Lonely as an expat? Not anymore!
Vassia Sarantopoulou is the founder of AntiLoneliness, and a counsellor-psychologist with more than 15 years of experience, offering psychological support to expats in Leiden and The Hague.
Once upon a time, there was a man called Odysseus, the king of Ithaca who fought for a decade in the war of Troy together with his men. After the war, he started his trip back home but unfortunately, he and his 12 ships were driven off course by storms and angry gods.
During 10 years of adventures, Odysseus got stranded in places which were alluring, but still didn’t feel like home. He lost all his men but survived all the challenges put before him, and, in the end, he reached Ithaca. Alone.
The loneliness of an expat
Being an expat can be a lonely journey. You are immersed in a completely new culture with a different set of values and way of life, you meet different people, you don’t speak the language, you miss your friends and family, but most of all, connecting with the people around you is really hard (especially in the beginning). You have no idea where to start, how to approach people, and most of all, how long it will take until you feel at home.
The paradox of loneliness
According to John Cacioppo, a founder of social neuroscience who studied the effects of loneliness, loneliness is exactly this feeling of being disconnected from others, of not belonging to a community, or even worse, the feeling that no one cares about you.
It’s painful to feel like an alien or an outcast. This makes you want to connect with the people around you. However, the thought of being rejected by these people might make you give up trying, which may lead you to become more isolated.
It’s ok to feel lonely
Feeling lonely as an expat is quite normal in the integration process. Many people in this situation feel exactly the same. Loneliness is inevitable in everyone’s life and it usually “strikes” during transition periods: when you are getting a divorce, when you change jobs, when you move to a new house / country, or when you lose a beloved.
Loneliness is a reminder that you value your relationships and that you miss that level of connection you had with them.
How can you feel less lonely?
Like all painful experiences we endure, loneliness can also be the catalyst of a productive period in our life; a wonderful opportunity to start working on meaningful relationships and a chance to build the life you want. Here are some tips to start with:
Repeat to yourself: You are not alone
You may think you are different, but there are many people out there struggling with the same challenge: how to reach out to others. Your pain is also their pain. Expats and locals have the same need for communication, friendship and reciprocity. They need you as much as you need them.
Be true to yourself
Everyone tells you to go out and meet people, right? That’s correct. Bear in mind, though, that hanging around with people who are not a match for you, can make you feel even lonelier. Therefore, choose social events and activities that match your background, values, hobbies and interests.
Learn the local language (verbal and non-verbal)
Making the decision to learn the language is a very smart one. Not only because you will need it for your daily communication with the locals, but also because you will feel more alike and less different from your surroundings. You will belong.
Moreover, it’s very important to observe how the locals greet, laugh, or express their feelings. It’s a useful lesson in order to communicate with them better, but also to avoid misunderstandings.
Aim for meaningful relationships with reasonable expectations
Socialising with just anybody can be very exhausting. Try to connect with people who share common interests and values, with people who also seem willing to try to build a relationship. It takes two to tango, of course.
However, try to remember: even though we would like for people to like us instantly and to become friends with us, it takes time until a stable and safe relationship is formed. Be patient and persistent.
Embrace your differences
There is no need to change who you are in order to be liked. Being different can be a strong asset in your new life, because people may like to learn more about you and your culture. Believe it or not, you are adding colour to their lives.
Ask for professional help
Sometimes all this change seems overwhelming and very exhausting. You don’t need to go through this all alone. Get professional help. An experienced counsellor can guide you through this challenge and provide you with useful tools in order to grow your social and relationship skills, to cope with uncomfortable feelings, to boost your self-confidence and to find your inner peace again.
You will reach your "Ithaca"
The name "Odysseus" comes from the word "odyssomai", which means being hated by the gods and men, therefore being left alone to survive. Even if you are struggling by yourself, in the end, you will reach your “Ithaca”.
And remember, you are not alone.
If you would like more support on how to feel less lonely, and also on other issues, such as relationships, anxiety, depression, self-confidence, and inner peace, please contact AntiLoneliness via the form below: