Expat Life: Let’s Talk About Loneliness

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This post is for my expat friends, the people who dream of becoming expats, and the ones who want to better understand the experiences of the expats they love. Expat Life Let's Talk About LonelinessI think everyone knows that becoming an expat– moving overseas to a new country and a new culture– will produce times of loneliness. There will be the sense of alienation, the culture shock that hits you a few weeks in, then keeps on coming in smaller, steadier amounts. There is homesickness, for sure– I’d like to write about that sometime soon. There will be missing people and feeling isolated. But I don’t think I’ve seen many people talk about the ongoing loneliness that can come with an expat life.

In a few months, we will have been in England for three years. We have gotten used to Bury St. Edmunds, and we also still struggle to make peace with certain aspects of the culture. We are lucky to live in a nice neighborhood, for my husband to have good co-workers and for my daughter to go to a good school. We have a very small handful of friends– which is actually a big accomplishment, at this point. I wish we had plenty of people who we naturally jive with and who share similar interests and are available to do fun stuff with, often. It’s true that I’m a little (OK, a lot) disappointed that this hasn’t come to pass in nearly three years. But that’s not the loneliness I’m talking about here.

It’s a loneliness more like feeling left out, or unaccounted for. Not being a part of an organic community– family events, friends’ get-togethers at “home.”  Missing my grandpa’s 90th birthday party along with countless other milestones, and not being with relatives for Thanksgiving… Having a niece I’ve never met, not being able to bring meals to new moms and dads I love, being away when I would like to help someone going through a crisis. Having my own crisis and needing support from someone who already knows me well.

Yes, we’re doing interesting things over here, and have racked up some great memories over the last few years. We have a pretty wonderful life, frankly. We like living in Europe, and we don’t want to move back to the USA any time soon. But I am struggling to even describe the depth of loneliness that I often feel.

Social media makes it really easy to stay in touch with people when you live overseas, and I think it’s amazing and usually GREAT. On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about how Facebook can breed discontentment, as people only publish the best parts of their lives and we get caught up comparing our own lives to these carefully curated images of others’. I understand that our life in England may sometimes induce envy as we share our adventures with friends on Facebook (and here.)  But I wonder if others realize that I may feel the same way when I just see pictures and posts about normal daily life. Getting together with a childhood friend to take kids to the park, having dinner at a relative’s house, community events, calls for help moving (and so many responses) and all of the ordinary life that goes on without you when you leave. We can’t have it all, can we?

One of the difficulties of having a blog from afar is that everyone feels like we’re in touch. (I’m sure all of you other expat bloggers know what I’m talking about!)  People “see” or hear from me nearly every day and get enough information to not feel like there is anything to ask about. That’s hard. It’s a one-sided relationship, for sure– but that is always the lot of the people who choose to leave, isn’t it? We carry the burden of staying in touch. And I’m not saying it’s unfair, because life does go on back home without us there, and we certainly have our own thing going on over here.

It’s not wrong. It’s just… Lonely. I think about this a lot. I wonder if it will really ever change for us. What if we lived in a much warmer social climate? (Like Turkey.)  Would we be treated like family, brought into community, and have those gaps in our hearts filled in with others? Is it just especially hard here? As you know, I am so ready to move, to try a new place.

But it’s not that I want more friends, necessarily– I love spending most of my time alone, and we are busy enough as a family. It’s that sense of being accounted for, and that feeling of comfort– the ease of visiting an old friend, falling into familiar routines with people you love and have known for a long time. Do expats get to have that?IMG_8230I can’t end here without saying something important about my experience. This sense of loneliness and not being a part of our old communities has been a real catalyst for strengthening my own little family. Feeling like we’re all we have has been really good for us– Jeff and I take better care of each other and our relationship, the three of us do everything together, and becoming expats has made us live much more intentionally. These stronger family bonds are worth the price of loneliness to me– but I still wonder if we can have one without the other someday.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

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80 Responses to Expat Life: Let’s Talk About Loneliness

  1. Joanna April 3, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    You raise some interesting questions there. People do have a way of forgetting you back “home.” You move on, they move on and even if they express undying love for you and promise to always keep in touch, they don’t and I have got used to that. In the eleven years since we left the UK the hardest part I have found is now my own children are having children. We get to Skype on and off, but sit and have a cuddle with a little one and take them to the park, is something that I won’t get to do too often. I’m grateful for the time my youngest took me to the school with his fiancees daughter and got her to show me where she hangs her coat, and where her tray is, all things I won’t be able to do very often. It was truly thoughtful of him.

    I think you could be right about being accounted for in warmer climates, they are more much more open and gregarious, although perhaps I would find it too much. Your background in the Philippines will make it feel different, from my northern England upbringing, although they do say the northerners are sometimes more friendly. As far as the UK was concerned we found that Sheffield was much more friendly than the sleeper town of Dronfield, which is very close by. So even places close to each other can be very different in feel, even within the UK.

    • ariana April 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

      Joanna, we have often heard that people are friendlier further north– but I don’t know why that would be! We were in Bath this weekend, and people were also pretty friendly there– surely in part because they are so used to having tourists/ foreigners around all of the time.

      The grandparent-grandchild thing is really difficult. I have felt sad many times about not having more contact with my grandparents when I was growing up in the Philippines for 10 years. Of course, now it is totally different with Skype, and I’m glad Amelia can do that with her grandparents. It does make a big difference– but not the same as the in-person moments. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Cari S. December 15, 2017 at 9:53 am #

      I’ve experienced/continue to experience this sense of alienation by family and friends back home. I do have one friend who stays in constant touch but as for my family, it’s a loaded and painful issue. My dad has advanced Parkinson’s and he and my stepmother. This adds to my concern. But my brother, his wife to much extent, my previously close step niece and my aunt and uncle all treat me as a liability. My dad and his wife, along with my aunt and uncle have moved to Nevada, the rest of my family is still in California. Since moving to the UK, I’ve not received a birthday card, Christmas card or gift and it hurts, as if I don’t exist. I don’t blame my dad, he’s facing health challenges and we are at least in contact. But where I’ve sent flowers when my sister in law’s father passed away, house warming gifts, spoiled my nephews rotten etc, I’m utterly ignored. In fact over this summer, my 50th birthday, I had plans to be home to celebrate with my dad as his birthday is two days before mine. My brother said, in two weeks they were taking a trip, a cruise, because he’ll likely never get a chance to gather everyone together for a family vacation again. Knowing he was going, he could easily have asked me to delay my trip two weeks, or extend my stay. My father didn’t even know the extent of who was going. He thought just himself and his wife, my brother and my little nephews. It ended up being my brother, his wife, my nephews, my father, stepmother, aunt, uncle, my cousin and his three kids, my sister in law’s sister, her husband and daughter and my step niece and her boyfriend.

      This was the sum total of my brother’s “whole family”. It excluded my younger step niece, myself and given it was a major birthday for myself, a family trip would have been a dream come true. Nope.

      Sadly, I’ve had to cut ties with my brother. My dad said it was ridiculous how many people went and followed this up by saying “the only thing missing was you”. I said that my brother claimed this was his whole family and my own father said, forget about him. It’s not worth you getting upset over this.

      I live in a beautiful part of Scotland, have a nice sized home. My sister in law, her sister and my step niece were all in London for four days…you’d think they’d have asked me to come down for a dinner or come up to see some of Scotland. No, they were just there on their way to Holland to see where my sister in law’s recently deceased father grew up. So, sadly, if they don’t feel seeing me is valuable, I have had to do the same. I’m nice but I won’t be taken for a fool.

      I am quite lonely. My husband is a very busy GP and until recently, I was caretaker to our dog who’d lost his vision shortly after being diagnosed with diabetes. I’ve taken up photography but nothing takes the place of having someone close to you nearby so you can feel more like a normal person. We do not have children either and my in laws are quite spread around and aside from my brother in law and his fiancee, we have no real relationship with my husband’s parents or sister. In fact, for the first time in 9 years, my in laws didn’t even send a birthday card.

      I’ve actually taken steps to avert total depression by asking to be referred to counseling. But…it doesn’t take the hurt and loneliness away.

      Thank you for this blog/page. It’s relieving to know I’m not the only one out there.

