, individuals and families. Her expertise is in cognitive behaviour techniques, integrated with multidisciplinary learning theories. Her training background enables her understanding on the formation of a person’s character/personality. Collectively, these are effective elements to build functional skills throughout lifespan.

Joe

Mental Health Counsellor

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