Expat Confessions

I have not been coping.

The past six months have been pretty rough.

Not all of it has been culture shock.  A bit has been the normal slings and arrows of life’s outrageous fortune.

I’ve made some classic rookie-expat mistakes and the biggest one is that I didn’t get “out there” enough and pursue friendships and interests.  I made the exact same mistakes when I relocated from NSW to Victoria when I was 21 so you’d think I know better, but my instinctual behaviour of hiding at home took over and rendered me immobile.  I planned to be Ms Social Expat but that’s just not who I am and no matter how many pep talks I gave myself I just couldn’t push through the cocoon I had built around myself.

Maybe I was slightly depressed?

But the second half of the year has dawned and I have realised that I am the only person who can change things.  Sitting at home and talking to myself all day was not helping and was having flow-on effects in my marriage and parenting.  In a family one person’s unhappiness seeps out and poisons everyone and I don’t want to do that to my family any longer.

So, this week I have written To Do lists and things are changing.  I am studying again (after I withdrew first semester when I realised the course I enrolled in was wholly unsuited to me) which gives shape and routine to my days.  And as my course is Teacher Librarianism I have arranged to work in a school library one day each week.  I had to arrange this without thinking about it too much as otherwise I would have talked myself out of it, convincing myself that having me in the library would be a hinderance to the librarian.  The librarian seemed genuinely delighted for me to be there, so that has given me great confidence.

Maybe I’m actually shy? Is this what shy people feel?

Anyway, I also enrolled (again without over thinking it) in a Conversational Mandarin class at one of Singapore’s community centres.  Both the Missies have three lessons of Mandarin at school each week and I’d like to be able to understand what they’re learning.  I also deliberately chose a class at a community centre over a private class so that I was getting out into the real Singapore, rather than “expat Singapore”.

So, I am feeling in a much better head space now than I was a couple of months ago.

Fingers crossed it continues.

20 thoughts on “Expat Confessions

  1. Ni hao, K! And good for you! The only thing worse than possibly ‘wasting’ a year is if you wasted another week feeling bad about it. I’m a real homebody (and shy) so I’ll be taking your words of wisdom with me when we relocate to Brisbane at the end of this year! We’ve moved towns before but have always had a network of people to drop into. This move will be very different. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Moving somewhere without a network is really, really hard. You will be fine. But my other tip is (not tha tI follwed this) is to not spend too much time online. Online friends are great but you also need ‘real’ friends in your new place!

  2. I think we might be fellow introverts 🙂 Though I’ve not been in your situation, I have no trouble imagining myself doing the exact same and hiding at home. I know it takes both wisdom and guts to see it as you have, and to turn it around before it gets really serious. Don’t underestimate what you have achieved.
    I read your post as I’m sitting here pondering the fact that I’ll very likely be unemployed in a few weeks, and that means that I really need to acquire the skill of getting out and selling myself. Fast. It makes me feel slightly sick in the stomach. Your strategy of not thinking too much seems like a very sound one. So, um, you don’t mind if I use you as a role model do you?

    • I am happy to be your role model. I don’t think I’m worthy, but that’s probably my own issues, isn’t it? 😉

      It’s funny how over thinking can be as bad as not thinking at all. x

  3. Don’t feel bad. After living in 3 different countries and 2 repatriations, I still completely stuffed up the 3rd repatriation. I stayed home, cocooned with my laptop and didn’t go out for far longer than 6 months. I did finally crawl out of that pit and am now a reasonable normal functioning human being. You will be fine and well done for realizing so soon that you needed to take action.

  4. Hi Kel, I admire someone who can self-analyse then do something about it. Go you. Of course it must be incredibly hard. You are the family’s glue, and then you get to feel isolated. They are the ones that “go somewhere” each day, yet unless you make that big leap of faith, then it doesn’t happen. It would seem, looking back, that so many people have a misguided view of being newly expat. They see ‘travel, subsidised this and that’ and think glamorous’ when the reality, is ‘make our family a home wherever we are’. Writing the blog has been a help I am sure, as has social media. it was good to throw out the old course, and go with this one, which gives you people connections again. Go you. Very proud. Always here for you too, fellow CSU student (Ok I am ex now, but just saying) Denyse xx

    • Thanks, den. I think moving countries combined with my youngest Missy starting school was just one hit too many. I knew the move wouldn’t be easy, but I never, ever expected to be lost once both my girls were at school. I always thought I wasn’t one of ‘those’ mums. It seems I was wrong!