  2. Luc Wyn April 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    Thank you for this wonderful article Mrs Mullins. It very accurately describes what all of us expats feel. I’m Belgian and moved to Mexico a little over one and a half years ago. And I feel exactly of all of those things you describe even though this culture is one of those warmer social climates. But still there is al the family I left behind, including three young adult children. My father will be 90 n October like your grandfather….My Mexican wife and I have that same feeling of “we’re all we have” (or at least I do). And then there’s the unsettling insecurity problem which we are not accustomed to in Europe, or at least not to the extend it has here. and to which we have been exposed sadly enough. So I do miss being to able to cycle ( a definite no-no here) n the countryside without having to fear bodily harm or more, for instance, among other things.There’s definitely the homesickness which is difficult to explain to people around you so one just answers OK when asked how one is. So thank you for pointing out there are more of us out there with the same “symptoms”.

    • ariana April 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Hi Luc– thank you for joining the conversation! I am especially hearing from expats from other cultures. I’m sure it’s easier for your wife to be there, and I know a lot of cross-cultural couples who have taken turns living in each others’ countries. One thing that I’m very thankful for is that we feel safe here– I imagine the issues you are having with security make you feel that much more isolated!

  3. kimberlycarlile April 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    Hi, Ariana–I’m a suburban mom of four living in the Boston area. I started reading your blog when we returned from a sabbatical in the midlands. I missed the UK so much after we got back that I searched for whatever I could to keep my connection fresh. That’s how I found your blog. I subscribe, and now read all your posts. You are a sweetly honest and lovely writer, and I enjoy your perspectives and think you’re gifted at identifying the essence of the things you choose to write about.

    This post about loneliness touched my heart. You so poignantly and articulately describe a real feeling that many have, expats or no. I hope you don’t think me too forward in what I’m going to say. I’m not a fanatic or a zealot. I’m just a mom, living a life of ups and downs, trying to raise my kids to be productive and happy–and find meaning and purpose in the process of that.

    Here’s my question: Have you ever looked into the Mormon church? The reason I ask is because you seem so devoted to the process of building a family, and leading a family-centric life. Families are at the heart of the LDS church (LDS stands for Latter-day Saints, the official name for followers of the faith, though “Mormons” is how they are known colloquially). The church is structured around the family. We worship as families, we serve others as families, we learn about God and participate in church activities as families. The Mormon beliefs are rooted in the original family relationship, which is that our Heavenly Father is actually our spiritual father (He, with our Heavenly Mother). He loves us, and even knows us, each individually, and is aware of our joy and hardships as you are aware of Amelia’s.

    Our focus of families is also reflected in the way the Church is organized. Each “ward” (like a parish) is made up of the people who live nearby. We see each other for meetings on Sundays, of course, but the structure of the Mormon faith brings us together in more ways. First, there’s no paid clergy (no vicar), so leaders, teachers, advisors, and counselors are all from the congregation. We take turns serving each other in these different roles. It sounds a bit loosey-goosey, but it’s actually very stable and follows a pattern. Our Sunday meetings are together as families. This can be a bit noisy at times as mothers and fathers encourage their little ones to listen quietly to the prayers and talks that are given, but there’s a peaceful feeling of togetherness and tight-knit community that pervades overall. Mormons believe that we become more like our Heavenly Father, and therefore more happy, through our family relationships, so we feel a sense of urgency in strengthening them to be lasting and strong.

    The world is searching, searching for ways to be happy. Most people don’t really know what it takes to be happy. They look to diversions, entertainment, money, pleasure, gratification of wants–yet our society is full of unhappy people. Mormons believe that building a life around God’s laws–His commandments–is the secret to happiness. When we are honest, true, loving, pure, respectful, and live with integrity, we have peace. It doesn’t protect us from struggle, but everyone struggles. Even those with great good fortune will experience setbacks, loneliness, worry, even illness and tragedy. Mormons believe that happiness is not the result of avoiding hard experiences, but rather understanding that when they come, they help us learn, become kinder and more wise, improve our relationships and therefore become more happy.

    I loved your post on your experience with couch-surfing, and noted that you referred to the kindness you received from the family in Trieste as a type of “grace.” This brings me to the thing I love most about my church, and our beliefs, which is that as families and as persons, we are always progressing. We are constantly learning how to have more integrity, more compassion, more selflessness. But we slip up. We make mistakes that cause us problems, sometimes big ones. Mormons believe that consequences are good–they are educative for us. But sometimes consequences are too huge, too burdensome–we feel crippling guilt, remorse, regret–even depression and despair. But our Heavenly Father loved us so much, He sent us someone who would teach us Forgiveness–of ourselves and of others. He would model grace for us, so that our errors wouldn’t break us in two or grind us down, but rather allow us to change, be renewed, and able to try again. That someone, of course, is Jesus Christ. He taught us that freedom comes from following Him, and then provided the penultimate act of love with his death. His resurrection, which we are just weeks from celebrating, is the biggest clue we have to the reality all around us that is unseen. We are eternal beings, we are a part of a bigger plan, and our time on the earth has a reason.

    This is probably the wrong “forum” for writing these things to you. I’ve never done this before; in my 48 years, I’ve been consistently shy and awkward about sharing these things with others. But your blog, with its beautiful photos of family and country, and its tender words of longing and discovered delights, resonated with me. I hope you’ll forgive my strange little post. If you are interested in possibly looking into a Mormon church near you, I can say with surety that there is a congregation (ward) near you. In the midlands (we attended in Warwick), it was very small, but the members looked after each other. All were accounted for–from council-flat folks to the posh family with a summering place in Port Isaac. It felt just exactly like family.

    If you’d like more information about our beliefs, here’s a great place to start: lds.org

    To find a meetinghouse near you, try https://www.lds.org/locations?lang=eng You’ll find them all over England, and also in Italy and Spain!

    With admiration for what you do,

    Kimberly Carlile
    Boston, MA

    • ariana April 7, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Hi Kimberly,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and heartfelt reply. We humans are so alike, and I appreciate how you said it: “When we are honest, true, loving, pure, respectful, and live with integrity, we have peace. It doesn’t protect us from struggle, but everyone struggles. Even those with great good fortune will experience setbacks, loneliness, worry, even illness and tragedy.” Loneliness is such a common human experience, as so many of the comments here attest to!

      I agree with you that church communities can provide a lot of what we are looking for, in terms of connection. I have always had friends in the Mormon church, and they definitely found so much community and support through their churches. My husband and I have a lot of experiences with being part of a church community, and this is something we do miss. I have had both really good and pretty bad experiences with religious communities, and hope someday to find a group of people who have a similar vision and set of beliefs about the world.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share from the heart, Kimberly.

  4. Susan April 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    I think everyone feels the way you’ve described, no matter where they live. I’m in So CA and have been my entire life, but don’t really have a big circle of friends. My husband and I often feel like its just the two of us. We’ve had close pals that we did stuff with over the years, but many moved away when the economy went south. I do miss the BBQs we had, or attending each other’s kid’s B-day parties, etc., but truth be told, I always felt like I was a better friend to them than they were to me.

    When my only sibling died suddenly at 39, very few, almost none, of these people were there for me, although they all knew her, as well. I got all the obligatory “I’ll call you soon” remarks during this dark period, but never the calls. It was a hard pill to swallow, during a tough, emotional time, that none of these “friends” were as true as I initially thought. Making it more difficult was the fact that I had been there for all of them so often: Babysitting, helping them move, throwing dinner parties for their birthdays, leaving surprise gifts on their doorsteps during tight financial times.

    I think the sad fact of the matter is that we can be anywhere in the world and chances are there will still be some of us who feel like we truly don’t have any real, true friendships to celebrate life’s happy times, or to support us during life’s darkest moments. At 49 I still struggle to wrap my head around why this is so, but am better at accepting it as being what it is.

    • ariana April 7, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

      Hi Susan, thank you for sharing your experience. I have to say that I have also been incredibly let down by community that I thought would be there to support me, even in my home town. This was really painful and also made it easier to move away. I have come to realize that there are varying degrees of loyalty and social awareness among different people– my guess is that you are one of the very loyal ones, and have similar expectations for those around you. I am definitely that way, and it’s hard.

