3 MIN READ | Social Psychology

Expat Life: Is It All Sunshine and Rainbows?

Margareth Van Steenlandt

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The world is changing fast and we all need to adjust. Globalisation is a widely used term now and that means international mobility.

Moving abroad is usually perceived as a new adventure, our mind filled with great expectations. However, the initial euphoric stage known as ‘tourist stage‘, when nearly everything is sunshine and rainbows, may be followed by a dramatic plunge.

A deep sense of loss starts kicking in. You miss your friends, family, habits, and you may realise that your usual behaviours are misunderstood in the new culture. You feel somehow deprived of your identity since the image of you the locals send you back does not reflect who you are usually.


Finding your new tribe

When you move into an unfamiliar environment, your old habits are uprooted which in turn leads to a very disturbing inadequacy. This may cause psychological uncertainty, really tough to face in an unknown culture where no one seems to respond the same way you usually do.

A solution to this painful drawback could be to find your new tribe. But how? The best option would be to meet locals in a context you feel good in. It could be in international gatherings, contacting international organisations, being a member of expat groups so that you can feel you are in your element while trying to get a better understanding on the locals’ culture and social codes.

Remember that expat groups do have ex-expat members who can help you overcome these new challenges. They may also suffer from reverse culture shock – same stages as culture shock but felt back in the home country after years abroad  – and thus will understand you fully.

Try to meet and befriend caring and non-judgemental people to share your stories and feelings with. Build a healthy and supportive social group with a few individuals, some locals included to get a better grasp on their culture, could be a gentle and transformative way to help you settle in nicely, at your own pace.

Adjusting to a new work mindset

First and foremost, stay open! The way the locals interact may look inappropriate to you or even inefficient based on your own habits. Bear in mind that for them, being efficient may not have the same meaning and may not require the same actions.

Depending on the country, labour market opportunities can be drastically different. Think about it before the move. You could check whether there are opportunities in your field or your spouse’s field in the country you’d like to move to before taking the leap. Remember that a move means that your spouse will also have to adjust to a new culture and work environment, that he will also need your help.

Regarding overseas placement, you will have no other choice but to adapt. Try to get as many details as you can before the move to prepare yourself and your family. Once in the host country, talk with colleagues, ask other locals how the job market is, get a better idea of the wages offered, the fields that keep hiring and why. It is always good to know where you stand and make any changes when needed.

Understanding the new health system

That’s another challenge. If you move to a new country with a sick or disabled relative, this part is really crucial to your loved one’s well-being and to yours too. 

First and foremost, try to prepare yourself from home before the move. Get as many pieces of information as you can beforehand. Call specialists in the host country, ask locals in online groups, check the information you get with other carers or expats who have been through the same ordeal. This will help you feel more secure and mentally prepared to face any potential setbacks or administrative dilemma.

Once in the host country, check the benefits system if any. Turn to experts, if needs be, to get the right pieces of advice fast. If you have moved to a non-English speaking country like France, look for English-speaking associations and experts. If in doubt, ask for information in international groups locally.

The main goal is to obtain several options to get solutions fast so that you can feel reassured, not isolated, properly supported, and understand the health system abroad. Treatments may differ, views on specific medication may be different, online and local support may offer new options you had not thought about or are not offered in your home country. Getting prepared is the best way to adjust and feel secure.

Final words

If you are interested in learning more about expatriation challenges and getting appropriate tools, visit Polychromatic Life Design Polychromatic Life Design, created by a bi-cultural expat. 


Margareth Van Steenlandt is a certified counsellor, personal development and business coach.


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