Moving abroad is a giant leap to take in life with many factors to consider. After all, when you leave your home, everything that’s familiar to you changes. A completely new environment means a new living space, friends, job, hobbies, means of transportation – typically, nothing stays the same. That can lead to expat uprooting.
Understanding Expat Uprooting
As an expat, you aren’t just traveling for a few months while maintaining close ties to home. Expats move to a new country abroad, intending to make it their permanent home. This is what it means to uproot yourself, and it can feel overwhelming.
Having to communicate in a foreign language will often lead you to feel misunderstood. You might find yourself feeling lost in more ways than one, and not just because you are adjusting to getting around. Meanwhile, you also must build a new support system of like-minded people.
My Story of Expat Uprooting
My first expat uprooting was within my home country, Chile. I went from a relatively large city, the port of Valparaíso, to the capital of more than 8 million inhabitants, Santiago. And it was very, very difficult.
I didn’t know all the “codes” of the people of Santiago; everyone already had their friends from school, from university, from work. The madness of buses, the subway, and people looked like they were on their way to the slaughterhouse with few smiles. I also arrived loaded with prejudices: the capital is dangerous, public transport is a catastrophe, and the pollution is unbearable.
I had a terrible time. And in the same country. That added extra stress because I never thought of myself as uprooted, even though I left everything behind: friends and family.
My visits to Valparaíso were not so lovely anymore. The world continued to function without me. And it was also tiring for me to go back and forth on the weekends because I needed to rest, and I couldn’t.
So I stopped going home so often. I stayed in Santiago on weekends. I didn’t have a very good time either, because I felt I was missing things in Valparaíso, my friends, my family.
What is uprooting: helplessness, shock, fear, mourning—a feeling of loss of identity and control. And of not belonging.
But this pain does not last forever. I had to learn to let go. I kept missing, longing. Yet, I was also learning to let go of living where I was not.
Because as long as we have one foot in our place of origin and the other in our new home, it will be tough for us to develop a new sense of belonging. Without forgetting where I come from, I focus on where I am and where I am going.
All this takes time, effort, and patience and may leave you feeling secluded all the while. Expat uprooting is not only about severing ties from home. The significant changes you experience from uprooting can make you feel disconnected from yourself.
The person you need to stay connected to the most right now is yourself. When you uproot your life, you don’t need to lose yourself in the process. Here are a few ways to help you get rooted within yourself while living abroad.
How to Cope with Expat Uprooting
Remember your why
When you’re overwhelmed by new feelings and everything new around you, it can be easy to lose clarity of your goals and intentions. Once these fall out of alignment, it’s challenging to make decisions with confidence and purpose.
Taking the time to uncover or rediscover your “why” for this journey abroad will connect you closer to yourself. In reaffirming the person you want to become, you reconnect with who you already are. The clarity you gain will build the foundation for a fulfilling and authentic life abroad. It will be your compass as you move forward and make choices that align with your values and purpose.
Allow and acknowledge your thoughts
Whenever you experience new or uncomfortable feelings or thoughts, be mindful not to avoid or suppress them.
It’s easy for us to ignore what we perceive as negative, but within the discomfort may be a message that you need to hear. You do not need to get carried away by an emotion or thought to address it and learn from it.
Invite discomfort in like a friend and see if you can determine a more profound message or trigger. You are sure to find a greater sense of ease with this experience the more you welcome all sides of you. Instead of labeling uncomfortable feelings as negative, see if you can acknowledge each new thought as a catalyst to deepening this significant learning experience.
Look beyond the concept of expat uprooting
The human mind automatically labels and conceptualizes everything it sees based on what it already knows. By now, you already know what it means to live abroad. You understand that the concept of uprooting underlies what it means to be an expat. You might already associate the term with words like frustration or fear.
As an expat psychologist, I want to remind you that it is more than okay to feel this way. But sometimes, the mind wants you to feel this way because it’s how it thinks you should. Or it wants to keep you protected.
As you continue this expat journey, pay attention to what you are truly feeling. Look beyond the words or concepts. Be present with the experience and yourself.
If you are searching for an expat psychologist online, I can help you. My counseling approach is based on scientific methods helping you identify, connect, and move forward towards your goals, guided by your values and what matters to you.
If you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad, Check my Workshop here
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By your side,
Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.