      That said, I have also had a lot of very positive experiences with community, and so I know what I am missing at this point in time. I’m sure I sometimes idealize what it would be like to live closer to people I have known for years and years, in my loneliest moments.

      I have heard from a lot of people that they are feeling lonely, even in the middle of groups of people they know. I have to wonder what is at play, and what the cause of this isolation is. Is it because we use technology to meet most of our needs now? (Google searching answers instead of calling a friend, finding recipes online instead of asking Grandma, watching movies at home instead of going out…) I really don’t know, but this is something I think about a lot.

      Thank you for sharing, Susan.

  5. Laurel April 4, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Gosh, I feel the same way and I just moved from Chicago Illinois to Tennessee. I have a lot of aunts, uncles & cousins and to hear about the parties they are having just kills me…. and even just the day to day visits they make to each other. Life is going on without me. As a transplant I don’t have any sense of “belonging” here. It’s hard. And when I drive home once a year just seeing the familiar street signs makes me choke up, thinking about all of my ancestors who spent their whole lives there. But oddly enough there are enough downsides to living in Chicago that I really don’t want to move back. There are pros and cons no matter where you are.

    • Laurel April 4, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

      p.s. I ADORE England and have been there seven times (even to Bury St. Edmunds) but even I would have a hard time moving there like you have! After a two week vacation there I’m craving familiar food and wider roads.

      • ariana April 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        Yes, I agree that, while painful, it can be totally worth it to move away from home. One thing that has been driving me crazy is that we haven’t been back to the US in nearly three years. If we want to continue living this way, that has to change– I would love to be able to go back every 12-18 months. I think that’s really important– I don’t want my daughter to be a stranger to her cousins. And it’s so therapeutic to have those doses of familiarity and connection, even if it’s just for a week every year.

        Thanks for sharing, Laurel! And yes, your comment about England is kind of gratifying. 🙂

    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes January 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm #

      My husband and I moved to Europe from Oregon 5 years ago. We lived in Switzerland for a year (and LOVED it!) and have now been in Germany for 4 years. I completely understand what you mean about how you described the loneliness! It’s not that we haven’t made friends and we travel a lot, but we really miss feeling connected to a community. The language barrier is a problem, but we also just don’t “click” with folks here. It’s difficult to find people who share a common sense of humor, shared hobbies, etc. We’ve lived a lot of places and always just settle in quickly, so this is new for us. In some ways, it makes it easier knowing that we will only be here for another year or two. In other ways, that knowledge has prevented us from making more effort to fully integrate. It’s something that we just can’t explain to family and friends because they don’t understand. To them, our lives are just glamorous.

  6. Sally Wallach April 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    My time in the UK was spent in London, and one of the best results was the intense nuclear family connection you mention. My son was adolescent and my daughter nearly so, and we simply skipped the problems often separating parents and children during that time of life. There was a lot of social contact supplied by work colleagues, but I really didn’t begin to develop a “gang” until the porter of my building asked me to come to a country western bar and interpret song lyrics for him and his friends. Such a fun night! And so many fun times to follow.

    • ariana April 11, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Yes, those cultural “ins” are so significant! I am going to start doing bodywork at a local healing center in the next couple of months, and really think that it will help to build some bridges of commonality– getting to know other people here who practice some forms of alternative medicine. And I am happy to hear that you had such a positive family experience as you engaged in the adventure with your kids!
      Thanks for sharing.

  7. Naomi April 5, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

    I once was talking about Canada with a Slovak who had lived there and even gotten citizenship before returning (I’m a Canadian in Slovakia). I was saying that one of the things I missed about Canada was the community, the potlucks and get-togethers. “What?!” she said. “That’s what I missed in Canada!” (of course, she was in a metro area and I was in a small town, but still).

    I am so grateful for technology in this regard, my children can video call with family an ocean away and get to know my family. I often think of those first pioneer women who came to the new world, whose letters took months to get a reply.

    A children’s book by Allen Say, “Grandfather’s Journey” is about a Japanese man who goes between Japan and America. Whenever he is in one country he misses the other. Makes me cry every time.

    • ariana April 11, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Yes, technology makes a huge difference! My siblings and parents live all over the place, and since facebook and blogs showed up on the scene, I think I have felt more connected with all of them since the times when we actually lived together. But there is real sacrifice (and reward!) in choosing to live in a country or community other than your own. When we moved to the Philippines, long-distance phone calls were difficult to make, super expensive, and the connection quality was really low. We wrote lots and lots of letters, which was nice. But seeing so many pictures and getting real-time notes from friends and family is SO nice. Skype too, of course. I am so thankful!

  8. calpurnia April 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    I was surfing the web using the words ‘how not to be lonely when you have no friends to talk to expat’ and your article was the top result. First off, thank you for writing this article. My husband and I actually lived in London for 3 1/2 years but last year moved to Riyadh, KSA. For many, the move would probably be seen as a major disbenefit for us but to be honest, once I got over my fears and biases about living in a Muslim country, I feel much better living in a sunny place. And to be honest, I feel freer to be myself here than when I was in the UK. Although I love the experiences that a culturally rich country like the UK opened my eyes to, having failed to adapt to the local culture, not finding friends that could empathize with my specific issues (e.g., I stopped working for the first time too during this move) and the dismal grey weather just saw my mind going to places it should never have gone too, if only I received intervention.:-) I felt loneliness and self-doubt one would never expect in such an exciting city. Needless to say, I’m still struggling with loneliness that is so unique to expat living and seriously considering staying back home after this posting. In my case though, my loneliness is exacerbated by feelings of self-doubt, a consequence of not having friends I can just be myself with and help me feel less transient/more belonging. Honestly, fighting feelings of isolation/finding kindred spirits is the thing I find most difficult about expat living. I feel one must be a really mentally strong, independent, mature, self-assured person in order to thrive in this kind of life.

    • ariana April 14, 2014 at 10:21 am #

      Hi Calpurnia, thank you for sharing your experience as an expat with us. It can be so hard, can’t it? London is a really exciting city and we love to visit.. But I am not too surprised that you struggled to find connection there. I am glad to hear that things are better for you in Riyadh. I’m sure many people would not expect that to be the case, and I am glad that was a pleasant surprise. I think expat communities can really help a lot. But there is also a tendency for expat groups to get together and gripe about their host countries all of the time, which does make things worse, I think. It’s a fine balance– finding understanding but also not letting the difficulties define you.

      I wish you well as you continue to settle in. And say hello to that delicious sunshine for me! 🙂

  9. Eve April 6, 2014 at 12:37 am #

    Wonderful post, thank you for your honesty – it resonated with me so deeply. Though I am still within the USA, my own experience is one of ex-culture. After having our daughter last year, my husband and I decided to leave the Mormon church and all of Utah behind, for a more progressive and liberal life in New England. Our entire lifestyle has changed, and while the people here have been friendly, they have not embraced us fully and the sense of being an outsider is certainly present. We would not trade our move for anything – nor our decision to grow beyond the limitations of our former religion. We too have become a closer knit family as a result of this choice, making what might appear as vulnerable to well-intentioned door knockers, feel for us to be a bit of an “us against the world” mentality. I don’t imagine that will be the case once we find our groove. Or perhaps those with gypsy souls are not meant to find grooves, lol. In order to be a storyteller, one must collect stories I suppose. Thank you again for this lovely entry. It was my first visit here. I will certainly visit again 🙂

    • ariana April 14, 2014 at 10:24 am #

      Hi Eve, thank you for stopping by to share your experience. I imagine it must be very disorienting to leave your religion, community and state behind! Not too far off from leaving your own country, I’m sure. What a brave move, and I don’t doubt that your decision to live intentionally has in some ways made life much harder. I love that you have already experience a tighter bond within your little family, and hope you can find/ make new community soon.

