With that said, I’d like to debunk a few myths about expat life. I feel like there are so many websites out there that tell you to “do this, not that” and instead, I just want to say … it’s okay. It’s okay to find adjusting to a new culture hard, or making new friends nearly impossible. It’s okay to think, “I’ve made a mistake”. But it’s how you navigate through that thinking that makes all the difference.
Here are the four “it’s okays” I’ve learned over the years:
It’s okay to be negative. Once in a while – and the key here is really, “once in a while”. Don’t deprive yourself of giving into feelings of loneliness, homesickness, or frustration. The pressure to be upbeat and happy all the time in a new environment can sometimes do more harm than good! Once in a while, it’s okay to go straight home after work, cry, throw (soft!) things around, and go, “This SUCKS.” But when you wake up in the morning? It’s a new day. And a new start. Just remember that.
It’s okay to hang out with other [insert your nationality here]. I despise people who move to new countries only to socialise exclusively with people of their own nationality. What’s the point of that? In doing so, you’re not even making an effort to fit in! Having said that, I also think it’s important – crucial, even – to hang out with people of your own nationality. Just not exclusively. I have a small handful of American friends here and whenever we get together for a Byron burger or Thanksgiving, it’s fun to reminisce about the good ol’ USA and to also trade stories about our experiences as American expats in the UK. Connecting to and retaining that aspect of your identity is vital to your happiness in your new environment.
It’s okay to dread awkward friend dates/social gatherings. I often joke that I’m the most anti-social person I know, which is hard when you’re a blogger! When I meet new people at blogging or publishing events for work, I try my best to put on my “HELLO! HOW ARE YOU? I’M SO GLAD TO BE HERE!” face even when I’m feeling more like, “OH GOD. PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE. I WANT TO LEAVE NOW!” Friend dates are awkward. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. But the important part is that you’re making an effort. And even if you dread meeting new people, getting to know someone who’s different than you is (almost) always interesting and fun.
It’s okay to hate your new surroundings in the beginning. This is natural. Don’t panic. When John and I first moved in together, we lived in a gorgeous (albeit, rented) mansion block flat in swishy Maida Vale. Couples would walk past looking like they’d just stepped out of a Lavazza coffee ad and the sweet little boutiques, delis, and cafes on the corner were straight out of a glossy magazine. It was idyllic.
Before that? I was living in a small, cramped flat in Shadwell (not cool enough to be Whitechapel, not chic enough to be Wapping), where fights would break out in the sketchy market nearby (my landlord was seriously attacked one evening) and I’d be spat on by passing leery men. This was not the London I’d expected to live in. All those rose-coloured memories I’d retained from a childhood trip to London promptly vanished, and I was left with a scene of pigeon poop and the feeling of being scared to walk home alone at night.
Luckily, I had bagged my dream job in publishing and arrived at work in the West End every morning feeling enthralled and enchanted by my new life, but going back home to that tiny flat was still depressing. I hated it. But then … I started to make the best of it. I took day trips to Greenwich on the weekends and met new-ish friends for brunch in Spitalfields. I threw myself into extracurricular activities (like yoga and joining an orchestra) so that I’d feel more fulfilled and could be distracted by something new.
Eventually, I moved, but looking back to that first year of living in Shadwell, I realized that I’d experienced a lot of personal growth in a short space of time – that is, that if a situation makes you uncomfortable (not unhappy, uncomfortable!)? It’s sometimes good for you to sit in that situation and “breathe in that awkwardness”, as a yoga instructor once instructed. Settle. Wiggle.
The bottom line is, it’s okay not to fall instantly in love with your new home. Your expectations will be unfulfilled. Disasters will happen. People will not be nice or helpful. But that’s okay. You’ll get through it. And instead of expectations, you’ll be pleasantly surprised instead: by the kindness of strangers, by chance encounters, and by new opportunities you wouldn’t have had if you’d stayed home.
Thank you so much to Polly for hosting my guest post on her lovely, positive, and upbeat expat blog!
That is my absolute pleasure Jaime, thank you so much for being a part of my blog today, I am honoured!