I’ve always been very open and honest about the struggles that I’ve faced as an expat. I’m the first to share when I’m having a particularly tough day of homesickness or if I’ve made a breakthrough on the path to feeling more settled. Expat regret is an inevitable part of the living abroad journey.
Whether it sneaks up on you within the first few months or comes crashing in suddenly when you thought you had it all together, it’s normal to feel plagued by dangerous and stressful uncertainties:
Is this the right decision?
Have I made a massive mistake?
I’ve been getting a lot of messages recently from both friends and strangers who have moved to a new country, asking me if I have any advice for them on how to overcome expat regret. The emotions involved with moving abroad have definitely been heightened by this year’s pandemic and it’s not surprising that many of our minds have started to closely critique our lives…
Here are my top 5 tips that I’ve been sharing with those who’ve reached out to me on how to beat expat regret:
1. The grass isn’t greener.
The country you’ve left behind is always going to be on a pedestal.
Every time you make the trip back there, your days are filled with catch-ups with close friends & family. You’re most likely off work and visiting a ton of different exciting places. You feel happy being surrounded by loved ones and doing so many things in a short amount of time.
Remember: If you moved back, your visits home aren’t an accurate reflection of what your life would be like!
It took me a long time to realise that the grass isn’t always greener. I wouldn’t be seeing friends every single day. I’d be working and paying bills, sitting in front of the TV, and seeing friends at the weekend (if that!) Visits home are the highlights of my year; but I make the conscious effort to ensure I’m not comparing my new life to these whirlwind trips. It’s only going to set us up for failure.
2. Manage your friendship expectations.
Realize that you cannot perfectly replicate the life that you had before your move abroad.
It took me a long time to take the pressure off myself to meet my new “best friends” – Friendships take time, effort and commitment; especially when there are cultural differences.
Remember: Deep friendships in our native country often take YEARS to develop. You can’t expect yourself to replicate these same relationships in a fraction of that time frame.
So be patient. Don’t settle for friendships just because you feel the pressure to find friends. Casually put yourself out there and enjoy connecting with new people. FOMO and missing important milestones are tough but all the more reason to start creating new memories with new people. At the end of the day, your ‘home’ friends aren’t going anywhere. Schedule regular catch-up calls with them whilst also seeking out like-minded people closer to you. I found that hanging out with other expats was particularly helpful (check out local FB groups or MeetUp).
3. Stop setting deadlines.
“I should have X amount of good friends by now”
“My career should be successful by now”
“I should be happy here by now”
What timeline is this based on? There isn’t a ‘by now’ deadline for anything!
Remember: Moving to a new place is a HUGE change and everybody’s timelines are different. It takes a lot more time to adjust than we give ourselves credit for.
Happiness is NOT a constant state. If you’re aiming to be 100% happy 100% of the time, this is an impossible task and you will never feel successful. Ride your expat experience at the pace that feels right and regularly check-in to ensure you’re not expecting too much too soon.
4. Nothing is permanent.
My biggest downfall is that I always try to guess what will happen in the future and get unnecessarily worked up about it. Panic and doubt starts to set in because I see my new life as a ‘forever’ decision. It probably is(!) but who knows what the future holds.
Remember: You haven’t signed a contract to live in your new home until your dying day. It might be complicated but you’re never truly ‘stuck’ anywhere.
Once you remove that feeling of permanency that surrounds your new life, I’m certain you’ll feel a cloud being lifted. Spend less time worrying about being stuck and more time exploring what makes you happy in the now.
5. All emotions are valid and don’t need to be ‘fixed’
Doubting that you’ve made the right decision, not feeling happy, feeling unsettled in your life, wracked with guilt, homesick, isolated, lonely, regretful, taking out your frustrations on your new home or partner….
Remember: You’re not alone! The vast majority of expats feel the exact same struggles as you.
As soon as we accept the emotions that come hand-in-hand with moving to a new country, the quicker we can start to adjust. So many people reach out to me and say how much better they feel knowing that they aren’t the only ones feeling a certain way. Expat regret is part of the journey – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Let me know in the comments below if this post has helped shift your mindset!
Your life will always have ups and downs. Your path will always twist and turn. There is no final destination of ‘happiness’. These are just a few reminders of how powerful our thought-patterns can be and I hope this can help you adjust to the rollercoaster that is life abroad!