  10. Karen April 6, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    Hi Ariana,

    I like your question: “do expats get to have that?” referring to the sensation of feeling accounted for because that puts into words what I wonder too. Will I ever feel that same sense of security and ease here in the UK as I did in my home town with my family near? I think the answer is “no”, we don’t get to have that. We trade in that security and “accounted for” feeling for the other benefits that being an ex-pat brings. We might get to have it back in a slightly different form based more on friendships than family bonds, when we put down enough roots in the new place essentially making us no longer ex-pats. Putting down those roots take time though, in my experience of moving fairly often in the States it takes at least 5 years to make a new town truly home with friends and connections and I think it takes much longer than that in a new country. It took my husband at least 10 years to feel truly at home in the States after marrying me and moving from Spain and he moved into an instant family.

    I’ve only been here 9 months, but I can see small progress being made towards feeling accounted for. The first time I saw someone I knew in the grocery store I almost jumped for joy! For me, I think the question is “ can I imagine feeling at home here in about 5 years?” and I think the answer is yes. Of course unless my husband decides he wants to move again, and then we start the process again!

    • ariana April 14, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Hi Karen, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I am happy to hear that you feel you are getting closer to feeling accounted for, and that you can imagine feeling at home in a few years. That makes me happy!

      I don’t think I ever considered that feeling at home and rooted in a new place would make me no longer an expat– but I can see what you mean. However, growing up overseas, no matter how Filipino I felt, I was still also 100% a foreigner. I don’t think that looking like the people around me would change that experience in this case. But I do hope to feel like I completely belong, and I think I can when I find a culture that agrees more with my own internal culture (if that makes sense!)

      Also, I totally know what you mean about recognizing someone at the grocery store– such a great feeling!!

  11. Tamarind April 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Dear Ariana,

    Thank you so much for this post, and for your wonderful blog. As an American expat living in the Czech countryside for 2-1/2 years, discovering your blog has been a balm for the soul. Most of the writing about expat living that I’ve found focuses mostly on the perks of living abroad, with little information about the extreme loneliness, culture shock, and alienation. Of the few articles that mention the difficulties, they are mostly written in a motivational pep-talk style, while glossing over the actual experience and focussing mostly on solutions to solve the problem. There is so little honest narrative of the ongoing nature of these issues in expat life, and even less acknowledgement that it is normal and okay to have these experiences, and that there is no solution that resolves these things permanently. So I am immensely grateful to have found your blog, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your honesty and sincerity in discussing these things. 🙂

    • ariana April 15, 2014 at 10:29 am #

      Hi Tamarind, thank you for taking the time to leave this thoughtful comment. I agree with you that most of the writing out there for expats is about logistical issues– which are important, but definitely one-dimensional. The other thing I’ve found is that expats can whine a lot and there are some black holes to fall into– grousing about their host culture, etc. I hope to be honest and open, while not indulging in any pity parties! I am very happy that these posts resonate with you and hope they offer some comfort and encouragement– you definitely not alone!

  12. martina April 8, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    I have been reading your blog for a long time and I very much understand. I live only about 15 miles from BsE. We have moved here after 10 years as expats in Japan, Morocco and the Czech Republic. Though my husband is British this was our toughest move and after 7 years I still have all the feelings you describe here. Though I like Suffolk I know this is not going to become my home. It is great to be able to read your blog to see that I am not alone.

    • ariana April 15, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Martina– hello, neighbor! I have often heard that Suffolk is a particularly difficult place to make a new life in. Some people have said that life is better in the villages, but I have heard from others that it really depends on the village, and it can be worse if you don’t get the right one. I know a few expat families that really feel at home here, and I am glad for them– but it’s definitely not for everyone. I imagine that it’s a real contrast from a place like Morocco. I also feel a sort of urgency to uproot sooner and start again in a new place while Amelia is still young. But things will work out in their own perfect time. Is there a particular place you’d like to move to next?

  13. Winnie April 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Hello Ariana,

    Goodness, I sure know what you’re talking about in this post! I’ve been living in France for almost 12 years (!!! wow, it still amazes me to count them and see how fast time has flown) and have experienced this feeling off and on the entire time. I am an american expat living in Brittany, and now back in the country near the ocean, so sort of a double whammy/mixed-blessing of isolation and lovely, natural living. I just stumbled acorss your blog today for the first time via your rhubarb wine recipe – I am preparing this next phase of life in which gardening and other fun activities (ie child-raising) will take the place of a job and life in a city. i’ve made many friends in this time, native and expats, but still feel lonely at times. It has been quite an adventure – and continues to be so! To be so far and disconnected from family and friends “back home” is quite hard, but I now know my home is here, and I will probably never move back. Regardless of the problems that causes in family relationships (my poor mother!). Anyway, thanks for sharing…and by the way, we’re ALMOST neighbors, so if you’re ever in southern Finistère, you’ll have another expat to share stories with! I’ll be checking regularly!

    • ariana April 15, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Winnie! I recently heard from an American who has lived here for 25+ years but who also lived for a time in France that it’s even harder to break through the barriers in France than here. I find that hard to believe, as people have always been so warm and wonderful every time we have visited, but I know that it’s different to actually be accepted as residents of a place, vs. visitors. So, I imagine we’re in similar boats. I am glad to hear that you have made many friends (I would hope after 12 years!) and are settling in. I love the sound of your next life phase. What a beautiful place to live! We really love the rural life over here. Glad you found my site, and thank you for sharing your experience with all of us.

    • ariana April 15, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      I also meant to thank you for your invitation to visit– we would love to see Brittany, and usually come over via Dover. Let’s definitely stay in touch, as I would love to meet you and your family. Thank you!

  14. Molly Brown (@206inUK) April 10, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

    Ariana, like many others, I have been reading your blog for quite some time, particularly your posts about expat life. As a fellow expat in the UK, this post really struck home. While my family has been in SW London nearly 5 years and were lucky enough to land in a close knit village, there are still many times when I feel we will never truly fit in as we don’t have the family connections, school and uni-friends, NCT groups, etc. that those who grew up here have. Ironically, I’m from a city in the NW infamous for its freezing attitude toward newcomers! We love being in Europe, though, so I often remind myself that I need to reach beyond my comfort level, be willing to try new things and be open to new opportunities and friendships. I have been telling myself this from the first school run, and it remains a mantra. This reaching out is a positive side for me of being an ‘other’, a voluntary exile from the familiar and familial.

    A bit more reading on this topic was shared with me recently – you might find it interesting if you haven’t seen it already:
    The author of the first asks where one would go if terminally ill, and the answer they get is a childhood home. I am exuberant with the spring here this year, but when I read the article and thought of what I would call home, my heart immediately went 5000 miles west to ocean and mountains. A kernel of truth, I think, telling me that while I can make a happy life here, I will always be a bit ‘other.’

    • ariana April 15, 2014 at 11:06 am #

      Hi Molly,
      I enjoyed reading both of those pieces, and it has left me thinking… I don’t know exactly where home is for me– Los Angeles or my town in the Philippines. I know I’d go someplace warm and by the sea, though. I wonder sometimes if my obsession with moving to a Mediterranean climate has to do with mixing the rural life by the ocean in the Philippines with the California climate. It’s fascinating to think about, and I often wonder where ‘home’ will be for my daughter Amelia.

      I hear you on loving living in Europe, even though it’s harder to connect. For me, it’s worth it, even if it’s painful at times. Life here agrees with us very much, and I hope we can build some community, once we find out where we’ll be for the next block of time. Thank you so much for stopping by to share those articles and your own experiences, Molly!

    • LG March 10, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

      I just came across this blog searching being an expat and being lonely. I found it very moving. I’ve been homesick for 4 years. My husband is an Aussie and now so are my kids. Whenever anything happens to make deeper roots, I go into a state of panaic mentally. I never had a problem making friends until I moved. It’s so much work where all my friendships in the USA were so natural and easy.

      Molly your response and quote about terminally I’ll wanting to go back to their childhood home brought tears to my eyes. I can totally relate to the longing for home.

