How to cope with the comedown when you’ve moved overseas.
Not long after you’ve arrived in your new country, there comes a time when it suddenly hits you – ‘Oh, is that it? Now what?’
You may feel quite down and flat and wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake.
We all know that moving overseas is really exciting. It heralds great change, perhaps the hope of a better future and a better life. To most families it represents a new start in their lives both professionally and personally.
But many new expats are shocked that it isn't all happy days and paradise living and begin to second guess their decision.
It’s OK, this is a completely normal experience; and it can often hit harder after the holiday season, which is why I want to talk about it now.
Why does this come-down happen? And what can you do to get through this feeling? Yes, through is the word I mean, because it is a transient feeling; it will pass.
When it happens after you’ve moved, I call it the comedown, or the 6-month slump. And then we have the ‘expat blues’, which is a similar feeling, and is relevant to this time of year. See the links below for articles I’ve written about each of these.
So, listen to this episode to learn coping methods, and tips to help you get through it, and once you understand why this feeling happens, you’ll be better prepared to power on through!
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Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat podcast, helping expat parents navigate moving and living overseas with their families. With Carole Hallett Mobbs, Expat Life Mentor and Consultant and founder of Expatchild.com. I'm Carole, your resident expat expert, and I'm here to help you live the expat life you dream about and deserve. If you're planning a move abroad, or if you're already living your expat life, or even if you're planning a move back home, you've come to the right place. In this podcast, I'll offer you experienced, insight, sensible advice and practical information, along with some sugar-free, no bullshit tips and tricks to help you on your way so that you and your children can live your expat experience to the full. There are so many layers to this expat life that you need to know about, but often you don't know what you need to know. And that's what I aim to help you with, because knowledge is power and I want you to have the best expat experience you possibly can. So let's get straight into today's episode.
Welcome to 2023. Happy New Year. I hope this year brings you everything you wish for. For me, I'm more than happy to say goodbye to 2022, although I am thrilled to pass on to you that the results of my urgent operation last year were all clear.
This following episode was actually recorded just before my operation, so please excuse my voice. I didn't realise until I listened back to it that the lump was affecting my voice so much. As you can probably hear, my voice still has a few issues. I don't have the power that I used to and I can't talk for very long. So I'm still doing my vocal exercises and hope it will be back to normal very soon. The topic I cover in this first episode of the New Year is one that's been cropping up a lot over the past year or two, and especially this crops up after the holiday season, as everything is a sort of a comedown. Now back to the pre-recorded episode about coping with the comedown when you move overseas.
Today, I'm going to talk about something that isn't really discussed all that much, and it's something that I call the comedown. Let's see if this sounds familiar to you, if you've recently, or maybe not so recently, moved overseas.
How does this sound?
"I'm not feeling so great. I feel kind of lost right now. I've got no energy, my positivity has taken a nosedive, I am exhausted. I know I'm dealing with a lot, so perhaps it's just that I'm dealing with all the paperwork, the fine print, the home organisation, making sure the kids are all right and settling well, and basically just dealing with everything, and then listening to my partner when they get back from their shiny new job, all excited. And I hate to say it, but I'm beginning to feel a bit resentful. It just seems like I'm doing all the sacrificing. I gave up my career to come here and now I just seem to be doing even more work than ever before, but for no reward or recognition. I'm overwhelmed and I'm lonely and yet I'm kind of bored as well. I don't feel that I should feel like this. I mean, I'm living this really amazing life opportunity in this fabulous, exciting new country, so why do I feel so bad right now?"
So are you nodding along to this? Does this sound familiar to you? Good. Well, obviously not good that you're feeling like this, but good in the way that this shows you that you are not alone in these feelings. So what is this? I call it a comedown and it is a widely recognised aspect of expat life. So I want to take a look at it in depth, because it's all part of what to expect when you're expatting. You've moved to a brand new, exciting life. Everyone is envious of you living the dream and amazed at your bravery, because apparently those of us who move abroad are brave. Anyway, maybe that's for another time. You've done all the hard stuff, you've done the research, the planning, the packing, the preparing, the kids. So why do you feel so flat, so down, shortly after arriving in your new home? We all know that moving overseas is really exciting. It heralds great change and perhaps the hope of a better future and a better life for all. To most families, it represents a brand new start in their lives, both professionally and personally. So many new expats are shocked that it isn't all happy days and paradise living.
