You’ve unpacked your boxes and made a real home. Your kids are settled in school and you know where to buy groceries. You’ve met some people, made some friends, taken a trip or two. Your expat life is starting to feel normal. You feel like you’re at home.
The first few months in a new country are normally so busy as you work everything out, you can’t even imagine having a minute to yourself.
But the time will come where you have day-to-day life organized. At this stage, some expat partners actually start to feel adrift. You’re not on holiday. You know your way around. You’ve been to more coffee mornings than you ever thought possible. What do you do now?
This is the fun part! You have an amazing opportunity to work out what you want to do with this section of your life.
But where should you start?
Make a bucket list
Now you know your way around and have made some friends, you probably have a 101 ideas of things you’d like to do, places you’d like to go and experiences you’d like to have.
The reality is, expat postings can end unexpectedly. Be prepared, make your bucket list. Don’t be the person who finds themselves 2 years on, going to their own leaving party with regrets about the stuff they didn’t do.
Are you living in Singapore? Go to Australia while you have the chance. And New Zealand and Fiji. You’re in Europe? Go skiing in the Alps, visit Paris in spring, take a cruise to Scandinavia.
Read up on the country you’re living in and talk to friends. What do you absolutely have to do while you live here? Make a list and cross them off one by one.
Pursue your dreams
If you’re the sort of person who is brave enough to pack up your life and move to a different country, you’re the sort of person who has dreams worth pursuing.
When you move to a new country, you have a massive opportunity to make yourself a life all over again. And no-one says it has to be the same as before.
Sure, you have to work, and eat and do laundry. But while you’re creating a new life for yourself in your new home take some time to think through what you want your life to be like.
Have you always wanted to start your own business, or do a different job, or start a family, or travel to exotic places? Make a list, think through the steps it will take you to achieve your dreams and pursue them.
You’re reinventing yourself to some extent anyway. Might as well do it right!
Anticipate the ups and downs
As much as it is a cliche, culture shock is a roller coaster and even though you’re feeling settled, expect it to continue to go up and down.
There will be times when you feel homesick, frustrated and maybe even lonely. Your kids will have bad days and good. You and your partner might find the pressure of living and working in a foreign culture gets too much sometimes. You might all experience change fatigue and even burnout.
Take care of your health. Try to maintain some level of work/life balance. Take a step back every now and then to breathe.
Just because from the outside your life seems golden, there are stresses and strains just like there would be at home.
If the going gets really tough, seek help, from friends, online organizations, and counseling. Don’t bottle it up.
Do something worthwhile
It’s easy as an expat to parachute into a country and live in a bubble.
Many expats have it pretty good. A larger than normal salary? Check. Excellent standard of living? Check. Travel, career, and social opportunities? Check, check, check.
As your host country starts to feel more and more like home you might find that you’d like to give something back. If you have time on your hands, find out about opportunities. If not, get to know the guy you buy your coffee from, support local business, act as a mentor to someone at work.
Think about making your mark in your host country as you’re passing through. It might only be a small thing, but it’s good to say thank you, even in a small way, for the time you spend in your host country. You might find you enjoy feeling like you’re leaving part of yourself behind when you move on.
And when it’s time to go
For most of us, an expat posting has a shelf-life.
You might know the end-date from the start, or it might take you by surprise. Most of us, though, move on or go home at some point.
When this happens make sure you mark the occasion with a celebration. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small but it’s important that you have the chance to say goodbye well, and are at peace with moving on.
Say goodbye to the places you’ve loved the most. Take a last photo. Have a final coffee. When you find yourself homesick for a place that isn’t home anymore, you’ll be glad you took the time to say goodbye properly.