  15. Gabrielle Bolivar April 11, 2014 at 3:34 am #

    Hi Ariana,
    I think many of the other posters have summarized my feelings. I live in the same area I grew up in with my husband who also grew up here. Our city has more than doubled in size (Portland, Oregon, USA) and gentrification has created a lot of tensions. We too feel alone often, and wonder if it is only us that feel this way (clearly not). We have 3 children and wish so much that we could replicate the sense of community we both felt growing up when we all knew, really knew our neighbors. When community cared, nurtured and looked out for others safety, health and well-being.
    I do not know what has changed so much in society other than that many of us work so hard just to live, and there is so little time left. Work schedules differ, kids may have different interests, and in general, in my perspective communities are not what they used to be-in part because people are on the move for different reasons. So your neighbor today may not be your neighbor tomorrow. Society just isn’t static today the way it was 44 years (when I was born).
    So I find myself reading blogs to feel a sense of connection, to believe someone is is truly living life with intention. That others are finding or creating amazing community-however that is defined, and that perhaps it will give me the courage to change my own habits and work harder to create a community where we are.
    I love how much you talk about your siblings and parents. For some of us, we did not have a great childhood, and so family is who we live with and our surround ourselves with now (related or not).
    I take immense joy in reading what you post! Thank you so much for what you give to me through your writing and sharing.

    • ariana April 15, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Hi Gabrielle! Thank you for taking the time to articulate your experience here. I think I understand what you are saying. One of the reasons that we have chosen to leave the US is because of some of the societal issues you mention. We want to live more slowly, in closer community. I think we found that when we were briefly in Germany, but it’s been a bit of a let down over here. But I do think we can find something similar elsewhere, and we can still do our best to create what we long for ourselves– as you mention. I am sorry to hear that you did not have a childhood that you could remember fondly, and I can see how that would create a different type of longing, and maybe even make it harder to believe that close communities are possible. I have been lucky to have great, friendly neighbors in most of the places I’ve lived.

      I will also say that I felt incredibly displaced in Portland for the first two years that we lived there! Although Oregonians are generally very friendly, there was something very guarded or closed (like people felt suspicious of me somehow?) about Portlanders. People at parties rarely talked to me, and it was hard to be the only one asking questions and trying to get to know someone or keep the conversation going. I have to keep reminding myself that I had that experience– it’s not just England and expat life. But two things really helped me when I was there. The first was taking the plunge to start my own bodywork practice– making room for doing what I loved opened the world up to me. I became friends with other alternative health practitioners, had a sense of purpose and contribution in the community, and felt fulfilled. The other thing was taking control of the lame party scene. I realized that I was lacking community, but relying on other people to create it for me– and it was working. I started hosting monthly “ladies nights” at my own home, and worked to make sure everyone met each other, and that everyone was talking to each other. I really loved it, and miss that a lot!

      Anyway, I am glad that you have found some common experience here as others share their own stories of loneliness or longing. Thank you for sharing yours here, too, Gabrielle!

  16. ariana April 15, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    I also meant to thank you for your invitation to visit– we would love to see Brittany, and usually come over via Dover. Let’s definitely stay in touch, as I would love to meet you and your family. Thank you!

  17. Karen Rink April 17, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Ariana,
    I have been an expat for 30 years. Loneliness comes with the territory of chosing to live overseas. We tried to move back to the States several times but it just didn’t work out. We did visit my family in the States almost every two years so that our children could know them and the country where their mother was raised. Our children have dual citizenship (german and american), and we live in France; our kids are tri-lingual from an early age.
    You will slowly make adjustments and new friends but they will never be the best friends you had in the States, and you have to accept this new phase of your life if you stay in Europe.
    You will be just fine if you lower your expectations of the people in Europe, that is, they will probably not be the close friends you had in the States but they can be your new friends.
    You will be fine,
    Karen in Lorraine
    PS I just joined your blog and enjoy your wonderful recipes!

  18. Anamaria April 17, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    Ariana, Ia feel completely like you when I’m away from home. I am a salvadorean, when I was young a met an ecuadorian gentleman and fell in love with him. It’ s already 30 years since we got married, and nowadays I travel to my birth town for business. And you know what? I feel like a stranger here, I don’t like being here, all the people I know are living their own life, so there is no almost time to share with me. I feel like an outcast in my own country, after so many years away I got completely used to my new country, and I must say that it was difficult at that time until my children were born. You may think that there no much differences between countries over here, but believe there are! It’s not all about the language, my husband died two years ago, I am still there, my children wouldn’t come to live here, and my life is down there, I finally live happy in the place I am.
    I like your blog and enjoy all your articles, thank you for sharing with us

  19. Hausfrau April 18, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    I don’t have time at the moment to read all the comments and leave a thoughtful response, but I will be back to read this again and ponder it! I’m going to have my husband read it, too. I can’t tell you how incredibly you have nailed it–this is, in every way, EXACTLY how I have felt for the past ten years as an expat!

  20. John Faux June 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Interesting. Very interesting. WHERE are the male comments? It’s not like this blog is about dressmaking or brides-to-be and such. So far I think I am the only male to respond, I wonder why? Do we men keep our thoughts more bottled up or we simply do not get lonely? I imagine we are the same..

    I have lived around the world an expat. expat. expat. I tripped across your blog today because my relationship with my family in my birthplace of England is slowly just fading away and I am very sad about this. So I searched just now, via Google of course, for the term “expat and family connections”. I did this because “misery loves company” I suppose. I am curious whether others are going thru the same thing.

    I grew up in England as was very close to my 2 sisters, but since the death of both of our parents, the glue perhaps to our family, my relationship with my sisters has all but vanished in the past 7 years. I have gone back to England about 60 times; expensive, time consuming and and often exhausting. I am always greeted as if I had stepped off a number 8 bus and it took 20 minutes to get to my sisters home. Not feeling the love! So on my part hundreds of phone calls on my part to them in recent years, but from my one sister..zero. It always seems to be my responsibility to stay in touch, as if being punished for leaving England and enjoying “the good life”. My sisters have travelled to where I was living just twice.

    Ariana, you shared a good point and that is our Facebook connection with friends and family. My photos are often of a party atmosphere, beautiful beaches, incredible historic colonial town events and the like. While my family and friends post pics of family get togethers that look nothing exciting but oh how I wish I was there with them. I don’t think my family “gets that”, I have no family here in central Mexico and so my pics convey a sense of “theres John again living the good life”. I do not post pics of me drinking morning coffee alone, eating alone and strolling the street alone. Then how would they feel about my life? I am fortunate that I enjoy my solitude and I am rarely lonely. However it would be wonderful for me to get a call from my sister, a Facebook message from a sister to simply ask how am I doing. I think their assumption is that my life is perfect so “piss off” brother dear.

    I would be interested in hearing from others that have “been away” for decades and how has this affected family ties.

    All the very best to all you expats -the women AND the men out there.

    • Steve June 22, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

      Well, I have to say John, it is nice to see a male response on here. I can certainly relate to your message, though I have been away from England for only 4 and a half years as opposed to your much longer period. I too have two sisters, one of them is never in contact unless I contact her first, and the other occassionally, which I am grateful for. I am fortunate enough to have a mother who calls regularly and this, at least, keeps me up-to-date with goings on at ‘home’.

      The loneliness is something that comes and goes, and it does seem to get easier over time. However, I am intrigued how you have managed for a longer period and the affect you think it has had on your life? For me now, it is difficult to imagine going back to England, but at the smae time it’s difficult to imagine not going back at some point.
      I find it very difficult to get involved in a community here (in Madrid) and many friends have come and gone, which makes me more reluctact to invest emotional energy into new relationships. The Spanish are friendly to a certain level, but finding deeper and longer term relationships has proven very difficult.

      During the previous 9 months I have put my energies into creating a new business which has given me more financial stability, though obviously it’s done little to improve my social connections here. The toughest thing I’ve found is that the loneliness can hit at any moment – I become painfully aware of how few people I know here, and how many fewer I could actually call friends. Once in a while, loneliness pushes me to book another flight back to England for a family and friend visit.

      Any recpmmendations on how one might ease that pain when the loneliness strikes? This blog is a good start.

      Sending love out to all those ex-pats out there

  21. Suzanna June 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Wow. This is such a wonderful page, both the article and the discussion.

    I am now living for 2 years in the Netherlands as a Master’s student and I was raised in a small town in Massachusetts. The first year was really difficult, trying to connect with people, but I learned a lot about myself. Although I don’t naturally connect with all Americans (since I’m from a small New England town), I do smile at everyone, ask a lot of questions in class, and introduce myself to all my neighbors. Sometimes people from other cultures take my friendliness and rambling talking for more than I mean it to be, either thinking of me as shallow, superficial person or as an immediate best friend, when really, I just enjoy connecting to the people around me to create a friendly atmosphere.

