Though this message was a bit overdramatic, and my friend did not end up flying back home at the end of the week, I have certainly come across many expats who have had similar feelings of being (sometimes suddenly) fed-up with the expat experience and wanting to go home and conclude their time abroad as quickly as possible. I refer to this feeling as expat burnout.
Expat burnout can come along at virtually any stage of the expat experience — it might start to hit a few weeks into your new expat routine, or it might hit you years on after living in multiple countries for extended periods of time. Some people do not experience it at all. Regardless of if, or when, or even the intensity with which it hits, what seems to be consistent is that expat burnout is comprised of an overwhelming feeling of being tired of the expat experience and the desire to leave. Before someone should just abruptly stop their time as an expat, I would first recommend implementing the following plan.
What triggers “expat burnout”? Well, that is certainly a very individual question with many different possible answers, but is definitely a large part of the key in dealing with the issue. It may be somewhat tricky to immediately pinpoint, but with a bit of introspection you may be able to identify and analyze what it is that really bothers you, and where the underlying problem has its roots. Do you actually hate your job? Do you really dislike your new city/country to the point where it is intolerable to continue living there? If the answer to both is yes, how would it affect your future goals if you choose to leave earlier than planned? All of those are very important questions to ask.
More often times than not though, I have found that expat burnout tends to be triggered by less obvious (though no less important) issues such as having a problem with a boy/girlfriend, having an isolated yet frustrating encounter with a local person, or being less than satisfied with the local cuisine, etc. If any of these or other reasons are what is causing this feeling, carefully consider whether or not there is something you can do to improve this situation – is there a way you can make your job/living situation/relationships (or even the food) better?
Keeping the source of your problems in mind, there are some general actions that one can take to help prevent and sometimes even alleviate those burnout feelings.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to sometimes just have a change of scenery and go somewhere else. Depending on your time-off allowance and money situation, taking a brief day trip, or maybe even a week or multi-week trip might just be what you need to clear your mind. Not only can a brief trip help recharge your mental batteries, but it can give you a chance to explore a new city or get to know one you have already been to even better. Bonus points if you are traveling to a city where you already have a friend or acquaintance. Seeing a familiar face is also a definite mood booster and a much needed refresher. Possibly even consider a brief trip home if you are really missing your family/friends/food, etc. This might help to get a better read on whether you really want to be back home or are just being nostalgic.
Maybe due to time or money constraints you can’t get out of town - that’s fine! Explore your current city even more. Try out a new café or restaurant which matches your taste in food. Go to the small museum you haven’t been to. We all tend to get stuck in our day to day routines, not wanting to get out of our comfort zones (which is completely fine if you are happy with it - keep up the good work!), but when you feel like you are reaching a breaking point, take a moment to explore what’s around you and you might find a hidden gem in your new home.
There is nothing like a bit of physical activity to help work out one’s frustrations. Enroll in a fitness class, take a jog, look for a sports club. There is a lot of scientific evidence for the fact that exercise and being active can help improve your mood and provide a great deal of additional health benefits. Even if traditional exercise is not your thing, try taking a walk around the block. Getting some fresh air can certainly do much good.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is making sure that you are surrounded by positivity. Are people putting down your expat experience because they miss your presence or are even envious? Are you surrounded by negative people? Being in an environment which promotes your development is crucial. If there is anything that is putting you down, address this and see if there is a way to peacefully resolve the negativity. If the situation is more complicated, try to see it in another light by tuning out the amount of negativity you take in, tuning up the positive side of life.
As a concluding thought, don’t be too hard on yourself if you are having a bad day or a bad week or a bad month trying to adjust to life abroad and everything just feels a bit overwhelming. We all have down moments and experience extremely frustrating moments as expats. Since I started living abroad I have had countless numbers of moments where all I wanted to do was just pack my bags and book the next transatlantic flight home.
But in each and every situation, after taking a bit of time to cool off and relax, I came to the conclusion that this is the right place for me and the place I need to be to further develop myself and reach my goals. Every situation is unique and only you can decide if this is the right place and right time for you to be abroad. Always trust your instincts, but also be cautious. Don’t make rash decisions based on a temporary, fleeting feeling.
Gabrielle Byko is an international communication professional who has studied and been working in Germany and Austria for the past 5 years. She has a passion for experiencing international culture exchange in all of its forms.
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