Hi there! Are you homesick and fighting the expat blues?
Today’s post is especially for you! I’ve compiled a list of 7 different things that help me beat the expat blues when I’m going through a rough time living abroad. So let’s jump right in!
Go ahead and be a tourist!…
When we know we’ll live in a place for a long period of time, or in my case indefinitely, it’s easy to become a homebody and miss out on opportunities to explore all of the exciting attractions. Tourists often appreciate a place more because they make better use of their time, learning, exploring, and experiencing as much as they can during their short stay. Make an effort to get out and discover what’s special about the city where you live! It’ll help you acclimate to your new surroundings. If you like where you live, it’s easier to stay content when homesickness comes knocking. Once you’ve found some things you are passionate about, become a tour guide and show them off to friends and family who visit. You can also go experience them with other locals – they will appreciate your enthusiasm for their country and culture.
Join expat communities…
There are a number of ways to find other expats in your area. I’ll soon publish another post with more details about this, spacifically for expats living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. But based on my research so far, there are three really great ways to meet other expats:
- Facebook Groups
- Often you’ll be able to find a facebook page or group dedicated to the expat community for any given country. And if you live in a major city of that country, chance are you’ll also find a tighter-knit group on facebook for expats from said city. In these groups, you’ll find everything from questions and advice about housing and employment, to humorous gif’s and plans for in-person get togethers.
- InterNations is a well-established expat organization dedicated to supporting those living abroad. There are now 420 expat InterNations communities established around the world. Their groups are excellent and active if you happen to live in one of these locations. And even if there aren’t expat events schedule for where you live, I’d still encourage you to join the InterNations community for their helpful articles and forums. You can do so by following this link.
- On Meetup, you can find groups of people with similar interests and schedule in-person hang-outs and events. For example, one group I found in my city, Belo Horizonte, is called English Munchers. This club gathers once every month in a groovy cafe for refreshment and English language practice. Meetup hosts groups for diverse interests – everything from polyglot gatherings to foodie outings, art and music events, to… expat clubs. So click here and give it a try. If you’re a leader type, you can even take the initiative and start your own group!
- Facebook Groups
Start a blog and be active in the expat blogging community…
Blogging is a great way to find people who understand what you’re going through. This can help you feel less alone. You’ll gain insight into your own situation by reading what other expats have faced and how they dealt with similar difficulties. Blogging also gives you a chance to voice your questions and epiphanies and gain valuable feedback. Plus, you may even be able to make money through monetization!
Build a sense of familiarity with your new home…
Part of feeling “at home” is forming habits, routines, and seeing the same places and people. This creates a sense of security. Explore the city, and especially your neighborhood. Find places such as bakeries, restaurants, grocery markets, squares, parks, churches, malls, and the like that you enjoy. Begin to frequent these places. Soon, you’ll start to feel like your roots are sinking down.
One place that created a turning point in my journey of acclimation here in Belo Horizonte was the Ping Pão bakery in Santa Rosa, a neighborhood within walking distance of my apartment. I fell in love with Ping Pão for their atmosphere, the plentiful selection of tasty treats, and the reliably superior quality of their goods. But what really bonded me to Ping Pão was the fact that they offered not only the traditional Brazilian pastries, cakes and breads; they branched out into developing their own versions of popular Italian and American goods. It was here that I joyfully broke my donut fast after three years without not even one American donut. Aiiiiii, the SAUDADE!!! You can’t imagine how ecstatic I felt to walk into Ping pao that day and see donuts!! Ever since, I’ve been a die hard fan. I love you guys!!! Forever and Always! If you live in Belo Horizonte or you’re traveling through, be sure to visit! You can follow them on Instagram by clicking here.
Anyway, that whole passionate, shameless donut advertisement was to say… It makes a huge difference to get out of the house and find places you love…. homes-away-from-home… away from home. Sometimes these places will cure your blues with something that reminds you of home and other times they’ll help you make new memories that help you feel more rooted to your new home. For me, the Ping Pão did both.
They sell things that remind me of home, like donuts and pizza. And I’ve made so many wonderful new memories there. From when my son was a newborn, I wrapped him up in a kangaroo carrier and brought him with me to the bakery on days when I desperately needed to get out of the apartment, drink a little coffee and eat something I didn’t have to prepare. It’s very sentimental for me to remember how he ate his first spoonfuls of beans at the Ping Pão.
So… find places that act as a bridge between you, on your little expat island of blues, and your new country. It makes all the difference in the world!
Find opportunities to speak/teach your first language…
The language you speak makes up part of who you are. Learning a new culture and language changes how you behave, speak, and perceive yourself. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a split personality, as in one for English and another for Portuguese. However, I’ve noticed that the timbre, volume and register of my voice, my gestures and mannerisms, and my sense of humor all change when I speak Portuguese. How weird and interesting! It’s just part of learning to jive with a new language and culture. But this can lead to an identity crisis. So it’s important to continue speaking your first language.
Speaking your birth language will go a long way toward maintaining your sense of identity in the blur of a new environment. I remember feeling lost and detached from myself when I first came to Brazil because I was suddenly immersed in an environment where all I heard was Portuguese. Once I started going to places where people spoke English, I felt better because speaking my first language helped to break that feeling of disorientation.
One of the most popular ways to keep speaking your language is to become a language teacher or tutor. In Brazil, there is a booming market for English teachers. Choose from a plethora of schools if you wish to apply for a job, or create your own independent business. Use the potential of online social platforms like Youtube, Facebook groups, and blogging to build up a community interested in your unique approach to learning English.
As I mentioned briefly before, another way to find opportunities to speak English (or other language) is to attend church services held in English, and participate in conversation practice gatherings. You can find language learning groups on Meetup and Facebook for many of the major cities in Brazil.
Participate in local community events…
This ties back to the importance of leaving your home and exploring your new city. Part of the antidote to expat blues is surrounding yourself with people. It’s important to seek out face-to-face social opportunities. From conversations at the bus stop on the way to mingling at the events themselves, attending community functions like concerts, gallery exhibits, workshops and art classes, will help you meet new people and make connections. Plus, you’ll be quite likely to find people who share the same interests with you.
Keep in touch with friends and family from back home…
Equally important as face-to-face time in your new country is maintaining your connection with the people you left behind. Since they’ve probably known you much longer than anyone in your new country, it’s important to keep spending time with these family and friends. They’ll be able to remind you of who you really are, your dreams, your strengths and your good qualities. This is so important since culture shock has the potential to affect us like an enormous earthquake, fracturing, even crumbling the foundation of our identity and self-esteem.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with people overseas. Whatsapp, Kakao talk, Facebook, Facetime, and Skype are an expat’s best friends! We’re so lucky to live in a day and age where we can hear and see people different states and countries. So make use of these technologies and keep a lookout on plane ticket prices to travel back home when you get the chance.
Well, that’s it for today. I hope you found this list helpful! And stick around. Because there will be more posts coming about expat life, connecting with people in a foreign country, and coping with culture shock. If you’re interested in more posts like this, subscribe to the American Wife Brazilian Kitchen email list and that way you’ll get a little “heads up” whenever I publish new content!
See you soon!