Expat life can be incredibly frustrating sometimes. It can also be incredibly rewarding. And on some days, it can be both at the same time. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the last few years of living in several different countries.
Remember that no place is perfect
It can be easy to idealize your home country, or your last host country, on days when your current host country just isn’t doing it for you. But just stop and remember all of the little things that used to irritate you back home. It’s easy for me to remember the good Mexican food, the abundance of entertainment options, the perfect climate and the plethora of shopping malls that southern California offers while forgetting the ridiculous traffic, the smoggy air, and the blazing hot summer temperatures that try to kill you each summer. While it’s a good thing that we tend to forget the bad and only remember the good, it’s helpful to sit down now and then and just remind yourself of both. There is good and bad to be found everywhere.
Remember that you most likely won’t be living in your current host country forever, so make the most of it while you can
It might feel like you are in a frustrating situation now (every expat has been there at least a time or two!), but remember it won’t last forever. Try and make the most of where you are right now. Get a local guidebook or look up some travel blogs from the area. Read up on the best things to see and do. Find out where the best restaurants are. Go outside and explore. Get purposely lost. You find the most amazing things when you aren’t sure exactly where you are. Try and learn as much about the culture as you can. Go to local concerts and plays and churches and fairs and exhibitions. Remember that there are thousands of people sitting behind desks right now that would give anything to be where you are.
This goes along with the previous point but, get outside!
When I lived in Moscow I had days that just felt blah. They were always the days that I didn’t have anything on my agenda for the day and I was tempted to just be lazy and stay inside. But every single time that I forced myself to get outside and just take a walk or go visit some new corner of the city, something funny, interesting, or exciting happened. Every single time. I never regretted forcing myself out the door. Instead I always came back with an attitude of “I’m so thankful I get to live here and this place is amazing.” And I usually came back with hilarious stories to share with my friends back home. Like the one time I accidentally stumbled upon the Olympic Torch making its way through Moscow and I met the mother of one of the Olympic athletes and she wanted me to marry her son. (It’s the red hair. Women always want redheaded grandchildren.) She even called him while I was with her. The complete randomness of it made my day. Plus, the Olympic Torch. If I had just stayed home that day I would have missed so much.
Don’t over-schedule your week
This can be a hard one if you are working a full-time job and commuting, but if you have the ability to set your own schedule, don’t overdo it. I’ve learned that I enjoy my host country so much more if I keep my schedule as light as possible. If you are working 40+ hours a week and then trying to navigate your way around town to do your shopping for the week, get repairs done, get errands run, get meals made, clothes washed, communication sent back home, etc, it won’t be fun. It’s one thing to do all of that in a country that you have grown up in and are completely familiar with. But if you are trying to navigate a whole new way of doing things, in a country where you might not be completely familiar with the language, where you might have to visit 5 different locations just to get your food shopping done, and then physically carry everything back home, it can be challenging.
Are you an expat? What tips would you share for helping to cope on the less-than-smooth days we all face at times?