Emigration is not for sissies.
How many times has someone said that to you?
One of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face is the expat blues. Feeling sad and depressed is par for the course. You are not crazy. You are not inadequate. It’s completely natural.
Even when you know you’ve made the move for all these positive reasons, the expat blues can sneak up on you and surprise you when you least expect it.
I remember talking to one woman who said she almost broke down in the supermarket because she didn’t recognise a single brand of anything and had no idea what to buy. Seemingly simple tasks you take for granted can snap you in two like a little twig.
But never fear – I’ve written the ultimate guide on how to survive the expat blues.
How To Survive The Expat Blues
1. Be Prepared
Know that you’re going to have good days but you’re also going to have bad days.
Some days you may not want to get out of bed. Some days you may just sit and cry. Other days you might be hovering your mouse over that ‘Book now’ button for the next flight home.
But don’t click that button. Not yet. Give your new country a real chance to become home.
Most people say it takes a couple of years to feel really settled in a new country. So naturally, you’re going to take time to adapt to, well, everything!
2. Make Connections Quickly
Moving to a new country is overwhelmingly daunting, never more so when you don’t know anyone there.
If you have friends or family, no matter how distant, who live near where you are moving to, connect with them. Before you even land!
Having some kind of familiarity or support system waiting for you can seriously help you. Even if it’s just someone to ask random questions to when you literally have zero idea what you are doing.
If you don’t know anyone, there are plenty of ways to make new friends when you arrive, or even before you arrive. Social media and forums have made emigration so much easier. You can connect with people in your new home city or town and start forming friendships that are ready to start when you land.
Read my post on how to make new friends in Perth for more specific tips and advice.
3. Learn The Language
If you don’t speak the language, make an effort to learn it.
Moving to Australia and don’t speak a lot of English? Time to dust off the text books and get practising. Just kidding, who even uses text books these days? But you know what I mean.
I see a lot of people asking if there are any Afrikaans schools in Australia. Nope. This is Australia, not South Africa. Just because lots of South Africans move here, doesn’t mean they’ve created a mini-South Africa here.
And you really shouldn’t either. This is Australia. You and your family need to assimilate and speaking the language is a really important part of the process.
4. Find A Routine
Get into a routine if you can. Quickly. If you have kids, this can help you create some sort of structure in your life as you need to get them ready for school, take them and pick them up.
If you have a job lined up, getting into a work routine is simple.
If you arrive with no work lined up, create a routine for yourself while you look for work.
Allocate certain times of the day for job hunting, some time for housework and grocery shopping, time for house hunting and exploring the different suburbs, and time to relax and enjoy too.
5. Pursue Your Hobbies
Don’t give up things you love just because you’ve moved to a new place.
Love to keep fit? Find a local gym, yoga class or whatever exercise you’re into and do it.
Love going to the beach? Make sure you don’t go weeks without even seeing the ocean.
Do you volunteer with your kids activities? Find out where they can pursue their activities and volunteer there.
Whatever your hobbies and passions are, find out where you can pursue them and do it.
6. Celebrate Small Wins
It’s not all about the big milestones when you emigrate. Finding a job and moving into your own house are some of the big things you’ll naturally be excited about.
But the small things are important too.
Did you drive from A to B without using Google Maps?
Did you put petrol in your car for the first time?
Have you met a new friend and exchanged phone numbers to meet up again?
Joined a mother’s group or cricket club or business network?
Can you finally do a Coles shop in less than 30 minutes?
All these little things are small steps along the road to surviving the expat blues!
7. Find Your Happy Place
My happy place is the beach (cheesy I know, but true). It’s the place I go when I’m feeling sad, down, depressed, as well as when I feel insanely happy.
No matter how I feel when I arrive, I always feel relaxed and happy after spending some time on the sand or in the water (when it’s warm enough to swim).
Find your own happy place and go there when you feel you need to.
8. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
Probably one of the worst things you can do when you have the expat blues is comparing yourself to others.
It’s also important to remember that what you see on the surface of other people’s lives is often the good stuff. Not many people show you the warts and all version of their lives.
Just like social media, often you only see the nice bits. The bits that make you jealous when you don’t have the same things/feelings/people in your life.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking their Facebook feed is better than your reality. Chances are their reality is not exactly what their Facebook timeline portrays.
9. Take Care Of Yourself
Remember that you need to take care of yourself too. Self-care is super important, especially if you have a family.
Often as parents, we think we need to hold everything together for everyone else, and we push ourselves down to the bottom of the priority list.
This is the worst thing you can do, because if you don’t look after yourself, how on earth can you take care of everyone else?
Self-care doesn’t have to be all candles and hot stone massages. It can be a lot of the things I’ve already listed. Pursue your hobbies. Make connections. Find your happy place. Celebrate the little things.
10. Remember Why You Moved
On the darkest days, when you really want to buy those plane tickets home, remember why you moved in the first place.
In fact, before you move, make a list of all the reasons you’re making the move.
After you’ve arrived, add some more things to the list that you hadn’t realised before you moved.
Whenever you’re feeling a bad case of the expat blues, pull out your list and remind yourself of all of the good things about your new life and new country.
11. Ask For Help
If you’re having a tough time, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Whether it’s from a friend, family member, or a professional if needed. There is zero shame in asking for help and it is a much better option than suffering in silence.
Don’t feel alone – there are over 160,000 South Africans in Australia. That’s another 160,000 people just like you who have been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Chances are, if you have a South African friend in Australia, they’ve been through what you’re going through.
Reach out and talk to someone – there is always someone who will listen.
If you have no idea who to turn to, get in touch with me. I am always happy to listen and chat, and if you are not far from me, we could even meet up in person. Seeing someone face to face can often help immensely when you’re feeling the expat blues.
And there you have it – my top tips on how to survive the expat blues!
Did you experience the expat blues after moving country?
How did you overcome it?
What would you add to this list?
Jackie9th November 2018 at 6:37 pm
What fantastic tips you have here! It’s hard to relocate so I am sure people would appreciate this for sure.
Reeva Cutting15th November 2018 at 11:04 am
Thanks Jackie 🙂
Gabriel Filer14th November 2018 at 10:47 pm
I really enjoyed reading your article! I’ve never lived abroad, but the information you wrote is very relevant to how I survived attending college far away from home… I would also like to add that cooking should somehow be incorporated into this list! My favorite dessert to make is the Pavlova, which is very popular in Australia! I even create the meringue and cool whip from scratch.
Reeva Cutting15th November 2018 at 11:04 am
Thanks Gabriel – yes these could definitely apply to anyone living away from home. The US is so big moving state is like moving country too!
Michelle20th November 2018 at 3:39 pm
Thanks for a great article Reeva. It’s good to know that when I have the blues that its “normal”. It was so relevant and thankfully I have ticked your suggestions/tips.
Reeva Cutting22nd November 2018 at 2:19 pm
Thanks Michelle – glad to hear you’ve got some good coping skills 🙂
Karen20th November 2018 at 7:41 pm
Dear Reeva you really do have the gift of shsring your experience mixed with a good dose of humor and common sense! We thought we were over most of the longing for home when our first Strelitzia ( bird of paradise) bloomed we both just burst into tears that early July morning seeing and reliving all those memories of our garden we left behind! Yes it does get better the memories will stay forever but time to make new one’s !
Reeva Cutting22nd November 2018 at 2:20 pm
Thanks for those kind words Karen. It’s amazing how the little things can sneak up on you and really surprise you, isn’t it?