This post is a work of fiction but compiles ideas shared by several friends living overseas.
It has been a few months since we moved back home and I wanted to share this for the benefit of those who might have similar struggles.
My husband and I were married for a few months when we decided to live overseas. It was a decision motivated by the charm of adventure. When the opportunity for my husband to teach overseas presented itself, we were super excited! Saying goodbye to family and friends was hard considering we had spent our entire lives living just five minutes away from our loved ones. But we knew that we would be back in a couple of years, which made moving overseas really seem like an adventure.
We arrived in our new home city in the middle of summer. Temperatures were not too bad and we loved the feel of the city. During the first few weeks, we tried to get connected with a church and a community around us.
It’s strange trying to establish relationships from scratch.
Since we had pretty much lived in our old home city all our lives, friendships and communities had developed organically over time.
In our new home city, we had to ask intentional questions about how involved we wanted to be and we had to seek people out to meet for coffee or meals.
I plugged into my “get things done” mode right from the start. Finding a local grocery store, learning about the city, working out our apartment lease, and registrations were all completed within the first few weeks. These chores kept me busy while my husband tried to figure out his work. We spent weekends exploring the city and trying out new places to eat. The first month went by in a flash and we felt pretty settled there.
Read related: Living Overseas: The First Two Weeks
Over the next few weeks I had very little left to do after my husband left for work. I tried volunteering but was limited by my language skills. I tried learning the language online and I spent a lot of time reading and trying to write. But boredom and loneliness would take over.
In a few weeks, this loneliness started effecting my sleep schedules. I would stay awake at night often crying softly into my pillow so that my husband wouldn’t find out. I didn’t want him to think I was struggling because he seemed to be living his dream. I wanted to support him well. Waking up in the morning was another story! Some days I would wake up early and some days, it would be noon before I could drag myself out of bed. And even then I would just sulk around the house. I tried to reignite motivation and make the most of my time there but it was a fight I was losing everyday.
Since I am a Christian, I would pray, read my Bible and journal. But I couldn’t shake that heavy depressed feeling weighing me down.
We kept in regular touch with family and friends back home. It was great but I couldn’t tell them about my struggles. I did not want them to worry about us.
In fact everyone who met me considered me a great example for expats because I seemed to be fitting in!
After the first year, my depression seemed to hit me in waves. There were still nights and days when I would sob uncontrollably with a sense of complete helplessness. It was almost as though this sobbing had become a ritual that needed to be done to get on with my life. I felt useless even though I knew I was valued and all that. The fear of being alone would ruin social events and I stopped enjoying adventures with my husband.
At the beginning of our second year, I finally decided to share my struggles with my husband. He listened intently and shared about his struggles with me, which to be honest, really surprised me. I was under the impression that he was doing better than that. The conversation did nothing to alleviate my struggles but it made me realize that I didn’t have to fight those feelings alone.
It finally hit me – I was struggling with depression and allowing it to slowly win over me. It wasn’t just feeling lonely and homesick anymore. This had grown into something more powerful. I needed to make some significant changes and give myself a chance to enjoy my time overseas. Here are a few things I did.
- I realized that sobbing every other night for no apparent reason was not “normal”.
- I also realized that the sobbing was worse when I was exhausted so I started going to sleep by 10 pm. It improved my ability to sleep through the night and wake up refreshed in the morning. I had more energy throughout the day.
- I started praying with my husband and we started sharing and supporting each other more.
- I started working out everyday – nothing elaborate but consistent workout with some goals.
- I started reading purposefully.
- I started eating better and learned to cook a few dishes that were our favorites.
- I made the time to attend social events and plan adventures with my husband. No, I didn’t always want to but I needed to do them and so I did. And they usually turned out fun.
- When I didn’t feel like talking about myself and answering questions during social events, I learned to redirect the conversation towards the other person and make them feel like the center of the conversation. It usually worked.
- I started dressing sharper and I already had the clothes and accessories to do that. Dressing up prevented me from feeling like a slob. It’s amazing how clothing can influence how we feel and behave.
These small changes made a big difference to the rest of my time overseas. I still struggled sometimes but my mostly stable emotional state rubbed off on my husband and we made some crazy awesome memories!
My husband was offered an extension because he is amazing! We accepted the extension and spent three years overseas before returning home! During that extended time, the homesickness didn’t disappear but it no longer hindered us from having the best time there!
If you need support during your time overseas, please don’t hesitate to seek the help of a counselor or mentor. With just a little help, your time overseas can be amazingly life-changing!