Last Sunday we hosted an international Thanksgiving lunch for all internationals of our group, and it was so joyful and festive!
Our group was divided in different rooms and as we were tasting all the delicious dishes that everyone had brought, we spontaneously did what people do when it’s Thanksgiving: we shared with each other the things we were grateful for.
Indeed, on the top three of the list of things to be thankful for are, as you can expect, being healthy, having loved ones surrounding you and being able to give and receive love and kindness.
In our group, the top three was made very specific; eight out of ten in our group said they were thankful for their partners to still be supportive and around (!) even though they had to put up with all the stress and anxiety that was projected towards them.
Secondly, everyone was grateful for the new friends they had made and the fact that their social network is still expanding every day. Being part of a social community means having a social safety-net, which is the number one factor for a successful move.
Some people said that making the move was like going to first grade all over again, they felt excited – and a bit overwhelmed – to start this new stage in life, meet so many new people and make new friends. They were eager to learn about the new rules and structures. Maybe start with a clean slate. They agreed that parts of the move had felt as if the world opened up and they could start anew. And the focus in this stage of their life would be to create happiness.
As for the rest of the afternoon, well, let’s just say that good memories were shared, recipes were exchanged and we invented a new saying: ‘Wine flies when you’re having fun!’
The third favourite thing to share was the fact that if it wasn’t for the Expat Centre Portugal to have organised this event, they would have stayed at home, and let the day pass without giving it any special attention. But now that they were here, they were glad they had taken the leap.
This means to me that not everyone is an extrovert, outgoing person and sometimes it’s easier to stay in, as reaching out seems like an extra heavy effort.
It’s just important to know that you need others. Moving abroad is just something you cannot do alone.
I’ve spoken often about what it takes for a newcomer to successfully go through the emotional rollercoaster that comes with such a big life event as moving countries. Allow me to share my four best tips for a joyful life abroad again:
Search online, join a club, ask around. There are many people who are looking to build a meaningful circle of friends. Try it out! Take your time and, sooner or later, you’ll find your new ‘go-to person’ right there. It might be scary, it might fail, but it’s the way to go.
The first person you meet might not necessarily become your forever friend. They might simply be a steppingstone, someone to drink a coffee with. Just like you might become a steppingstone yourself for someone else in the future. But that is a risk you need to take.
Going out to meet new people challenges you to reach out instead of withdrawing yourself. This is the positive side: you’re learning to surround yourself with your kind of people.
Build new traditions
Plan your week with activities and have them repeated on the same day the following weeks. This repetition will give structure and you’re building new automatic-pilot pathways in your brain that help put your nervous system at ease.
On Sunday, you always have a call with the home front and go out for lunch. Mondays are for shopping. Tuesdays you go on a trip to discover a new part of Portugal. Wednesdays are for visiting the Expat Centre Portugal coffee mornings. Thursdays you meet with new friends. Fridays you do a long nature walk and Saturdays you visit the farmers’ market.
Whatever structure you create, keep it up for several months and slowly you’ll find you’ve created a nice structure of traditions that functions as a backbone for you to feel good in your skin.
In the beginning, you’ll frequently have calls with friends and family because everything is exciting and new, but, overtime, you might start skipping calls and become sloppy keeping up the connection.
The big pitfall with this is that you actually create a distance, a gap that is harder to fill the longer it lasts.
The power of connection on a frequent basis is that you stay in the subtle communication area where people can sense when something is wrong, as well as feel safe and invited to share their ups and downs.
This kind of communication gets lost when you’re less in touch. You might ask yourself what kind of bond you would want to keep up with the home front over the years.
Find your new purpose
In this new chapter of your life, it’s exciting to find something purposeful to do, whether it is focusing on joy in general, or discovering what it is that you long to experience, create, manifest or contribute in life.
Maybe you want to experience more creativity, vitality, love, belonging, impact or fulfilment in your life. Life is happening now!
This is a great opportunity to focus your attention on what matters most to you.
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.
Just imagine you are in first grade again, but now with all the self-knowledge and life experience you have gathered over your life.
It is up to you to put your hands in the clay and give shape to how the rest of your life will look like.
Would you not want it to be a time of sharing happiness and joy, of doing things that please you and make you laugh?
The Expat Centre Portugal helps internationals prepare themselves for the move to their new home and to build a steady network once you’ve arrived. We make sure you feel welcome, safe and supported for this exciting new chapter in your life.
Ria van Doorn is a life coach for internationals living abroad and founder of the Expat Centre Portugal.