Well, no shit. I mean, this is something that I've been trying to get through to everybody moving overseas for years, and the comedown is the first little part of it. It doesn't mean that you've made the wrong decision. Let's carry on. There comes a point, surprisingly, quite soon after you arrive, actually, where suddenly you feel quite low and you kind of wonder, oh, well, is that it? So why does this comedown happen? So, quite often, some people feel that the comedown that I'm talking about is that feeling of, oh, is that it? What do I do now? Is this the way my life's always going to be? Where's all the fun? Where's the paradise? Where's the new, adventurous, fabulous life I was expecting? Where's the new me? And I think by looking at why the comedown happens, it'll help you understand what's going on and how you can deal with it. The first part of moving overseas comes with the end of your previous life. Of course, you're starting a new life as well, but you're also grieving the change, those stressful goodbyes. Goodbyes to friends, to family, and most of all, a goodbye to familiarity, to your comfort zone.
It's also worth recognising that moving house is one of the most stressful life experiences that you can go through, and that's within the same country. When you're moving to a whole different country, you can magnify that stress about a thousand times. And also, the lead up to moving is absolutely frantic. It's jam-packed with things to do, belongings to packs, schools to sort out, home to sort out, new home to sort out, old home to sort out, kids, kids, everything, preparing the kids, all sorts, pets, all the bureaucracy and people to say goodbye to, jobs to finish, and so much busyness. And then when you land in your new country and start your new life, you have to do it all in reverse and then some. So you're unpacking. You may be attempting to pack stuff that doesn't fit anywhere in your new home. For example, when I moved to South Africa, there was absolutely no storage in my house at all. And I had about 100 boxes of books just hanging around with nowhere to put them. And I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm really not. But there were no bookshelves and that was more stuff to sort out, so we had to find where to get wood from, where to get all the fittings from.
My husband's pretty good at DIY, so that was all right. But it's all this extra stuff. In an unfamiliar country, moving is not easy. You're finding schools and a whole new routine of that, plus really, really supporting the kids with all their new educational and friendship landscapes, all the new routines and so on. You've got a new location to deal with as well, and you may have a whole different language to cope with on top of it all. So this is just a whole lot of new stuff to get to grips with. Everything is different and that's both wonderful and exciting, but it is also mentally exhausting. Do not underestimate how mentally exhausting it all is. So there is just so much going on over that moving and arriving time that you basically just live on adrenaline for a while. And this is why everything for the first few weeks or months is just adrenaline filled busyness. And then suddenly it all stops. Well, it sort of fades away for some people, but it stops suddenly for others. When all the unpacking is done. Once the kids are at school, for example, and you're finally alone and it's quiet.
And for some, that may be heaven, for others, that may be hell. But know what? Once all this frantic busyness is done and life is becoming a little bit more routine, there is a tendency to feel somewhat adrift and a bit shell shocked, frankly. You're basically just coming up for breath. But rather than the relief you'd expect to feel, it's all a bit of an anti-climax. You need to know yourself and your needs in order to cope with this comedown. Some people do well on their own, others need people around. Both are fine, obviously, but when you're in a whole new country, may I gently suggest that you need people around, even if it goes against your very nature. I'll come to that bit in a moment. Are you an accompanying partner and a parent? Chances are that you've moved overseas as an accompanying partner so that your working partner is off to work every day, almost from day one of your arrival. And you're dealing with everything else. Everything as a non-working partner is often harder for you to settle than it is for your other half. So the working partner falls quickly into the automatic new routine of work.
