Feeling disconnected

29 Feb

Global Coach Center has a post up about 8 mistakes expats make that can leave them feeling disconnected.

I admit that I am guilty of a few of these and they are possibly the reason for why I’m just not entirely happy.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Australia, I love Melbourne, I love being here with H, and I don’t have any strong desire to go back to America permanently (mainly because Australia is so much nicer and I wouldn’t want to be apart from H), but as it always is when living abroad, it’s been a difficult transition and there have been times when I’ve felt really down and depressed.

Here are the mistakes that I have consistently made and continue to make while living abroad:

Mistake 1.  You have very high expectations that people back home will continue to want and initiate consistent interaction with you.

Every time I have gone away, whether I moved or I was just away on a long business trip, it was like my friends back home instantly forgot about me. Life for them went on as usual and it was like I no longer existed in their world. Not only did they never email or call, they even stopped commenting on my Facebook updates, which is probably the most egregious sin of all. When I did occasionally catch them on Skype, they’d always act like they weren’t interested in what I was up to and never wanted to tell me what they were up to. And it hurts probably the most because it’s an active sign that they don’t want to maintain that relationship with you anymore.

I then instantly felt cut off from my entire support network, leaving me feeling very alone in a strange new place. I’m sure a lot of them just assumed I was off having a great time, like being on some sort of long vacation, and that it never actually occurred to them I might be lonely, scared, or just want someone to talk to. Inevitably, I would get angry with my friends for ignoring me and start feeling sorry for myself, which just made the whole situation worse. And it only made it worse for me. It’s not like they knew or cared that I was angry with them, so I was only upsetting myself.

Mistake 2. Somehow, somewhere you’ve decided that making new friends isn’t your strength.

I am not an outgoing person and I have a lot of social anxiety. I do okay if I’m meeting new people in the company of someone I already know, but I am totally incapable of introducing myself to people or making new friends on my own. I can’t even get involved in any group activities because I am so terrified of having to meet new people and possibly be judged or rejected by them. I even canceled some classes I signed up for because I was too shy to go by myself. In most places I have gone, I have made very few friends, sometimes none at all. It’s hard to feel at home in a new place without even a single friend to hang out with. I recognise this is a problem, I just don’t know how to change my personality such that I can fix it on my own. It’s basically really pathetic.

Mistake 5.  You take trips home every 3-4 weeks for a vacation, just a visit, or… just because.

When finances allowed this, I did it a lot. And I was always disappointed because a lot of times, my friends would not make time to see me and I always felt resentful about having to leave again. I wasn’t happy being anywhere and it got to the point where I had one foot in each place- not enough to stand on- and didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere or that I was even wanted anywhere.

Mistake 6. You feel uncomfortable chatting up to people because your language skills are not perfect.

This isn’t such a problem in English speaking countries, but when I’ve gone to non-English speaking countries, I try to avoid talking to anyone at all, for fear of either saying something wrong or having to ask them to use English. Again, it’s a social anxiety thing. I really admire people who are willing to try out new language skills in front of native speakers without worrying whether they get it right or wrong. I’m a perfectionist, though, so I always refused to speak unless I knew I could say the perfect sentence without too much of an accent.

Mistake 7.  You engage in unfavorable comparisons of your current place of residence with home (or with the one you left).

I’m happy to say that it’s hard to make unfavourable comparisons about Melbourne, though sometimes I do get frustrated that things are simply different and not what I am used to. I don’t usually voice these frustrations (no one around to listen to them if I did), but it’s a bad frame of mind to get into because those nasty little thoughts start eating away at me and I just make myself feel worse about everything. I mean, for crying out loud, being able to find butterscotch chips at the supermarket is NOT going to solve my life’s problems, but at the moment when I’m tired, irritable, and have been searching through every grocery store in town all day, only to learn that no one sells butterscotch chips in Australia, I just want to go into meltdown mode and have a tantrum like a fricken two year old and tell the whole world that where I come from is a million times better because our supermarkets in America are so much better stocked. As if that would convince the supermarkets here to start selling what I want them to sell. It’s always little things like that and sometimes I have so many of these little frustrations in a day that I end up feeling very down and convincing myself that I hate it here and fail to see all the things I enjoyed about the day, like the fact that I got to ride my bike in beautiful weather and pig out on Tim Tams.

Mistake 8.  You use social media like there is no tomorrow.

Fortunately, I’m not as bad about this as I used to be. I do still live mostly online because otherwise I get very lonely and bored during the day with no one to talk to. And even though my friends and family still mostly ignore me on Facebook, at least I can write down my thoughts and get them out of my system. But living mostly online instead of in real life is probably not the best way to integrate into a new environment and I’m already trying to limit how much time I spend on the internet.

I’d be curious as to what some of you other expats think about these eight mistakes and which ones you’ve been guilty of or how you’ve managed to avoid falling into these traps. How do you go about making friends in new places and keep from falling into depression? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this topic. (Or on any topic I post about here, that’s fine, too!)

13 Responses to “Feeling disconnected”

  1. christineevelynvance February 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Hi, HDU. I like your clear way of explaining your feelings & situation. However, the situation itself is not very likeable: being lonely in a foreign land.

    And as to your former friends, I’m guessing they are the suns of their own solar system.
    Once you’re out of their orbit you’re in the dark. Being self-centered comes so naturally to us all and with so much going on in our lives, it’s hard to make time for even the most important people.

