Tips on How to Cure Expat Isolation Abroad

Posted May 16, 2013 by Lauren Manuel in Blog

So you’ve packed up your life, said farewell to your family only to feel slightly homesick a few months later.   You miss your friends, you feel isolated as a foreigner in your new land and long for the cuisine your mom used to make you.  Here are some ideas on how to plug into your country and begin calling it ‘home’…

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New friends bonding over BBQ in Korea.

1. Build Community

Some people bond over drinks, food, travel or bowling.  If you’re travelling alone or even with a partner, the time will come when you have to step away from series watching and launch a new social life.   You’ve left the comfort zone of your country, now leave the comfort zone of your home and go meet people.  You may hit and miss a lot along the way and only find random chatter instead of lifelong friendships but hanging with other people will go a long way to make you not feel all alone in this big world.

2. Join a Club or Teach Others

Whether cycling, running or dancing is your thing, find a social club near you and join.  One of the real reasons I began to feel like I was a part of society was once I joined a hip hop dance class in Seoul.   Regardless of the fact that the instructor didn’t speak any English, I bonded with the all-Korean class through the international language of dance.   Group activities are best as you really have the chance to interact with locals and foreigners as well enjoy your hobby.  Even better, share your talent and offer classes in dance, yoga, surfing or even reading.

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3. Keep In Touch with Family and Friends at Home

Just because you’re halfway across the world, does not mean that you don’t have to work on important relationships in your life.  Send postcards to your gran, email/ Whatsapp your parents and use the wonderful medium of Skype.  Don’t spend all your time talking to the people you’ve known your whole life, but chatting helps when you miss them and vice versa.  You can see your mom’s new home improvements, your Dad’s new attempt at cooking and your brother’s new bachelor all from your screen.

4. Learn the Language

As expats we often get lonely and feel isolated as we don’t understand what anyone is saying wherever we go.  We cannot really converse with the women selling us fruit at the market, the waiter at the restaurant or your neighbours living next door.  Whilst not all of us pick up languages quickly, we can take small steps to learning basic greetings and sentences.  Whenever we visit our favourite coffee shop and restaurant, both owners teach us new Thai words or ways of asking for things.  It always ends with laughter, a little more conversation and relationship building.

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The restaurant owner who taught me to cook, speak Thai and acts like a mom to us on the island.

5. Start a New Hobby

No matter what your age, you’re never too old to learn something new.  You may be surprised and find a hobby you never thought you’d enjoy.  If you’re near the sea, try kayaking, swimming or snorkeling.  If there are mountains nearby, start with easy hikes or trails.  Take an art or jewelry making class.  If you’re used to the gym, try yoga instead.  You’re bound to meet people and learn a new skill at the same time.

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Hiking in the outskirts of Seoul.

6. Cook Meals From Home and Learn to Make Local Cuisine

Living in Thailand means that I can walk to the corner and find a cheap, delicious Thai meal every night.  But there are some nights when all I feel like is my mother’s spaghetti bolognaise or butter chicken.  It may be a bit challenging to find all the right ingredients in some countries, but do your best to occasionally concoct your favourite meals from home.  Also go for a cooking class on how to make the local cuisine of your new country.  This will go a long way to make you feel at ‘home’ wherever you may find yourself.

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One of the Thai meals I learned to cook.


About the Author

Lauren Manuel

Six continents later, Lauren still has itchy feet and wanderlust for adventure in all corners of the earth. Together with her husband, she is traveling the world pausing only to find work, take photos and write. She is currently mentoring English teachers in rural Malaysia and sharing everything about her expat life on WildJunket. Follow her wanderings on The Travel Manuel .

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