They'll be meeting new colleagues, they'll have daily social interaction, their brains will be active with new professional challenges. And it won't all be as unfamiliar as the life of the non-working partner experiences. Why not? Well, because their work will be pretty much the same as before, just in a different office in a different country. They may not even be bothered by language differences if they're working in a home country company overseas. And for the first few days and weeks in your new country, it can seem somewhat holiday like, with new sights, new sayings and new smells. You're busy finding your feet, discovering where to buy food, dealing with the kids, locating and registering with doctors and dentists, and generally setting up your new life with adrenaline-fuelled, enthusiasm and excitement. Your kids will have started school probably, or maybe kindergarten if they're younger. And they have their days neatly structured. They're meeting new people as well. They're making new friends, they're discovering new activities and generally getting on with their new life, which is all nice and busy. So everything is coming together for them, for your partner, for your children. But things begin to subtly change for you and after a while, restlessness and boredom kicks in.
And this can be especially painful if you had to give up your career to move abroad. You may be unable to work in your new country for a number of reasons, and the days may start to stretch out. If you've had to give up your career in order to facilitate this move, you may start feeling a loss of identity. And this is something that some people feel a lot stronger than others. Psychologically, much of our identity is often tied up with our job descriptions. I'm pretty sure I've already covered this topic. Frankly, these days I can't remember. I've been writing and talking about this stuff for well over ten years now. So it's understandable that I may repeat stuff or assume that I've said something that I haven't. Where was I? Oh yeah. So loss of identity and maybe a building feeling of resentment, which you need to focus on not letting take hold of you. Oh yeah, I've definitely, definitely recorded a podcast on this. It was back in season one, so it should be easy enough to find. Well, I think it's got identity in the title. Let's go with that. And yes, I do realise that in many cases, you'll both have jobs.
These days, many more companies are taking the accompanying partner’s need to work seriously now and helping you find work, thank goodness. But for this episode, let's go with the you’re not working theme, as it's still a very, very common setup. So, what about you? Now that you're finally living abroad and the home and family assorted, what do you do when everyone else is out all day? And no, most expat wives can you hear air quotes there? So most expat wives do not spend all their days sipping martinis and getting manicures. At least not in my circles. And the thing is, you may even be feeling a bit guilty for not appreciating your new life abroad. After all, aren't you living the dream? You should be so happy. I don't like the word should, as I think you're probably aware by now. So let's scrub that from your mind. It does not matter what other people think you should do or feel. The trouble is, the vicious circle of this is not feeling that you're able to complain to anybody. You can't share that you're not happy with your new, supposedly perfect life. So many air quotes going here.
Don't worry, this sense of boredom is extremely common. It doesn't even matter where you've moved. Pretty much everybody experiences the same thing, the comedown after you've moved overseas. And it's not culture shock, it's very different from that well documented syndrome. And I've just remembered I've promised to do a podcast episode on culture shock, so I've definitely added that to my list and we'll record that next. Anyway, let's move on to learning some coping tips for the comedown. So, what can you do to get through this feeling? This comedown, this? Oh, God. Is that it? What have we done? Have we really made a big mistake here? And yes, get through is exactly what I mean, because it is a transient feeling. It will pass. But you do need to do the work. So how do you fill the void of, well, what do I do now? Here are five tips for starters. And for what is worth, I believe it's best to jump into your early days of expat life with these tips in mind before too much time goes by. The first one is to be proactive. This is the point where you actively need to make a new life for yourself.
Things aren't going to happen for you, you have to make them happen. Many expat partners find expat life difficult because they do not have a support system. You don't have the friends or even people to talk to right now. You probably don't have a big circle of friends in your new country. Or more likely, as it's really early on in your move, you may not have any friends at all. Not even people you know that you can just chit-chat with. You must get out there and go and find your tribe. Find things to do, find people to talk to. Even talking to someone, anyone, is a good start. If you have little kids, start at the school gates, open conversations, and this can be incredibly rewarding, meeting others, other parents in the same position as you. And a by-product may be that you help your kids make new friends too. And this is by far the easiest way to find people on your wavelength. Even a nod and a smile can help. If you're not much good before coffee in the morning. And it won't be long before you find a lovely group of people to go and get that coffee with after school drop off.