    My loneliness has been slightly dispelled by having a loyal Greek classmate, an artistic and warm Catalan friend, old Dutch friends living in Amsterdam and a funny and sweet Italian boyfriend, but I miss relaxing quietly in social groups, where there is a mix of people from many cultures. I do like being alone, but not so much alone! And as you said, it’s hard to allow yourself to rely on other people….

    So far, the sailing club (relaxed people and long weekend gatherings near the water) and the Ultimate Frisbee club (open people and american culture) are clubs that immediately embraced me and gave me something to do and people to be around in the evenings. It’s hard for me to ‘read’ Dutch people, so these clubs are a good way to get to know them over time without any pressure.

    Finding a mixture of social “sports” clubs for me has been the way to find warm local friends, events, and acquaintances – and I wish I had joined these clubs sooner. Any club that has a group email – you know that they’ll be social too 😉

    I also spent 5 years as an Undergrad in Seattle, and it was pretty lonely there too – I hadn’t learned yet to prioritize the idea of community, and the grey skies and grey light are incredibly depressing unless you actively combat them by travelling or hot yoga. England sounds similar in terms of weather – I remember that fighting the grey weather can take a lot of energy. Yoga behind bars and Capoeira were organizations in Seattle I wish I had been active in sooner – because they gave you a feeling of spice and warmth and the opportunity to connect with people.

    Although I would like to continue to live in the Netherlands – neither my boyfriend nor family will live here, and my residence permit would expire. Hopefully I can apply some lessons I’ve learned about myself to make new friends in Boston – and hopefully I can take the grouchy New England provinciality better now.

    These comments are wonderful because I’m so worried about the future (I’m 26 years old) and many of them are from people at another stage in their life. Sounds like everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.

    Thanks again Ariana for your good writing and for hosting this much-needed ‘safe space’
    Sending love from the Netherlands~

    • Steve June 22, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

      Well, I have to say John, it is nice to see a male response on here. I can certainly relate to your message, though I have been away from England for only 4 and a half years as opposed to your much longer period. I too have two sisters, one of them is never in contact unless I contact her first, and the other occassionally, which I am grateful for. I am fortunate enough to have a mother who calls regularly and this, at least, keeps me up-to-date with goings on at ‘home’.

      The loneliness is something that comes and goes, and it does seem to get easier over time. However, I am intrigued how you have managed for a longer period and the affect you think it has had on your life? For me now, it is difficult to imagine going back to England, but at the smae time it’s difficult to imagine not going back at some point.
      I find it very difficult to get involved in a community here (in Madrid) and many friends have come and gone, which makes me more reluctact to invest emotional energy into new relationships. The Spanish are friendly to a certain level, but finding deeper and longer term relationships has proven very difficult.

      During the previous 9 months I have put my energies into creating a new business which has given me more financial stability, though obviously it’s done little to improve my social connections here. The toughest thing I’ve found is that the loneliness can hit at any moment – I become painfully aware of how few people I know here, and how many fewer I could actually call friends. Once in a while, loneliness pushes me to book another flight back to England for a family and friend visit.

      Any recpmmendations on how one might ease that pain when the loneliness strikes? This blog is a good start.

      Sending love out to all those ex-pats out there

  22. Ellen August 11, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    Thanks for this post, it was helpful also to read other comments.
    I’ve been living in Massachusetts for 2 years now and I’m still getting over the move from the UK, so it helped to hear that others experiences.
    I had a tight-knit group of friends in the UK, and while I’m still in touch with some of them via email/skype, the time difference is a challenge as you can’t just call someone. It has been hard to make deep friendships, I do know a lot of people, but those relationships take time to develop, and I’m finding that it is possible to feel lonely when you are surrounded by lot of people. I find that not sharing common cultural background makes one feel like an outsider.
    Another thing that is hard is that the UK government recently changed the immigration laws, making it harder to get a spouse visa for a non-EU spouse (my husband is American). So feeling trapped here is hard to deal with as I can’t imagine how our situation would change to be able to meet the new visa regulations for the UK. I’m also not sure if I have changed too much and the UK would feel like home anymore. So I’m in an odd sort of limbo. People keep telling me it will get easier, I hope so!

  23. JD September 12, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    I am the sister of an expat & first off thank you fir explaining how she is feling. I was just telling her today how we’re closer now bc we talk evry day-oops! Now I get it.
    So my question is, how can I best help her with this loneliness?
    Thanks in anticipation!

  24. Laura November 3, 2014 at 1:36 am #

    I can totally relate to this post. The loneliness is terrible and I will never feel at home where I am. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish for home (England).

    • elisabeth June 8, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

      I have been like that Laura for a long time…. until I feel as if I just cannot stand it here (US) at all.

  25. elisabeth June 8, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    Hello and Thankyou for your thoughtful and accurate piece about the life of an ex-pat. I have lived in the US for 12 years and (DC area) and can honestly say that I have never suffered such profound lonliness. The people I had thought of as friends turned out to be the kind of people who are “friends” as long as you are useful to them. I am not a stupid person, but I admit to being naive and too trusting. So eager to make friends and experience this new life, I said yes to everything. It has not helped that my husbands family turned out to be as nice as a nest of vipers and that his two sons resented me from the word go, although they were 19 and 21 when I moved here with my daughter 11. She has had a great education, my husband made VP of his company although all of it I feel has been at my expense.
    We too went home to england every year and I have only recently “given up” phoning and juggling the 5 hours time difference. I was not there when my dad died and feel resentment towards my husband who said we would be here fro 3/4 years max. He lied about that (he is an american) saying that he never had any intention of us leaving. I gave up everything for him including my profession as a teacher. Now I am financially dependant upon him, isolated now my daughter has moved in with her boyfriend and depressed as hell.
    Lonely?? I wish someone had just told me what the future was going to be like and then I would never have left. I am disappointed, and sad that I left behind a wonderful life for an “american dream” that exists No-Where.

  26. Nicole June 14, 2015 at 5:18 am #

    Great read…been an expat for 3 years and already experiencing some loneliness on this summer trip home.

  27. Sonja July 14, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    🙂 thank you for this post – it took me back to my expat time. I was an expat for 20 years (a little less than half of my life) – and it is amazing how many interesting people I met along the way – but still – I know what you mean by being lonely. I however didn’t really think of it at the time I was at a place – but rather when I finally returned to Germany and reflected & realized that I lost touch with nearly everyone during that time (this is meant both ways – I am not pointing fingers) – and I can count my real friends on under one hand (I lived in the UK, Macau, India & Switzerland), Mainly I lived nearly 15 years in the UK (in the north ) – I must say – I miss it A LOT!
    I think I was wrapped up with work and knew a lot of colleagues – but real friends where very rare. If I think back – I hung out with a lot of people because they were happening to be at the same place – but probably not really because we had much in common (that applied particularly to India & Macau). Nevertheless – I would never want to swop the experience – I look back today and I am incredibly lucky that I met so many different people from different cultures & backgrounds – even if we lost touch. In the end – it was mainly me who always left again & again – the people around me often stayed. When I lived briefly in Frankfurt, I kind of lived an expat life in my own country! That was due to the fact that the people I knew & hung out with were expats themselves  it took me a while to get my head round the fact that I am German – and that I am back in Germany 🙂 – that was really kind of weird. If I am digging for a reasons for feeling lonely at the time abroad – I think I subconsciously always knew that I am not staying for good. But the years shaped me who I am and I am happy with myself and who I became. This would not have been possible without all the people and places I was at.

  28. JA August 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    Hello Ariana, I came across this article because I’ve been searching for advice on how to deal with the loneliness I’m starting to feel as an expat. I’ve been away from England – in Cambodia – for only seven months but have already accepted that things with alot of friends back home have fizzled out. I think Facebook and Skype make it worse, because even though I talk to some of them I definitely feel out of the loop – I’m not there to experience their ups and downs first hand which can be frustrating.

