2 Simple Tricks for Dealing with that Suffocating Sense of Expatriate Disconnection

Disconnection is not an acute feeling, like physical pain or stage fright.

It’s something that builds up insidiously, slyly infiltrating your soul.

Image by Lourie Pieterse

Just imagine, having a droplet of water penetrating in the basement
of your house, day after day, week after week, month after month.

At first, you don’t even notice it.

There are so many practical things to do:

  • packing and unpacking,
  • bringing the kids to school,
  • discovering the local supermarket,
  • managing the various amount of paperwork (bank, insurance, healthcare),
  • securing access to the Internet,
  • sending news to family and friends back home.

But after the excitement (positive and/or negative) of the first weeks, little by little, you come to a routine mode… without any real structure.

While your partner gets up with a full agenda buzzing with meetings, projects teams and workshops, you end up with superficial interactions mostly brought by chance with a few local parents at school or at the nearby shopping center.

This is when disconnection becomes invasive.

Remember? The droplet of water, day after day, week after week, infiltrating the basement…

And suddenly the house collapses!

Of course, it’ll depend very much on your own situation: whether you’re allowed or not to work, whether you have or not some hobbies, whether you can afford or not to enrol to the university for example, whether you speak the local language… or not!

But battling isolation is a job in itself!

You’ll have to make the decision to engage with people and to put a strategy in place, otherwise you’ll wake up one day and realize that you are totally isolated.

Nobody to step in to pick up your kids at school while you have an urgent dentist appointment. Nobody to talk to about your professional goals.
I did not pick those 2 examples out of the blue. They are both typical of 2 types of different relationships:

  1. The first example (pick up the kids at school) involves local connections.
  2. The second example involves meaningful connections. Talking about your professional goals implies sharing much more about yourself: your skills, your values, your beliefs. This kind of relationship does not need to be local. Provided you have an Internet connection, you can virtually access anybody in the world.

Of course, the optimum is when you can make local and meaningful relationships.

So how?

You have two ways to battle isolation: online and offline.

1. Offline.

This is the traditional way of making connections, since man is man.

  • Engage with as many people as possible.
  • Accept each invitation (provided you’re in a safe environment). You’ll sort out later on who you’ll meet again and who you’ll trust to engage in a relationship.
  • Don’t be shy and take advantage of every opportunity to make contact: the cashier at the supermarket, the local grocer, the baker, the other parents at school, the gardener if you have one.
  • Enrol at the gym or join the local choir. Not only is it to practise your hobby but it’s part of your “public relation” job now.

Some of you may sigh and say “Easier said than done”.

When you don’t speak the local language, when the natives are not especially looking very friendly (no smile, no eye contact), what’s left?

2. The Online world!

Search selectively on the Internet for a community of like-minded people based on your interests.

You’re lucky. This is the new hype: it’s called social discovery platforms. Sites like Pinterest and YouTube are part of it: you search by topics and find people according to their interests.

But you can go a step further: once you’ve found people on line with similar passions, you can contact them and even meet them face to face.

A site like meet-up is based on this principle.

For expatriates, a site like internations can be very useful.

Once you’ve found an interesting group, build up your agenda by planning regular meetings. It’s a job in itself.
So, ready?
Go out and make one appointment TODAY.  Then report it in the comment section below.

Oh, by the way, if you’re in Hobart (Australia), I’m organizing a monthly meeting every first Thursday of the month. The purpose is for expatriate family members to meet at lunchtime and exchange tips to overcome our psychological challenges. Interested? Contact me for more details.



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