Expat Life: Sunshine, Sadness and Lessons in Honesty

Expat Life: Sunshine, Sadness and Lessons in Honesty

I’d like to think I have always been fairly honest when talking about my struggle to adjust to expat life. I haven’t ever tried to sugar coat it, nor have I deliberately been negative about it. I’ve tried to share – some would say overshare – the up’s and down’s of life once the dust settles. Some have embraced the conversation, others have set out to completely invalidate my feelings. I’ve been on the receiving end of an onslaught of comments, messages, and tweets from people who have actively taken time out of their day to let me know that I don’t have a right to feel unhappy. 

You’re an immigrant love, get over it

No-one forced you to go

You chose to go didn’t you?

And of course all of the above statements are true, but do they mean that I’ve waived any rights to discuss the reality of them? Besides, would you say these things to someone face to face? Someone who is – quite clearly – suffering emotionally, mentally and possibly even physically? Unless you’re a complete arsehole, no, you wouldn’t.

Whilst I have some sympathy for Dave (probably not his real name) from dead-end town, doing his dead-end job hiding behind a computer screen and bashing anyone who dares complain about a life he could only dream of. At the same time, the old saying “don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it” springs to mind. Becoming an expat isn’t as simple as packing a container with material belongings to be unpacked in another country. That container also holds within it all your hopes and dreams for a better life. Is there enough bubble wrap in the world to protect your mental health? Of course not. Even if nothing looks cracked during the grand unpacking session, things may have rearranged themselves slightly. And without proper attention little bugs or damp may have crept in and everything has sat festering for several weeks. 

Some of these potential problems are obvious immediately. Others take a little while longer to make themselves known. If at all, that is. Just because one person goes through a similar experience in life with seemingly no problems, does that mean everyone will be the same? Of course not, again.

A change of lifestyle that some might find freeing, I found to be the complete opposite. Does that make one or other of us right or wrong? Clearly not. Where I am now finding independence, is someone else now battling boredom? Maybe, who knows. You see what is most important is acknowledging that life takes us all on different journeys. Physically and emotionally. And at different times. Something that is especially unique to the expat experience though is going through this thousands of miles away from your normal safe place. There is already the weight of expectation on your shoulders that your new life will be fabulous, an expectation from yourself and from others. When it doesn’t go quite so smoothly then who do you turn to? Whose shoulder do you sob on when you’re new in town? 

Establishing a safety net as an expat is incredibly important but also incredibly misunderstood. Making friends is hard though, and making friends you can lean on within a very short space of time is even harder. Not because no one wants to be there for you, quite the opposite in fact, but because to need to do so feels like weakness on your part. That your inability to cope is a sign of failure. It’s confusing wanting to be somewhere, but at the same time wanting to run away.  And of course those you’ve left behind may have limited sympathy as they envisage you sobbing into your champagne by the sun-drenched pool. 

Come home they say trying to be helpful. But of course it’s not helpful. You can’t just go home, you have responsibilities in your new home. Employers, landlords, contracts, ties to your new home that once severed may cost you handsomely- financially and emotionally. Abandoning ship and running home is rarely an option, so you’re left to stick out this expat existence wondering if you’ve made a terrible mistake.

 This is just the tip of the expat iceberg. Above the water line expat life can look beautiful, but it’s what cannot be seen below the water line that needs to be talked about. With Mental Health Awareness Week upon us (8th-14th May) now is a good a time as any to start talking about what lurks beneath. Just because some people keep their mental health and emotional wellbeing on lock down doesn’t mean that those of us who choose to speak out openly should be chastised. The number one tip on how to look after your mental health is to talk, so let’s talk.


Why is The Expat Mama supporting Mental Health Awareness Week?

Surviving or thriving?

Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem. This Mental Health Awareness Week, 8-14 May 2017, we are going to look at mental health from a new angle. Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.

Spread the word

During the week we will be posting stories and information on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Please follow us to help us share our messages and to join in the discussion. You can also let us know what you’re getting up to by using the tag #MHAW17.

Do you need urgent help?

If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse, or you’re worried about someone you know – help is available.

You’re not alone; talk to someone you trust. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.



  1. May 5, 2017 / 11:37 am

    You are so brave to share your story!

    • The Expat Mama
      May 5, 2017 / 11:58 pm

      Thank you!

  2. May 5, 2017 / 2:28 pm

    I say don’t listen to anyone but your heart and do what you feel is best for you. We owe it to ourselves to find our true path.

    • The Expat Mama
      May 5, 2017 / 11:57 pm

      Couldn’t agree more, but there are some loud voices out there trying to drown out your inner voice so it’s not always easy

  3. May 5, 2017 / 2:37 pm

    This is such a good read. Thanks for sharing your story of an expat. As immigrant or an expat to a new country is not always easy. But with time and patience, things will go around.

    • The Expat Mama
      May 5, 2017 / 11:57 pm

      Thank you, and yes definitely, we’ve been here 9 months now and it’s starting to feel very different to when we first arrived.

  4. Jayme
    May 5, 2017 / 7:21 pm

    This is a great post! I agree…..people are very different and react differently in situations. I think we all need to be a little more understanding and less judgmental these days.

    • The Expat Mama
      May 5, 2017 / 11:55 pm

      Thank you! And yes, a little empathy goes a long way

  5. May 6, 2017 / 3:58 am

    Sharing about things that are bothering us, makes us feel lighter from inside. We should not always keep hiding our emotions that makes life more difficult. I really appreciate that you shared your story.

  6. hashtagsandhangsbags
    May 6, 2017 / 4:28 am

    Good mental health is SO important! Loved reading this post. xox Stacy

  7. lover4life4567
    May 6, 2017 / 12:50 pm

    I can relate to your experiences. As a daughter of immigrants born and raised in America, I’ve seen my parents subjected to some of what you described above. Making a decision to move to another country is brave. You got this.

  8. May 7, 2017 / 5:36 am

    A very good post. Good Mental health is extremely important for a healthy and happy life 🙂

  9. July 13, 2017 / 4:55 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. We just moved from India to Dubai and I can’t stop hearing the responses that mentioned. I know they all mean well, but it doesn’t help the situation. This post came up at a right time. I needed this.

    Gayathri @ Musings Over Nothing