7 tips to feel less sad when you work overseas
Travelling and working in another country, meeting different cultures, making new friends, and taking advantage of professional opportunities you may not have had in your home country – all these sound very exciting, but working overseas also has a less bright side of the coin – expat depression and homesickness. Those living and working abroad, especially people who are going through this experience for the first time, deal with multiple challenges and sadness is probably the most significant, more poignant than not knowing whether to shake hands or kiss a new acquaintance on the cheek or what time people have dinner in the host country.
The feeling of excitement you experience before leaving is often replaced by confusion in the first days and within weeks you start to feel heavyhearted and melancholic without a clear reason. Everything you feel is normal and millions of people have experienced this before; what’s important is to take action and not allow depression to prevent you from enjoying your travelling and professional experience. Here’s what you can do about it:
1. Behave like a tourist first
If you dive with your head first into work the next day after you arrive, your chances of developing expat depression will be higher. Take a few days before starting your new job and visit the place and its surroundings like a tourist. Get to know the area where you’ll live and find people and sites that will allow you to develop a good feel for the place. First time when you feel gloomy, just go jogging to that nice park where you’ve had a stroll in your first day and you’ll start to feel better almost instantly.
2. Keep in touch with your family
Nowadays it’s cheaper and more convenient to communicate with your loved ones when you’re thousands of miles away. You don’t have to call just once a month in order to avoid huge expenses, and with a good connection to the Internet you can keep in touch with family and friends at any time of the day and night.
Another way to stay connected with people back home is sending them gifts. Looking for presents will give your leisure time a purpose and will enable you to share your experience abroad with your loved ones.
3. Pay attention to severe symptoms
Every person living abroad will experience homesickness at one point, but some people have more bothersome symptoms, such as constantly thinking of home, experiencing extreme stress and work difficulties, feeling helpless, having a low self-esteem, avoiding social activities, and not being able to sleep and concentrate. If you can’t cope with symptoms by yourself, it’s time to get professional help, before the situation gets completely out of control.
4. Do the things you loved to do at home
Moving to a new place doesn’t mean you can simply give up all your old habits. It’s impossible not to feel disorientated when you don’t eat your favourite food anymore or you stop exercising. Maintaining your usual rituals will enable you to stay connected to home even if you are far away. Just write on a piece of paper your weekly activities from back home and see if you can transfer your old schedule to the new environment. Your childhood comfort food may have a slightly different taste if you don’t use local ingredients, but at least you will feel more secure in your new stage of life.
5. Balance old with new
Having familiar things from home is helpful for most people living abroad, but you need to find a balance between placing photos of your family all over the room and not speaking in your mother tongue anymore. Keep around items that remind you of your cultural identity and at the same time be open to new experiences. For instance, you can watch local TV every day, but you can also stream to your favourite radio station from home using the Internet every time you feel homesick.
6. Avoid being too connected
You spend at least two hours every day on Skype, talking to friends and parents? You know every little thing that has happened at home in your absence, such as what your mom’s grocery bag contained this morning? It’s understandable to be interested in the lives of people back home, but you also need to be present in the place where you actually live. You need to develop a sense of belonging for your new location. Make sure you also take a break from social media that keeps you wired to what’s going on at home and instead have a walk on the streets of your new town without being bothered by notifications.
7. Get “adopted” by a local family
One of the main triggers of expat depression is loneliness. Suddenly waking up without your usual support network in an era where people prefer to look down at their smartphones instead of having a talk with a stranger in the bus station can be very painful. The solution is to make a close local friend who is willing to invite you to their family functions so you feel more supported and safe. Depending on your new culture, this can be more or less difficult to achieve, but in the end the effort to get “adopted” will pay off.
One day you may feel excited about the positive feedback you have received at work and the next day your only wish can be to cuddle in your old bed from home with your teddy bear and a jar of cookies from grandma. No matter what happens, remember that your feelings matter and you should always talk to others about your emotions. However, by implementing the strategies provided above your sad days will be fewer in number and you’ll get the most from your experience abroad.