I'm still friends with those school gate mums and coffee shop mums from Tokyo all those years ago. The problem comes if your kids are older. So if you have older kids who can't possibly be seen with you at the school gate, oh, my goodness, shame. Or if there is a door to door school transport system, then this isn't a ready made option and you have to try something else. And that leads me on to tip number two. Be inventive. Perhaps set up your own group. Work with your partner in this to see if they can suggest opportunities to find other accompanying partners within their colleagues’ families. Worth a try. Invite them over for a coffee morning, or a book club or a walking group or anything, just to actually find your voice again. You know what it's like when you first got a baby. You don't speak to an adult for hours or days on end. Similar sort of situation. You need to talk to other people, otherwise you forget how to. Or is that just me? It's probably just me. Basically, anything goes. Organise something. You have to make your own life and make your own fun.
Which leads on to number three, which is to get out of your comfort zone. Now, you're already out of your comfort zone simply by living in a new country, but now is the time to step up and step even further out. You can do this. You are strong. The previous couple of tips may have been you going out of your comfort zone already, but please do persevere. The more you push, the larger your comfort zone becomes, and therefore everything becomes so much easier. If you're shy or introverted or both, making conversation can be really hard and I do understand that. So you do really have to force yourself to do these things, otherwise you're going to find expat life quite difficult. So number four is to be open to new experiences. This kind of ties in with the whole comfort zone thing too. And the key to this is to not look back on previous activities that you really hated. For example, you may have loathed netball at school I did. But so far, the only thing that you've been invited to is netball. So why not just go along and give it a go?
As a grown up now, just say yes. Go along for the fun. What have you got to lose? And what have you got to lose should really become a bit of a mantra to you in life anyway, and it's really helpful in pushing you towards just doing it. Which brings me to the final tip, which is, say yes to everything that you're invited to. Accept every invitation, and this is really the pinnacle to the previous four points. If you say yes to absolutely everything you're invited to, and especially say yes if you think you may not enjoy it, life will get a lot easier very quickly. Don't say no because it's not your thing, your preferred activity. Don't say no because you're feeling antisocial. Don't say no because you're too shy. Just say yes. You're making a new life now, so do new things. And why should you not say no? Well, firstly, because after a few weeks of you saying no, those invitations will disappear, because everyone will assume you're either too busy or, frankly, too up yourself to join them. And secondly, why you should say yes instead of no is you may bond with someone else in the same boat as you that has said yes to get out there, but they may be also hating every second of that particular experience.
You've got something in common already. Excellent start. So take up everything that's offered and you can filter it all out later on. When you do become too busy, you can always say no further down the line, but you can't often say yes further down the line because the line dries up. You just have to get out there and do it all at first. And, of course, there will still be gaps in your days or weeks, because that's how life works. You can't be on the go all the time, even in your home country. So here are some tips to help alleviate boredom. Read. I said about 100 books earlier here. Reading is obviously my thing. So now that your brain has got some breathing space, you could read all the kinds of books that you've always wanted to read but haven't been able to. Haven't had time to. Think of some books that you would have loved to have read in your old life but didn't because you were too busy. Make a list and read them. Yeah, it doesn't happen, but it's worth a try. And it's got to be said, let's move on.
Become a tourist. This is one of my favourite suggestions. A lot of people don't actually do this because they're too busy trying to think of ways to be accepted as a local. Yes, you've moved there to live, but you're not going to instantly become integrated. It just doesn't work like that. And honestly, you are naïve if you think it will happen quickly, if at all. I mean, there are villages here in the UK I could move to and I wouldn't be accepted as a local, even though I am British. England is kind of like that. You're only a local if you have had seven generations of that family living in that place, so it's unlikely that you will properly integrate in certain places. What you need to do is appreciate your new surroundings and being a tourist is one of the best ways to get yourself out there to do that. And this is a great idea to do as soon as you can after your move, just grab a tourist guide book and get out there. And especially when it's just you with no kids around, you can take the opportunity to do those things that your family wouldn't appreciate in the same way as you do.
