How to thrive emotionally and mentally as an expat

Published 2020-09-09 09:05

Visa: Check. Job: Check. Accommodation: Check. Attitude: pending. Jerry Nelson, an American expat in Buenos Aires, Argentina gives us his thoughts on what an expat needs to succeed emotionally and mentally.

“All my bags are packed

I'm ready to go

I'm standin' here outside your door

I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…”

"Leaving on a Jet Plane" was penned by John Denver in 1966 and most famously recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. It wound up being Peter, Paul and Mary's biggest (and final) hit, world wide, and I bet you’re hearing the tune in your head right now. Your suitcase is packed and you’ve said goodbye to your family and friends. You are at the airport and begin to ask yourself, “What am I doing?” and “Did I get everything on my to-do lists done?”

Utilities cut off? Check.

Magazine subscriptions cancelled? Check.

Bank accounts managed? Check.

And the list of lists goes on.

Moving overseas can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. If you’re going to be an expat, the idea of stepping off a plane in a nation where you don’t know anyone is daunting. Besides that, no one is going to hoist you to their shoulders when you arrive and carry you through the streets with a hero’s welcome.

The Internet helps — a little. Google “expat” and more than 75-million results are returned in .64-seconds. It seems 74,999,999 of the results will talk about how to become an expat, lists to prepare to be a successful expat and lists of objective tasks to help you function as an expat.

But what about mental and emotional — subjective things — preparation. There is a dearth of information available to learn how to handle those metrics, the ones which can’t be measured by ‘to-do’ lists.

Do what you've always wanted to do!

For most people, the idea of living overseas is just a fantasy. But like many expats, you want more out of life than what you had at home. Maybe you’re an expat, or about to become one, because you’re unhappy with your life at home. Maybe your career arc just isn’t working anymore. Maybe your romantic life took a wrong turn. 

Or maybe you just feel a void, an emptiness and have an urge for new scenery, new people, and well, new everything. 

Moving to another country, especially where you don’t know the language, can feel like starting life over, except your beginning a new life as an adult. One of the unanticipated joys for many expats is the realization that this is an opportunity to re-define who they are and make minor tweaks, or gigantic leaps, with this new life they’ve found. Recreating yourself is available at any time, but picking up and moving to another nation gives you permission to shed the old and try on the new. With a blank slate, you can script your story the way you want.

When you put aside the mental tapes of who you are, you are free to evolve into a new you — someone even better. You no longer are held back by someone’s idea of who, and what, you are.

Expat life has its perks. Let personal reinvention be one you investigate.

Celebrate your successes

Your best successes can come when you have cultivated an expat mindset. With a willingness to embrace change you can welcome challenges. Evaluate your beliefs. Look hard at the beliefs which are rooted in fear. Strengthen ideals which empower you. The negative thoughts which invade the mind are the ones which keep you trapped.

There may be tough days where you question whether you're doing the right thing, or when you want to give up and just do the easier thing and stay.

Expect that there will be some bumps in the road, accept them and above all, try to be kind to yourself. You're standing on the edge of a great adventure, and you will get through each challenge in the end.

Join an online social group

As an expat, building a social network and making friends can be key to feeling settled. People are busy after relocating to another country. Making a new home, settling in at work, exploring fresh surroundings. After the initial adjustment though, expats look to broaden their network and seek out new friends. Missing the familiarity of friends and family left behind is the norm. But eventually you can gather a new circle of friends.

I do have a question for you: what advice would you give someone moving overseas for the first time?

“So kiss me and smile for me

Tell me that you'll wait for me

Hold me like you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet…”

6 days ago

"Expect that there will be some bumps in the road, accept them and above all, try to be kind to yourself." This self-care and kindness can't be overstated. There's a youtube channel called Thriving Expats with some ideas for when you are feeling like you need some self-care ideas. Agree with the comments about mindset! It is all about being mentally and emotionally prepared to abandon the story you've told yourself and being open to the story that unfolds.

last week

A successful and happy expat experience begins where your expectations meet, and adjust themselves, to the culture of the host country. Your new society has assumptions, customs, and ways of doing things that are different from what you're used to, even if they speak the same language, and certainly if they don't. They are not going to change to fit you. Being open, inquisitive, and accepting won't guarantee success, but not being so will almost certainly guarantee failure.

last week

Yes, I’m nervous about returning to MX this Fall, but I am taking every possible precaution with great seriousness. I hope all of you travelers do as well. Protect yourself, your neighbors, and strangers on the street. Responsibility is the greatest gift you can give right now. Be well.❣️