    I’m younger than most expats in town (25), and most expats my age are backpackers who work bar jobs for a couple of months and then carry on their journey. I’ve made a couple of friends in my new town, one a local and one another expat (40s) – so there has been lots of fun, this isn’t completely doom and gloom! My expat friend is leaving in December and whilst I’m on friendly terms with quite a few westerners in town I feel like I don’t click with them naturally. Same goes with Cambodians – lovely people but I feel like the cultural divide is too big for things to feel completely natural.

    I meet lots of great people from all over the world passing through town but instead of feeling happy I’ve met them when they leave, I feel down. I also got myself in a tangle over a girl, well woman (10 years older), who I hooked up with when she stayed for two weeks in July. The sex was incredible and we clicked over lots of stuff – knowing that she was going to leave played on my mind and I hammered the booze when she went. I’ve cut down my day-to-day drinking from 4/5 pints a day – beer is CHEAP so it’s an easy trap to fall into – to having nights out/meetups with my friends at the weekend.

    I love so many things about Cambodia – my job, the warmth of the locals, the weather, the food etc – that make me KNOW that this was the right choice. It just feels like I’ve not really found my place yet. The thought of running back to cold, expensive, nose-to-the-grindstone England makes me feel queasy, and leaving Cambodia would be painful.

    Sorry for rambling, I’ve been bottling this up for a bit!

    • Lien February 21, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

      Hi – not sure you will ever read this – but just hope you found a nice friend in the meantime. Enjoy your time in that sunny place

  29. PS August 26, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Hello all. Like the rest of you I stumbled across this site because of trying to put the loneliness of the expat life in perspective, and I feel it has clarified some aspects for me, so thanks for that. I also have a few things to add. First of all, I am a serial expat. I originally left the UK to look for a better life (and, let’s be honest, better weather!) in France. I then moved to China, and am now in Switzerland. I found the search for a better life a bit compulsive, and now realise the dissatisfaction and search for a new place will never end for me, so am strongly considering just going home. However, I did have a spell back in the UK in the middle, and although it was comforting and familiar, there still was some loneliness due to moving to a new town and picking up with people who’d got on with their own lives. I’m not sure this will ever completely disappear now.

    Another thing is that along the way I became a parent, and this changed things a lot. On the one hand I meet lots of other parents of children the same age, but on the other I’m not free to go out and socialise in the same way as I was before. On balance I found the pre-children expat life less lonely than the one with children and look back on it somewhat wistfully.

    Finally, every move we made was for a job opportunity for me, and my husband followed as the ‘trailing spouse’. Most of the advice for lonely expats seems to be aimed at female trailing spouses, on the assumption that work provides a ready-made social group. For me, this is a bit like the child/child-free expat conundrum above – because I’m always working or tired from working, I don’t have the energy for socialising. There’s a bit of ‘grass is always greener’ in both cases.

    Totally agree on the keeping in touch with people back home thing – it’s hard seeing them move on, it would be nice if they visited more and that exacerbates the loneliness for me, but I know it was my choice to leave.

  30. Jaclyn October 18, 2015 at 10:04 pm #

    I just want to tell you how much I appreciate this post. It’s so therapeutic to know I’m not the only one who still struggles with loneliness and homesickness after three years living in Essex, England after emigrating from Utah. I was nodding my head in agreement to everything you said. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  31. // grenobloise November 21, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    Almost 5 years of lonely expat life over here. Ain’t truly jivin’ with anyone in these parts.
    Great article…you’re not alone!

  32. Kristin November 27, 2015 at 4:54 am #

    My husband moved here in 2004 from Australia to be with me after 1 1/2 years of marriage and living apart. However, he has never really “moved” here. A lot of his stuff is still back home in his mother’s house, and he spends HOURS each day on Facebook with his friends “back home” and on news websites back there. In 11 years, he has made little effort to get involved in our family life, make any new friends, or embrace our life here. I know that he gets lonely, and I make sure he is able to travel back home at least once per year (giving up our own planned vacations 99% of the time), but he has not made our family here a priority. Our marriage and our sons are paying the price for his attachment to Oz and his lack of interest in actually “living” here in the states.

  33. Erik April 12, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    I live in Vancouver bc… It’s a rainy lonely place… Personally, I think it’s rainy cold climates that create lonely places. Vancouver is known as the lonliest place in Canada. Socialising is more difficult for some reason. I think it’s seasonal depression disorder. I suggest moving to a Warner climate… That’s what I’m doing. Life is too short to be unhappy with where you live….

    Good luck

  34. Helena May 5, 2017 at 5:14 am #

    *in tears.

    I found your blog, because I googled about the topic. I moved to the other side of the world to be with my partner, who didn’t have to change anything in his life to be in this relationship. It makes it worse for me, because he doesn’t feel anything that I feel. Like you said- it deepens your relatio ship in your family and you take better care of each other. I feel like I’m in this alone and just this general loneliness inside me is killing me and making me feel depressed.

    This post was written a while ago so I don’t even know if you are still active, but I hope that by now your life quality has improved and you feel more ‘like home’ wherever you are. Sending you love and support

  35. season86 May 15, 2017 at 3:34 pm #

    Thanks for the article. I, too, googled this topic “lonely abroad” and found your blog. It spoke to what I was feeling.

    Although the word in my case would be ‘immigrant’ and not ‘expat’. I don’t know the subtle difference, but I guess ‘immigrant’ implies struggle for survival.

    But the situation is exact same. I’ve missed my brother’s wedding, divorce, another wedding, and a baby. My dad’s retirement, my parents’ new house, all my cousins’ weddings and babies. I’ve never been a baby and wedding kind of a girl so that’s not the biggest regret for me. But I just crossed 30. I’m single, with no tight social circle to fall back on, when I just want to let go and let someone else worry for a little bit. I love working during weekdays, and seeing familiar faces at work. But on weekends and holidays the world just abandons you and I’m not sure what to do. And what’s worse is that most people around me are local, and have settled with entire family and old friends around them. If at all I open up to someone, their solutions are oversimplified.. like “make a new family or social circle”. And I don’t know what to say. So nobody understands the situation.

    It’s good to know that there are other people out there who can understand it. I’m glad to hear that your partner and you can understand each other. And that’s enough consolation until things change for the better for me.

  36. Diane June 14, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

    Beautifully written and so much to relate to. It helps to know we’re not alone. I’ve been in France just over 5 years now and meeting people has been the hardest part.

    • Dominique Moreno-Baltierra July 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

      Hey Diane,

      I’ve been in Paris for 3 years and feel the same as you do. If you’re interested, I can post my Facebook profile and you can add me on there?

  37. Lynn December 7, 2017 at 8:42 pm #

    Bury St Edmunds is a tough spot, in some ways. We lived there three years and found that the locals are generally accepting of but distant to the Americans, as they’re so used to us coming and going. I’ve found my experience as an expat in italy to be richer because 1. there aren’t so many Americans where we are and 2. we foreigners are more closely bound by being outsiders. But I get it. Sometimes it would be nice to pop in for a coffee with a friend you don’t have to explain yourself to, or to know you have someone as backup when you need it.

  38. Cosette December 20, 2017 at 9:47 am #

    Yes, such a common expat experience. I recently wrote about homesickness over on my blog. I’ve been living abroad for almost six years. The loneliness has eased, but it hasn’t completely gone away.

  39. Steve January 17, 2018 at 3:47 pm #

    I’m an Aussie living and working in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia. Ive been here for 18 months with another 18 months to go. I really connected with this article. So many of the friends you make are here and then gone.. We seem to make strong acquaintances and be very social. But close friends are rare when you know you likely never see them again. When I arrived I missed all things familiar, friends, family, and food.
    Now I’m feeling much the same as the author of the article and though I’m loving the adventure and irreplaceable experiences I have an emptiness that won’t leave me.. a hunger for that sense of belonging that only close friends and those who are invested in your long term friendship can make

  40. Marcos Marti January 17, 2018 at 4:46 pm #

    Have been an expat for 12 years, left Europe for Africa and later Asia.
    If you feel lonely being married and living in the UK, now imagine in these continents and being divorced. Life is not easy.
    But well, I speak 7 languages now, had great experiences, made good money, I guess that may compensate part of this word we call loneliness.
    Take care,

  41. The Offbeat Adventuress February 9, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    This is a beautiful post and it is something I wrestle with regularly as an American abroad. When I first moved to Europe in 2014 I did not have a single friend on the entire continent. I had to get used to sitting with long periods of loneliness without letting it get the better of me or ruin my self esteem. Here’s some of my thoughts on that: https://theoffbeatadventuress.com/2016/01/17/the-case-for-solitude/

    Now that I’ve been here for 4 years the feeling of isolation is gone, but I’m so much more self-sufficient than I was before and so grateful for the time I’ve spent solo.

