The Little Expat That Could


2014-11-16-HowtounpackproperlyDear New Expat,

Right about now you’re probably sitting in a brand new house in a brand new country, surrounded by a room full of  boxes. You’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed, wondering how you’re going to manage. And by ‘how am I going to manage‘ I really mean “have we made huge effing mistake???”

Maybe you did a lot of reading or research or maybe you’re just winging it, figuring it out as you go along. Either way, it’s hard to know what moving your life and family to a different country, continent, or currency zone is going to feel like until you’ve hit the ground. For all your plans to hit that foreign ground running, sometimes you fall flat on your face.

Making the decision to move to another country is right up there with adding a child to your life. It is one of those life changes that affects every aspect of how you live, of how you go about your day. Just like bringing a kid into the mix means you have to adjust the choices you make, make changes to the way you do things, the decision to become an expat does too. Everything changes.

And it’s hard.

It’s hard in a put your head in your hands and cry kind of way. It’s hard in a you doubt yourself and your choices and your strength kind of way. It’s hard in a constant second guessing yourself kind of way. It’s just really, really…hard.

Not all the time and not every day, but the first year? The first year abroad is a doozy.


The first year of any international move is littered with little landmines. It’s 365 days or so of treading water just to keep your head above the surface. The first year  is usually spent finding your footing, trying to remember names and directions, securing a place for yourself on a new social scene, wading carefully into already established groups. You’re lonely. You’re overwhelmed. You don’t know what the hell kind of meat they sell at the supermarket but it’s not one you recognize. You’re worried the kids won’t make friends. You’re worried you won’t make friends. It’s true for any move, but when it’s your first move abroad it’s magnified a hundred fold.

It gets easier. I promise.

There are a few things you can do to help. First? Say yes to everything. Go to every social event, every coffee morning, every meet and greet. Join as many clubs as you can. Book clubs, tennis clubs, walk and talk, stitch and bitch. Join the PTA. Volunteer in school. Accept every invitation to coffee, to lunch, to help. Don’t be afraid to talk to more experienced expats about what you’re feeling, because you know what? We’ve all felt it too. Usually more than once.

You’ll make friends. Your kids will make friends. The friends you start off with probably won’t be the same ones you’ve listed as your emergency contact by the end, but that’s ok. Sometimes when you’re set adrift, you cling on to the first scrap of wood that comes your way. If it buoys you up, hang on to that piece of wood for dear life. You may lose your grip on the next bend and that’s ok too. You’ll pick up a few more along the way and suddenly you’ll have enough to build a raft. After that? It’s smooth(er) sailing.

Out of all the expats I’ve met in that last seven and a half years, I can count on one hand the number of folks who have regretted their decision. Even if that first year was the hardest year they could imagine. Even if they had their bags packed and ready to go for months on end. Even if they never thought they’d be able to do it.

You’re not imagining it. You’re not making things up. You’re not weak or unsuited for expat life or doing things wrong or struggling where others have succeeded. It’s hard.

vintage-photo-of-an-exhasted-mother-and-child-in-a-cluttered-roomBut you? You’re the little engine that could. You’ll chug up that mountain, pulling all your questions and concerns and worries and fears behind you, unsure if you’ll be able to do it. Listen to the little voice in the back of your head saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

Before you know it, you’ll have a year under your belt. You won’t be the new guy or gal anymore. You’ll be sitting pretty at the top of that mountain which by now looks more like a hill, thinking to yourself, “I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could.”

When you do? Enjoy the ride down.




6 Comments Add yours

  1. aviets says:

    Seems like excellent advice. I’m starting to wish I had a reason to move far, far away and follow your excellent advice.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Canada’s not that far! 😉


  2. Rachel says:

    I have just been sent in the direction of your blog, this post in particular! A newbie here in Copenhagen from the UK (two looooong months in) it made me cry – because it could have been written to order for me! excellent post, thanks 🙂


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Oh Rachel! It’s hard!! Our first posting was in Cyprus and I spent the first year with half a bag packed to go home. And then it got better. And then it settles into normal life, the good, the bad, the ugly. Perhaps our paths have/will crossed? In any case, you are decidedly NOT alone. And it WILL get better. 🙂


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