3 Pillars of Happy Expat Living
Updated: Mar 18
People often ask me if moving gets easier. The short answer is no - it gets different.
Moving to a new country as an expat spouse means that you have to start from scratch, every time. There's an emotional wringer that you'll go through no matter how many times you've been through it, and the progression isn't linear.
It changes based on where you come from and how much you liked being there. How easy the previous move was and what your expectations are for your new home. You'll like some countries better than others because the culture is more suited to your personality and in some places you'll simply find a better collection of fellow expats that you bond with instantly. So I can't give you a short and fast rule.
What I can say is there are 3 basic pillars that, positioned correctly in your mind, can make adjusting to a move, adapting to a new culture, and finding fulfilment in your new home easier; Attitude, Expectation and Identity.
Since you said yes to moving to another country and uprooting your kids to offer them global perspective, you’re probably a ‘glass half-full’ kinda person… GREAT! When moving into uncharted territory it’s important to be optimistic, but as the support pillar and emotional mainstay for your family, this can become a double-edged sword.
You might start to feel that if you aren’t 'happy' you’re letting them down, so your default response to heartache becomes a positive comment, bordering on cliché. I’m here to say it’s ok to have a bad day. Acknowledging this is hard sometimes without putting a positive twist on it can be just what your family needs to process things in their own way. I’m not suggesting you become a pessimist, just leave some room for the raw emotion.
Shakespeare said “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” I say Expectations you didn’t know you had are the problem. ‘Back home’ there were implied rules; McDonalds serves milk shakes, ‘on’ and ‘off’ are not verbs, and ketchup and mustard are a pair.
When you become an expat, these subconscious expectations are challenged daily. Things are different, the rule book changed. Since you weren’t even aware there was a rule book, this can cause frustration, sadness and anger. So next time you’re feeling this way, ask yourself; ‘Is this wrong? Or is this just different than I expected?’ More often than not, the answer is the latter. If you can get your head around that, life as an expat gets a whole lot easier. I mean, who needs a milk shake when you can have bubble tea?
A common mistake is the belief that replicating what you did back home will lead to the same sense of fulfilment and identity. But fulfilment doesn’t stem from what you do, it stems from how you feel about what you do.
If you can’t find familiar activities or have been disappointed by what’s available, think about what you got out of what you did. Did your rigorous gym schedule also give you a sense of friendship and belonging? Or did your job offer routine and mental exercise? By looking at it from this perspective you can open yourself up to a wealth of opportunities that you otherwise might have overlooked.
There are many versions of you, this is your opportunity to discover a new one, so go for it! If on the way you need a little guidance, I look forward to helping you out. In the meantime, enjoy the adventure we call expat life!
Tanya Arler is the author of the book UNPACK - a guide to life as an expat spouse and founder of A Happy Expat. A HAPPY EXPAT offers expat spouses practical tools, mindset coaching, and advice on how to navigate the staggering change they are going through, all the while remaining the rock their family so desperately needs.
So they too can become...
A HAPPY EXPAT
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