For example, you may love art galleries or classical music, but you can't do those things easily because you have kids who don't enjoy them and then spoil it for you. Remember, you are an individual too, and it's all too easy to forget your own self in the midst of being parent and partner. Next is a tip that may stretch you right out of your comfort zone. Talk to strangers. Yeah, I know we've always been told not to talk to strangers, but we are adults now and if you're going to be proactive in making a new life overseas, that means engaging in conversations you wouldn't normally attempt. And this is especially important if you're living somewhere where you have to speak a new language. Practise makes perfect. I would have various random conversations in shops, at the bus station, on public transport, in the library. In fact, I actually do this everywhere I am. It's just what I do. I am also the person that attracts the nutter on the bus and I'll talk to them. They're still people. And it's a great way to have a conversation, especially surreal and random conversations, but it's also a great way to discover insider points of view on your new or old country.
Just talk to people. Don't forget how to use your voice. Follow your intuition, obviously. Stay safe and don't talk to people you think are dodgy, but be open minded and be friendly. A smile and hand gestures go a long way until you've mastered the language. Get to know your immediate area, your locale. Use the same shops. You'll start to soon recognise people that you see regularly. Don't keep your head down, look around and keep a ready smile available and you'll soon get to know people. Even if it's just on nodding terms. It helps you to very quickly feel a sense of being at home. People will soon recognise you and before long you'll feel unfamiliar territory. And this takes away the out of your comfort zone feeling very quickly and makes everything else much easier to deal with. Another tip is to do something new. Especially if you had to give up your career to move overseas. Then you may find that your brain is stagnating somewhat. So start using it. Take up a new hobby. Try something that you've always wanted to do but never had the time or the opportunity. Research some local workshops and classes.
Perhaps there are local speciality crafts and such that you can get into. Local groups are a great way to meet new like minded people. Some of the groups and clubs that I've seen and personally joined in various countries include Pilates yoga, mosaic classes, local cookery lessons, Ikebana, which is a Japanese form of flower arranging. I love that one so much. I'm actually now a qualified teacher in it. There are walking groups, cultural exploration, historical groups, jewellery making, art classes, running groups. So not me, I don't do running, but most of the others I've tried. And I'm sure you'll find that there are all sorts of opportunities available to you. Have a look around at the school. Have a look around at your partner's workplace. Have a look at there's quite often various expat groups in big cities. If it's a place where you're not having a problem with the language, then the local library will have ideas for you. Otherwise good old Google and wonderful Facebook. Just have a look and see what's around for you in your new hometown. Basically, just say yes. Perhaps you could study something via distance learning. This is so much easier these days with so many interesting prospects on the internet.
Maybe you'll choose a short course, a free course on a topic that interests you. Or you could perhaps take on full on formal qualification, a degree or something. And this is a very popular option with accompanying partners. But don't let study take up too much of your time. You still want to enjoy a new life in that new country. Gain some new skills. You get extra points if you can turn those new skills into a new portable location, independent business for yourself. Something that you can then do perhaps at your next assignment. Maybe photography, perhaps. I gained a graphic design diploma while I was living abroad. There is so much out there. Just have a think and see where you want to go with it all. You've got the time now, so make the use of it. A word I want you to remember right now is adaptability. Adaptability is the key to expat success. Adaptability is the key to getting the most out of your new life abroad. This means adapting to fit into your new country, not necessarily changing your entire being to fit in with a certain assumed stereotype. Unless you want to of course, find your new you, don't feel that every minute of your time should be dedicated to your new country.
