Are you an international living abroad?

A new country often brings about new challenges; learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and finding your way while having your safety net in another country can be challenging.

Some newcomers see this adventure as a joyful challenge and manage to go effortlessly through the learning curves of building a new life in their new country.
The following factors may play a role in this smooth transition:

The person is already familiar with the culture or language due to previous visits.

They have gathered information in an earlier stage and have a clear vision where they want to settle and what needs to be done.

They get help from friends or family who already made the move, which might include landing in an already established support network of likeminded people.

Other newcomers who do not have a good functioning network may experience stress because of the many setbacks and hurdles they are facing. They didn’t anticipate that their move could be so challenging. They are aware that they need support in many different areas but are not sure where to find the right kind of help. On top of that, the culture and language gap can make things worse.

Working as a life coach for internationals living abroad, I recognise five different stages that internationals can go through when moving countries.

I’d like to give some insight and practical tips on how to navigate your way forward. I hope it helps you to understand that whatever emotional rollercoaster you might find yourself in, you’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just part of the process.

Moving countries or continents is a huge step that often comes with many strong emotions. Anyone who takes the big step of moving abroad and immerses themselves in a new culture goes through this, whether stumbling or dancing their way forward.

The five different phases of moving country or continent
Depending on your situation, you will go through the different phases with either little or a lot of ease. Also, there is no set timeline for any of the phases.

First phase: Honeymoon – I love it here!
You’re fully enjoying living here and having all the perks at your fingertips: a warm climate, gorgeous beaches, clean air, space, low crime rate, affordable living and unlimited possibilities to go out for wining and dining, or to play golf.

Second phase: Shock: What did I do?
You find yourself being taken out of your comfort zone big time as everything seems more difficult than you had expected. Living here turns out to be much different than when visiting.

Dealing with utility providers or administrative tasks, for example, can be quite challenging. It is these little things that you have to deal with, and it tires you out. Your excitement is slowly changing into feelings of shock.

In the meanwhile, you start to miss the people that are close to you in your home country. Maybe you also miss some routines you enjoyed in your previous life.

Third phase: Adjustment – willingness to find a way
You have some more experience now and know better how to deal with, for example, service providers such as technicians, electricians, gardeners or builders.
By now you have figured out how the banking machine works, where to buy your groceries and where you can find likeminded people. You have even built up some friendships.

Fourth phase: Acceptance – I can figure this out
You have learned many new things, you have found a way to deal with the challenges you face and you’re actually feeling empowered. When it comes to new challenges, you might approach them differently and accept them as being “part of the charm”.

Fifth phase: Commitment: I choose this!
Maybe you’ve learned to speak the language, you’re part of your own little community, and have built a network of likeminded people. You’ve also found a way to stay in touch with your friends and loved ones living abroad. You’ve established a safety net in both countries. Basically, you feel well with the life choices you’ve made.

Going through these phases, however, is not necessarily a linear path, but knowing about their existence gives you some understanding about the feelings you might have in the process.

The effects of the current pandemic are obviously not included here. The pandemic is a force in itself and touches everyone worldwide, not just internationals living abroad. However, this specific group is vulnerable in its own way as they rely on being able to travel to be with family and loved ones and having the freedom to explore and visit places.

This can reinforce feelings of loneliness. For those of you who can relate to this, I’d like to give some self-care tips.

If you find yourself feeling lonely, the best way to handle it is to reach out instead of withdrawing yourself. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone. Start by asking yourself what it is that you need right now. Be curious about the answers that come up.

Is it to have more moments of connection with others? Is it participating in a group activity? Is it getting outdoors in nature? Is it physical movement to drain the emotions that are stuck in your body? Is it a more structured week with moments where you can socialise with loved ones or maybe make new friends?

Take action. Contact the person you long to meet and schedule a meeting, go online and register for the course you were longing to participate in. This is how you upscale your level of self-care. Every time you can identify a need, be curious to find out how you can provide yourself with the solution.

Important to know is that you are not alone! Many internationals who are living abroad experience feelings of loneliness from time to time. Taking care of your emotions is a powerful thing. Look at it as a new skill to learn.

By Ria van Doorn
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Ria van Doorn is a life coach for internationals living abroad and founder of the Expat Centre Portugal.