Moving abroad was an incredibly exciting time for my husband and I (and our Sheepadoodle, Kaya).
Originally from Canada, We’ve been living in Europe for 4 years now, and while it’s been an incredible experience, there have been many things that I didn’t expect.
Before we moved, I read everything I possibly could about becoming a trailing spouse (a term used to describe a spouse who moves abroad for their partner’s work).
And our first year abroad was great. I was enamored by life in Europe. The gorgeous buildings, the relaxed lifestyle, the hygge and the ability to travel to a new country simply by driving a couple of hours.
I didn’t even miss Canada for the first few years!
But once we settled into our life abroad, I noticed myself feeling things that I didn’t expect. At all.
I began searching the internet to see if anybody else felt the same way as I did. And I wanted to share my experience to prepare others for what they might encounter.
1. The Homesickness Doesn’t Always Come Right Away
It took me about four years to really start to feel homesick.
The type of homesick where you ache to see something familiar.
I never felt it at first, and I couldn’t understand why, after four years, it finally hit me. But that’s how it goes sometimes. Your feelings as an expat won’t always happen in a particular order, and that’s perfectly normal.
It’s totally ok to love living abroad for several years and then one day wake up and have the urge to book the next flight back home.
You might think that if you don’t feel homesickness at first you’ll never feel it, but that’s not always the case.
On the other hand, you might feel homesick the instant you step foot into your new country.
Regardless, however you feel, it’s all normal.
One way I combat homesickness is by getting items that make me feel like I’m “at home”.
At first, I wanted to immerse myself in a new culture (which is great, and something you should definitely do)! But it’s also ok to stock up on things you can only buy back home (such as snacks or other items).
One thing I do is ask my mom to bake me some cookies to pack in my suitcase. After arriving, those cookies go straight into the freezer. When my homesickness hits, I pull out a cookie and get to have some delicious homemade treats from a loved one.
It’s simple but makes a difference on a bad day.
It’s also important to schedule a time to connect with your loved ones from back home. Video chatting with them can make it feel like you’re right there with them (almost).
2. You’ll Feel Guilty and Selfish
At first, I never felt guilty about moving away.
After all, I was moving for my husband so that he could live out his dream career.
However, after a couple of years, I began to feel incredibly selfish.
I felt selfish for lots of things. I missed the birth of my best friend’s baby. I missed my dad’s 60th birthday. I missed (and still do miss) countless holidays.
I know my family misses us, and I sometimes feel terrible over it. I know they would never want me to feel guilty, but I’m an empath. It’s how I am.
The feelings of guilt were something I never expected to feel in a million years.
If you begin to feel guilty, try to understand that you are doing what’s best for you. Feeling unnecessarily guilty is a negative emotion and it doesn’t deserve to take up space in your heart.
3. Expat Depression/Anxiety Creeps Up Fast
You’re not going to have your typical support system abroad. When you’re an expat in a foreign country without your normal social support group, it’s easy to hide away from the world.
I’m introverted, so I enjoy my alone time, but there came a point in time where I had gone months without seeing someone other than my husband.
I didn’t even realize how long it had been because being an expat means your social circle is often times much, much smaller.
Therefore, you don’t have much of an excuse to leave the house and before you know it, you might start experiencing the expat blues.
When you’re in a new country, it’s very important to stay on top of your mental health and make sure you are searching for groups or activities in your area to connect with others.
If you feel you are on the verge of depression or are suffering from anxiety or any other form of mental health issues, please speak to a loved one and ask them to help you find help.
Finding a therapist can be challenging in another country, which is why it can be beneficial to have a friend help.
4. You’ll Have Tough Choices to Make
This ties in with the guilt, but you will likely miss big moments and you won’t be able to fly back home for them all.
When my grandma was very ill, the doctors told my family she had a couple of months to live. Fortunately, I had the ability to fly home to spend time with her while she was still around, but that meant that when her time came to pass, I wouldn’t be able to fly back for her funeral.
For obvious reasons, being able to say goodbye to my Grandma in-person was the best choice, but I still remember feeling upset and frustrated that I wasn’t able to attend her funeral.
When you live far away from your family and friends, you’re going to need to try your best to prioritize which major life events you’ll be able to be there in person.
And that’s a tough thing to do.
When you move away, it’s important that your loved ones are supportive and understand that while you wish you could be there for everything, you just won’t be able to.
Doing small things like sending flowers or handwritten cards will show that you care, even if you can’t be there in person.
5. You Might Question Where Home Is
After living abroad, I’ve begun to question where and when we will settle somewhere.
This question scares me quite a bit, and that’s normal.
I love the challenge of learning a new language and being surrounded by a different culture. But I also love the place where I grew up. When I think about where we will finally settle down, I feel a bit stressed out because I realize no matter what our decision is, we will be giving something up.
You might feel the same way. I try my best to live in the present and not think about where we will end up, but every once in a while these thoughts creep in.
Living abroad is an exciting adventure that I don’t take for granted! While I’ve had some unexpected feelings along the way, the good always outweighs the bad.
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