Five Stages of Living Abroad

Those of you that have experienced living abroad, does it not feel very exciting and liberating at first?

Once you are in a new place, a new culture, among new people, does that not give you an opportunity to reinvent yourself and be whatever you want to be? Old inhibitions stay behind as you try and find how you, a newcomer with fresh beginnings, fit into this new society you have chosen to live in.

However, this is just the first stage of rush of emotions and thoughts you will experience. You see, adapting in another country is in fact pretty much like a relationship.

Firstly, comes the infatuation period – you fall in love with everything positive you see (and it is possible that you in fact only see the positive at this stage). The people might seem happier, friendlier, more carefree, organized or anything else that you notice and admire about them or felt you were missing before.

The infatuation is so strong and exhilarating that this is the moment you might decide to commit and say: “This is where I want to live and discover the secret key to all those wonderful things.“

When you finally make the commitment of moving to or staying indefinitely in another country, the love might get stronger yet. You will first and foremost look up and attract everything you were dreaming about all along. You look for signs of confirmation of your affection everywhere. This usually happens in parallel with starting to actually settle in and organize a sustainable life in your new country of residence.

While in the flow of enjoying this fabulous new life but already confronted with some moments of reality calling, you might start to spot some flaws you did not notice before. However, they tend to stay in the shadow of your overwhelming enthusiasm of making it work and discovering the new you in this new environment. In other words, the first months of living in a new country tend to be like a celebration of love, refusing to believe that any problems might ever interrupt this bliss.

Inevitably, though, eventually arrives the day when all the flaws you have spotted ad problems you have came across pile up and disillusionment ensues. This is a really really tough period. You will start to question everything you are, you know and are currently experiencing.

In my own personal experience it is pretty much like an identity crisis. You might feel misunderstood, judged for being different, disappointed with the reality of the country you are living in and even guilty for having thought somewhat badly about your own country and culture before and when infatuated with a foreign one.

This is when you realize you cannot become something completely different from what you already are. And that is also the moment you might feel very homesick and become nostalgic about even the slightest and most silly aspects about your own country and culture. Again, even though this happens to everyone, and is completely normal, the suffering this stage brings must never be underestimated.

This stage in itself is not all bad, though. It is important to be confronted with reality to be able to construct something that lasts. Establishing yourself as a unique person with your own hopes, dreams, values, needs and limits that matter and need to be respected, is even more so.

I would even say that this third stage of adapting in a new country is a definitive one – this is where you either commit for good or decide that it is not for you after all. And whatever you choose, both decisions are completely valid as long as you are being honest with yourself.

If you are in this for good, you will get through the tough times eventually. If you feel like it is too much and you are losing yourself, it is completely okay to leave. In both cases, it helps to seek people with similar experience to talk to, be kind to yourself and look for healthy pressure release methods. Also, seeing a therapist or multicultural coach might be a good idea if you feel like it.

What comes next is something that I call a sustainable growth stage. This is when you have stripped yourself of many illusions, have become more aware of the country you are living in, and more importantly, yourself in it, outside of it or anywhere else, in that matter.

You begin to heal and can, once more, appreciate the good things and enjoy your life and yourself. This is a stage of acceptance of reality while building a positive outlook that enables you to build a stable and balanced life.

Finally, once you are at peace with yourself and the new culture you are living in, you may realize how much you have learnt and how this has provided you with unique tools to do something more with your life, maybe even change the world and make it better. And that is a really beautiful place to be.

Do you have experience with living abroad? Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.!

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