Emotional resilience in expat life: Engendering ER in expats - Part 1

This is the first part of the fourth in a five-article series by Contributor Linda A. Janssen, who is working on a book about emotional resilience and its importance in expat life.

Emotional resilience is the psychological ability to adapt to the significant challenges and misfortunes life throws at us, while maintaining or returning to a positive view of ourselves during and after such turmoil.

In the first article of this series, I identified six key issues affecting expats living in a highly mobile, genuinely cross-cultural world: identity, the five phases of expat transitions, the five stages of change model, emotional resilience, emotional and social intelligence, and optimism.

In the first three articles we looked at each of these concepts, and why they are important in dealing with the pain and loss of people, places and memories that matter to us. These concepts lay the foundation for this and the final article in the series.

As expats (the who in this equation), we face turmoil and upheaval resulting from the cross-cultural, mobile life we find ourselves in. Identity development is the important reason why we need emotional resilience.

Emotional and social intelligence skills and optimism are tools contributing to our emotional resilience: they help us with how we handle what we experience while going through which stage of the Kubler-Ross change model we are in, and when and where we happen to be in our transition phases.

The importance of goodbyes

Despite the wide range of positive attributes that a global lifestyle may entail, the comings and goings of transitions in expat life can be difficult. Continual loss can be painful; the cumulative effect can be disorienting, even heartbreaking.

Regardless of whether you are heading for a new destination or remaining behind while others around you leave, there is a reason why David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken told us all those years ago in Third Culture Kids to make the time and effort to "build a RAFT."


Reconciliation is making sure we part from people, places and situations on the best possible terms. This means dealing with any tension in our relationships, resolving disagreements, and doing our best not to "lean away" from others as we prepare to leave or be left.

This is key to ensuring we do not merely ignore difficulties or tamp down bad feelings; doing so ignores the need for resolution and closure, and sets us up for repeating similar negative behaviours in the days and years ahead.


Affirmation is acknowledging that each person in a relationship matters. In action, it means letting others know what they mean to us, and allowing others to share what we mean to them.

If we do not do so, we risk feeling as though people never really care about us, that we are merely ships passing in the night; we risk keeping our relationships superficial and not allowing others to get close enough to know the "real us."


Farewells call for saying goodbye to the aforementioned significant people, places, pets and possessions for whom we care deeply.

Have coffee or go to lunch with your closest friends; write them a card or letter telling how and why you treasure their friendship. Embrace technology to help maintain connections through email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, text-messaging and telephone calls.

Children can bake cookies or burn a CD for friends, sign their yearbooks and "friendship journals," get together for a last movie or pizza party.

As a family, visit one last time your favourite restaurant, park or places you used to go. Take pictures, and buy souvenirs that mean something and will remind you of the pleasant times and deep ties you have enjoyed. Be sure each family member takes their own treasured items along; what these items happen to be isn't important, what they represent is.

 Think destination

As you build the other three parts of your "RAFT," also begin looking ahead to where you are going. Deal with the practical matters (housing, employment, schools, websites and other information sources), but also do not neglect emotional considerations.

In addition to Pollock and Van Reken's book, Simone Costa Eriksson and Ana Serra's The Mission of Detective Mike: Moving Abroad and Julia Simens' Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child are excellent books to help prepare younger children for transitions, whether they are the ones leaving or not.

Similarly, Robin Pascoe's Raising Global Nomads and Tina Quick's The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition are great resources for teens, even if they are not yet heading for college.

For those staying behind, this step entails envisioning what life will be like without those who are leaving. Prepare ahead to help ease the pain of this loss by planning a new project, hobby, class or excursion.

Previous in the series

Identity & the expat
 Transition & Change
 Emotional & Social intelligence and optimism

Next in the series

Engendering ER in expats - Part 2
 Part V: "Factors" for the emotionally resilient expat

Linda A. Janssen


Linda A. Janssen

Writer, author & expat living abroad and sharing the good, the less good and the just plain odd. I chronicle making a new life in NL. Always finding the upside...

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