  5. Well done for having the courage to change something.

    Moving is hard, and I’ve never moved countries where there is *so* many cultural differences to get your head around. The isolation is tough – that feeling/ reality of having no friends (it sounds so dramatic) and not knowing how things work. You also have a husband who is away a lot, which can make it harder for you to get out.

    For me – I have to go beyond my natural instinct to hide under the bed, and go do stuff just because someone’s asked, even if it’s not my”thing”. I go with the idea that I just never know when I might meet someone who I click with. So I’ve endured P&C, scrapbooking (which was ok – craft for grownups – but the ladies weren’t my ‘tribe’) and swimming for the kids. I still haven’t met someone that ‘gets me’ in this town, but maybe that’s too much to ask. I’ve met ‘nice’ people and maybe that just needs to enough.

    Good luck. And you’ve done an amazing thing. Onwards and upwards (whatever that means).

  6. KJ – I admire your frankness and honesty. I had to fight so hard to not stay under the duvet when we first arrived, and transformed myself into a ‘yes’ woman – saying yes to every invitation and opportunity. It was exhausting and alien but I’m glad I did it. I still had days where I stayed home, and hid under the duvet to sob into my pillow. Those days are fewer now but they still happen every now and then.

    I think we all cope in different ways. I think actually the thing I found the most difficult was people at home constantly telling me how lucky I was, and how amazing it was that I was here. All I wanted to do was hug them, tell them how much I missed them and how lonely I felt. I think a lot of people think being an expat is easy – I actually think now it takes a huge amount of mental toughness.

    It takes guts I think to admit that expat life isn’t all long lunches and manicures! Thanks for being so honest 🙂

  7. Despite the processes being the same, every assignment brings different challenges, and it’s a different you facing each one. Somehow, I always find that the ones I think will be difficult are the easiest, and vice versa. It’s the little things that catch you by surprise – how difficult it is to find your new ‘soul sister’ (and then three come along at once), or the incessant barking of the dog next door that means you are sleep deprived. Or that you arrived wearing the ‘wrong’ outfit yet again. Sigh.
    It’s not you, it’s life – sometimes expat, sometimes just plain life. So here’s my favorite quote by Mary Anne Radmacher

    Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow”. See? That’s you, right there.

  8. Hi all. I’ve just stumbled across the blog through Google, here’s my story – this time (almost exactly) last year, my ex of 10 years walked out. It’s been a rough year, where like you, I became a little introverted except at work, where I seemed to excel. As a result, I’ve been offered the chance to come out to Singapore for a 6 month temporary assignment! At the age of 33, a single woman with no kids, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime I had to say yes to. I’ve been before on work for a couple of weeks last year, and will be back again mid-Sep, right through to Christmas and then Jan-March.

    I really hope I can show people the funny, warm and friendly side of me, but I’ve always been one of those people that grows friendships through regular contact instead of going out there and finding it, so we’ll see!

    If anyone wants to meet up once I’ve arrived, maybe we can all be shy and introverted together 🙂


    • Lvely to ‘meet’ you Lucy. I think if you can get past your shyness then Singapore would be great for a single! Lots of fun stuff to do, I hear! x

  9. I’m singing the Toy Story song in my head right now. “You’ve got a friend in me….” 🙂 Social introverts unite!!

    • I love a show tune!

      My friend Kirsty, who lives in the Middle East, says often thinks of the penguins from Madagascar: “Just smile and wave boys. Smile and wave!”. Every time I don’t understand something now (which is very often) this pops into my head.

  10. I totally get it! My guess is that you are an introvert, which means being around people can be an energy drain. Extroverts need to be around people to gain energy. So I’d guess not shy, just more of an introvert. I think being an expat pushes our boundaries, at least for me anyways (expat in England and Costa Rica).

  11. We’ve just moved to Singapore (from Delhi) and I found you via … hmm, I think WTF Mate? Not sure though … regardless, I think all of us have felt there at one point or another (expat or just moving across your own country!) — Yay for volunteering in the school library … I’ve done the same!

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