    You can identify your problem (not reaching out the friendly hand to others) but can’t seem to overcome it–and I feel for you in that. One day when I was thinking about my own fears, it came to me like a pearl of wisdom falling from Heaven that “Fear is self-centeredness.” We look to ourselves for the courage and we just don’t have it. I wrote about that experience on my website and will send you the link if you’re interested.

    When we moved here four years ago I felt the same loneliness in spite of the fact we have a daughter & family living a few miles from us. I can see that I’ve tended to hold new people at arm’s length and haven’t done my part to interest myself in others.

    Last weekend I was at a convention where I knew hardly anyone. My first feeling was that same “shy” fear of strangers. But I resolved to put my feelings underfoot and ask other people about themselves. And it worked a lot better than just sitting there.

    Most people, even the most connected, long for someone to really care about them. Just think about it: most of the people around you have a lot of the same kind of friends that you had. They know they’d likely be forgotten, too, if they were away any length of time.

  2. GlobalCoachCenter February 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Hi 🙂

    Thanks for visiting my blog and reading this post. One thing that helped me… as wacky as it may sound is — when fearful, trust the Universe. It works like this: I say to the Universe “I am going to leave {this} in your hands.” {This} can be meeting new people at a conference, or making a good friend, or chatting with people. And then just trust and watch what happens. Amazing things happened to me when I did it. Try it.

    And if all else fails, join our Expat Women Academy come April. You’ll be amazed at how much it’ll help.

    Good luck!
    Margarita

  3. megalagom March 4, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    I can completely relate to this, thank you for the read! Hope we both over come every part of this 🙂

  4. thetravelingtimes March 17, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Great post! I find a lot of people make mistake #2. I like to compare making new friends to dating: you just have to put yourself out there.

    When I moved abroad, I started giving my email address out to anyone who spoke English (and could be potential friend material). It’s always nice to have a lead in like, “Oh, can I give you my email address so you can send me the contact info for your hair dresser?” Then, you can follow up by asking her out for a walk or coffee.

    When you live abroad, your friends become your family. They are there for you when you are sick or need help, just like your family would, so it’s really important to really make an effort to obtain them. Good luck!

  5. veritybelle March 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    I’ve lived abroad in Japan for 4 years. The first city I lived in was really easy to adjust to because I had great Japanese coworkers who became my friends and a big foreign community in the city I lived in who were all very close. I moved to a different part of Japan and it was all different! My Canadian coworkers already had friends and weren’t interested in me. I used Facebook to find groups in my town, both foreign and Japanese and after 2 lonely months I had friends.

    Have you looked at the Meetups site as well? There are some great groups around. When I was in Germany for 2 months and lonely, I joined a knitting group to meet people and learn a new skill which I still enjoy.

  6. Amy May 22, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    I am heavily using social media like there is no tomorrow – I fit into almost all of these categories, but I am also out and about often enough to actually wish I had a day at home to just veg-out (thankfully I can Facebook on my iPhone on the go – LOL!). My husband has a nice network of friends who welcomed me into their clan immediately – Thankfully! I’m especially grateful for this because I went through a pretty hefty culture shock (twice!) in the Netherlands and learned a lot from it, so thankfully my shock was almost non-existent down here. Plus Australia is more like America vs the Netherlands and America, so that helped me a bit too. And #6, I had to learn Dutch in the Netherlands, but here I can just ramble on and on down here like there is no tomorrow – Except I don’t know if I’ll ever say “arvo” 😉 I already feel funny saying “servo”… I am enjoying your blog posts so much! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. GC June 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    As I am writing this, my husband and I are preparing for our 5th move in 2 years due to his school and job opportunities. I have felt like you, and sometimes still do; having moved from Singapore to America for love 2 years ago.

    My friends in Singapore no longer express much interest in staying in touch, despite technology like Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, email and everything else. There are days when my emails to them go unanswered, and close friends have forgotten my birthday when they never did before. (That always stings a little, regardless of how old we get)

    But such is life I guess. People need to spend time together to maintain friendships. You’re right about trusting the Universe. Times like these force us to look inward and find strength within ourselves and most importantly, develop faith that everything always happens for a reason, as cliche as it sounds. (I sound stronger than I really am, but am working on it)

    Godspeed.

    • housewifedownunder June 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      I think sometimes the only bond that holds certain friendships together is geographical proximity. You become friends with people nearby because they are convenient. When they are no longer close by, the incentive to maintain the friendship wanes or disappears entirely. Sometimes I think, why even bother making friends because as soon as I move again, even just to another city, they won’t want to stay in touch. It’s rare to find friendships that can survive distance.

  8. aawwa October 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    It was interesting reading your comments in this blog. I could relate to most of them and I have only moved from Perth to Busselton in Western Australia!

    • housewifedownunder October 11, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂 I think some of these things apply to any move, just because you are leaving behind the familiar. Learning your way around a new country is a lot like learning your way around a new city, just on a slightly bigger scale.

  9. lotus flower necklace February 8, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    Smart way of observing things – I’m a bit more of a black and white person, myself

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. It’s the Small Stuff « Housewife Down Under - October 23, 2012

    […] written before about my difficulty in making new friends and general feelings of loneliness, and recently another blogger did as well. Stacey told me that she spent the entire first year in […]

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