Integration does not work like that. In some places, you will always be the foreigner, and you need to make peace with that. If you're one of those people that tries to assimilate to the culture you're living in, you're making life unnecessarily difficult for yourself. You may think that everyone you see is super mum with everything under control, swishy hair, calm, collected, with well behaved, clean and tidy children. But you have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, behind closed doors. Stop trying to be somebody you are not. And stop worrying about what everybody else thinks. It doesn't matter. They're usually thinking of themselves anyway. Not you. You don't have to eat sushi every day just because you live in Japan unless you want to. You certainly don't have to do the school run in full kimono get up, as I did see somebody do once. Even the locals don't do that. You don't have to get up at the crack of dawn every weekend to go for a route march. Sorry, for a walk around the forest or lake. If you live in Germany, you don't have to dive naked into a freezing lake in Germany.
Unless you want to, of course. Remember, you are still living your life. You're just living it in a different place. By all means, take advantage of the benefits of your new home country, whether that's more sunshine or better opportunities for an outdoorsy life. But only if that suits you. For example, if you've moved to a mountainous country, there's little point feeling guilty for not going mountain climbing or skiing every day. If you categorically don't enjoy those activities, just be you. Don't worry what other people think. I just said that. But don't. They're generally not thinking about you at all. And if they are, that's their problem, not yours. I've never quite understood the prevalence of expats desperately trying to integrate from the very start. And also the strange notion of trying to be a different person when you move abroad. Which also pops up a lot when people talk about expat life. No, I'm digressing again. I need to think about that one a bit more. Don't feel guilty if you're not happy and positive all the time. Nobody is happy and positive every second of every day, even in their home country. Being you, being authentic is the most important part of this.
It's okay to have some downtime. And this is your life. Live it as you want to, not as others expect you to, or as you may expect yourself to. Often we are our own biggest critics. There will be people, friends and family who tell you that you can't complain about anything at all because you chose to live there. You chose to leave us, you're living in paradise and so on. Can you hear my eyes rolling from here? Good. Oh, ignore. Don't let other people's feelings affect you. Know that you are not alone. All expats feel like this. It's totally normal. And it will pass, I promise. It's just a closing down of the adrenaline filled busyness. It's not that you've made a huge mistake. Oh, and remember that everything you see online about expat life generally just emphasises all the good stuff and ignores the challenges. So don't be swayed into thinking that you're not having the greatest time. You're not doing it right because it doesn't match up to X, Y and Z's, Instagram or blog. Remember, you're only getting the highlight reels there. So that's just a few of many, many ideas on how you can fill your time.
Of course, everybody is different and not all people get bored. My grandmother and mother actually banned me from ever using that word, so boredom is not something I naturally tend towards. But if you've recently had to leave your full time job in order to relocate overseas with your family, I can certainly understand how those hours can stretch out ahead of you. Be prepared and accept the comedown if it hits. It's perfectly normal. It's not you, it's a natural phase of this huge transition you've made and it will only be temporary. Don't panic that everything's gone horribly wrong because you're feeling like this. I just want to recap the key points. Basically, be proactive and accept every invitation you receive. You can always say no later if it's not working out for you. If you've just moved overseas and are in the void, then I hope these tips can help you feel like you're not alone and perhaps motivate you to be proactive in your new life. Moving overseas is really exciting and it can represent the chance to redesign your life exactly the way you want it while you are still you. Just remember that none of this could happen without you.
This move only happens because you have been prepared to give up your job and look after the children. So you are the hero of this story. Treat yourself as one. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Just do it.
As ever, thank you so much for being here with me today. I hope you found this episode useful and interesting. If you found this podcast helpful, I'd be really grateful if you could subscribe, share and give me a review. It really does help other people who may need to know about this stuff to find it, and I really, really do appreciate it. In the show notes that accompany this episode, you'll find information about my websites, about my downloads, I've got lists, I've got eBooks, I've got master classes, all sorts. And these will help you with every step of your expatting journey. You'll also find details about how you can work with me, one to one, if you wish, so that you can get personal advice tailored for your life and your move abroad. Because everybody is different. And of course, you can find me on your favourite social media. I've got a presence on most of them. Tag me, message me, tell your friends about me. And I look forward to learning more about you and your move overseas. Please do get in touch. Please check out ExpatChild for more free information and resources. Don't forget to join me next time for another episode.