You had it all planned out: a wonderful opportunity to live abroad. Meeting new people, discover a new culture and language. It was a chance you couldn’t resist. So you took upon this adventure and moved abroad.
And then something unexpectedly happens. After the first positive vibes you notice you feel different, less positive. Moving abroad isn’t always easy. And at some point you might even feel (completely) lost.
1. Literally being lost
New country, new surroundings, new place to live. I remember very well when I arrived in France that I had to use my GPS for everything. I didn’t know where the shops were. I had no idea where I was in in the city I just moved into (Grasse, Alpes Maritimes, France).
One of the most difficult moments for me was, when I found a school for my daughter that I didn’t know how to get there without the GPS system. During the day I often wondered where she was because I had no mental map of it at the beginning. I also had no idea where to find a doctor, a dentist, a hospital etc.
Luckily this kind of feeling lost will pass soon. As you interchange with your environment. Start to explore the neighborhood you will find your way fairly easily. The best thing to do is to get out there. Take a map, your GPS and drive around or take the bus until you start to notice patterns. You start to recognize routes and parts of your neighborhood.
What to do?
- Note down important places like hospitals, schools, supermarkets and just go there. It will help you feel more confident about where you are.
- Visit the same place several times. When you revisit a place several times you will start to recognize things: the surroundings, the same people, different ways that lead to the same place. You will start to feel more at home, less lost.
- Go out there. Don’t hide in your home. Get out there and discover your new environment.
- Invite your neighbors. Your new neighbors can tell you a lot about the place where you now live (which shop to go to, which garage is good etc). Get to know them by inviting them over, or talk to them when you see them outside.
- Visit local activities. A great way to get to know your new neighborhood is to visit local activities. Local publicity, newspapers and the internet will inform you about what is going to happen in your area. It is a good way to meet local people!
2. Lost because you don’t know what to do – cultural differences
One of the most interesting things about moving to another country is that you get to learn about a different culture. You will be able to see at first sight how other people are living their live. For me this experience has really enriched my live and the view I have of the world in its total.
It doesn’t come naturally though. Experiencing cultural differences isn’t ‘easy’ and a lot of the time take you of guard. You look at the world your way, with your cultural eyes and then suddenly something happens which you don’t understand or find strange. It is a moment of stress in which you may feel lost.
I remember clearly the first time I was asked to come for ‘le Gouter’. I was really happy, because I didn’t know lot of people back then and being asked to come over to someone was a major social victory. I accepted of course. And then it jus it me. I didn’t know what to do. What was this gouter, what time should I be there, should I bring anything, what to do? I felt lost. I felt a bit stupid to. Something so normal for the French people and I had no idea.
The ‘gouter-situation’ was relatively easy to solve. I took a deep breath and asked the person about it. So I got my answer and did know what to do. There are a lot of layers in getting to know a new culture and they are not always as evident as this one. A lot is unspoken, or remains unspoken. You have to find it out yourself though experience, by integrating and surround yourself with other people.
What to do?
- Accept that you don’t know everything. It is OK. Don’t get stressed, frustrated about it. Just acknowledge that you don’t know everything. That you are learning and that it is ok.
- Take initiative. If you don’t understand something just ask, a friend, a neighbor, someone who is living in your country longer than you. The only way to make this easy for you is to act and learn.
- Don’t judge (too much). Inevitably you will encounter cultural changes which will challenge you at a personal level. Things that might hurt your feelings, things you will not want accept.
I stopped counting the times when I heard parents (or teachers) scream at their children. I have seen and heard it a lot. In shops, at playing grounds, the volume the parents use to address their children gives me shivers. The first time I was at the bakery and a grandma yelled at her grandson. He wasn’t behaving the way she wanted. My daughter (9) and I just froze. We were really sad for the little boy. I wondered if I should have said anything. At that point I didn’t. And sadly over the years I have learned that French children are yelled at a lot. I probably will never really understand why this is necessary.
- Find your own way. Some things you will start doing too. You adjust and you change. Other things you won’t adapt to. Eventually you will become a mix of the two or more cultures.
3. Feeling lost because you don’t know how to express yourself
Learning a new language may be one of the biggest challenges in moving abroad. And talking about your feelings is even more difficult. If you are not able to express your feeling and emotions in your new language you may feel lost.
Besides expressing yourself it can also be hard to understand what others are saying. Especially in groups. It might be difficult to establish real connections. You feel like you are missing information. That you are not be able to be who you are. When I first arrived in France I could not be as spontaneous as I would like to be. I could not express the way I wanted it. And it made me insecure. I felt dump. I wasn’t my confident self and I felt lost.
What to do?
- Start learning the new language as soon as possible. Preferable before you even move.
- Talk as much as you can. Speaking the language is the only way to get better at it. Don’t be shy. Dare to make mistakes.
- Work on your self confidence. Take good care of yourself. Be healthy, be happy and stay optimistic in meeting new people. You can do this!
4. Emotionally feeling lost
Moving abroad is a real roller coaster, with its ups and downs. It is an exciting step in your life but comes with its challenges. You will experience a lot of different emotions, which is completely normal, but It might take you of guard.
You might wonder if you are the only one feeling this way. And feel lonely. You might even start doubt yourself.
You might get homesick. Miss your old life. Miss your friends and family. You have physically moved but your thoughts are elsewhere. I found it hard to talk about these things with my family and friends. Their ‘usual’ response was that it had been my own choice to move to France. At the end I didn’t dare to ‘complain’ anymore.
What to do?
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself about these different feelings. It is totally OK.
- Take your time. Don’t push yourself too hard. Just take the time to settle in. Regaining your emotional balance takes time.
- Find supporters. Look for people who will understand you. For example join a expat community. find someone to talk to. There are people who will understand you. You are not alone!
- Inform yourself. Knowing which emotions are part of moving abroad might help you to understand what is happening. In this video you will learn about the expat curve.
You are not crazy
Feelings of being lost will be part of moving abroad. They are part of this great adventure you embarked upon. Just remember you are not crazy and you are not alone!
If you want to talk about this, please send me a message. I would love to have a chat with you.
+33 6 14 10 64 44