  42. Amby February 19, 2018 at 3:35 am #

    Fantastic article. I’ve been in Australia via the U.S for a year and a half now, and although Australia is beautiful in its own ways, I struggle with adjusting and find myself frustrated because life here is different and at times inconvenient compared to California. I also feel extremely lonely but channel that into my content creating as you do. It would be great to connect with other expats globally. I think that will give us that sense of “home” you described that we feel left out with.

    • Fiona October 6, 2018 at 8:13 pm #

      I left my home in the UK 32 years ago and lived 16 years in Australia and then came to New Zealand where I still live with my family. I think I have spent my whole life trying to find a place that feels like home….and trying to find a community that feels like a family. I had a very difficult relationship with my mum and left that particular source of unhappiness as far behind as possible geographically. I wonder how many of you expats left your home country because of some deep unhappiness there? And how many are searching for the perfect country to live in not realising that this search is really a metaphor for the pwrsonpe happiness of a well-adjusted child in a secure family? I often have a fantasy of returning to England and living in a pretty village and meeting friends in the pub…. but I am sure the reality would be quite different. That is the curse of the expat life..you leave, you change and when you return home you are a stranger.

      • susanne January 2, 2019 at 6:07 am #

        OMG! I feel exactly like you!! Except the mom part! New Zealand seems like a gorgeous place to live! At least you are not single like me!

  43. Nathalie April 1, 2018 at 9:31 pm #

    After almost 4 years of writing this, are you still feeling the same way?

    • ariana April 2, 2018 at 6:14 am #

      Hi Nathalie,
      Things are very different in many ways, yet much of this rings true still. We have moved to Spain and are much more involved with the American community here. That changes a lot of things, in terms of having people to do things with, and even people asking after us if we have been away. Having a bodywork practice completely changes this as well, as I see people all week and feel tied into their lives. But almost everyone here is only here temporarily, and that comes with a new kind of loneliness and challenge. My best friend here left last August, and I’m still recovering from that, and when I make new friendships, I have to do a little calculation on how long they will be here for, and whether it’s wise to get so attached. I still feel a little wistful/ lonely when I see posts from friends and family about seeing childhood friends and doing Easter with cousins and grandparents, etc. But life overall is much less lonely, now that we have a community to give to and participate in. My hope ultimately is to make many more Spanish friends, so we have long-term relationships and can grow to feel like Spain is home for our nomadic family.

      Thank you for asking! It has given me a good opportunity to reflect on this.

  44. Mrs. N in Japan May 29, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

    I can so relate to what you wrote here…..xo

  45. bl June 11, 2018 at 5:07 am #

    I am exhausted with my guilt and loneliness… I relate to your every word, I’m hoping that I can express my feelings better now of reading this and move forward. Thank you

  46. Jeff December 20, 2018 at 2:46 am #

    Wow, a blog entry that is over 4 years old, and such honest responses. I came hear searching for the same answers and the same community, and I’ve read every response. Thank you. I’ve been in the Paris area for four years, and I can no longer sleep well at night. I’m being pulled back to the states, even though my wife and kids are quite happy here. It’s not even that its financially smart to go back, everything is actually better here, it’s that I don’t think I can stay another minute. I woke up one day a few months back and it clicked into place. Loneliness factors in, but I was lonely before and could beat it back. Now, I’m still lonely, but totally convinced that staying is a mistake. Why do we do this to ourselves? Curiosity? Pride? The need to find something better? I don’t know the answer. I do think that some people can make this transition work, and some can’t. For me, I am reminded daily that I’m not the same, that I think differently, although I adore France and the people I’ve met. I simply don’t fit, and that’s fine. Again, thank you for the honesty, this helps.

  47. susanne January 2, 2019 at 6:04 am #

    Hi there,
    I have lived in the US for over 34 yrs now. I’m single with 2 grown kids. When I go back to Germany to visit, I don’t feel at home anymore, but like a stranger in my own country. I have a great job here and some good friends however the older I get the more I want to move to another country in Europe! Not even necessarily Germany since it has changed so much since my perfect childhood there. I can’t even say exactly what it is that’s pulling at me. The older I get the more I long to live in a quaint little village somewhere where u can walk everywhere. I have to say that I’m not living in a bad place since I live in Napa Valley California. I have missed the European lifestyle thought for many many years now. I feel it very isolating having to drive everywhere over here. I feel by having moved in my early 20’s and endured this long over here that I have made my bed and have to lay in it now. Having just turned 50, I feel it’s too late to start over someplace else again. I do know one thing, if I had to do it all over again, I would never ever have left my country to move so far away.

  48. Julie January 17, 2019 at 4:01 am #

    Thank you for this and it has normalized my situation. I am feeling the ache of the loneliness hard having emigrated again on my own to California from Ireland a year and a half ago and feeling so disconnected here. I related to so much and hope your experience is going okay today…

  49. Ghina January 20, 2019 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi Ariana, sprry to say it this way but it’s so „refreshing“ to read about those feelings of ongoing loneliness and not feeling alone in that. I have been struggling lately with this ongoing huge loneliness in Germany, and cant help think it cannot be like that. Im an outgoing person, have a organic family here, hubby is German but feels also odd in his own country, and we are all lonely. And it feels after 5 years living here, it got extremely lonely we have no community whatsoever, friend‘s circle, I don’t work and don’t know when it’s gonna happen anymore, and on sundays in te cold and rainy weather it hits at most as I feel stuck and you can’t even got to an inddor mall and grab a coffee to go and see ppl around….and seeing what my friends and family are doing in the warmer climate countries being out &about getting dressed and enjoying their outings and friendships does make me sad sometimes, i dont go home often either and I know i don’t fit there anymore, so its just feels as an expat you are just doomed as not feeling at home and not in your host country. Itried and still trying to change that but not sure anymore. Intend to get myself in the nxt town we move to more active in english or french speaking communities and hoping it will be make the change I am aiming to for myself and my family.

  50. Mario February 4, 2019 at 3:24 pm #

    So comforting to read your post and everyone’s replies. It feels good to know that I am not the only one feeling like that. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you haven’t made any close friends in your new home because there’s something wrong with you and blame yourself. I left my home country in S. Europe 11 years ago (by coincidence on the same date as today) and moved to the UK. I never managed to feel at home in that grey place. I had some good friends from my home country already there and we had a great time together but that was once a week max. on Saturdays. The rest of the time I was completely alone. I still remember my Sunday outings alone to Tesco’s. It was my only time outdoors. I made some local and international friends too but everyone seemed to be so busy in the UK. Nobody would accept to meet unless we had arranged it at least a week in advance. I missed those friends I used to have at uni who would agree to meet at 20 min notice. Of course I understand life is different when one finds a job, it’s not the same like when one studies but still it felt like it was more cultural than anything else. Finally, after 8 years I quit everything and moved to SE Asia. I dreamt of a sunny place with an exotic culture. I have found both but also realised how huge culture gaps can feel. I have met some lovely locals and also have a local partner who is awesome but somehow it’s not the same. The conversations are not the same, it just doesn’t feel the same. They seem to have a very different way of thinking. For instance almost everyone here is very religious and I am not. Other expats are usually here for a year or two so there is not enough time to build strong bonds. I wish I could have friends who already know me well and can hold a deep conversation with. When I complain my partner gives me advice like tells me to join some community or club to meet people but I somehow already anticipate nothing more than shallow exchanges.. no deep connection. I kind of feel I am already too old (39) to build strong friendships that feel like those I had at home. I feel that I only have my partner here, and he has me. No community we can rely on if we ever need help. Being gay doesn’t help, as it is a taboo topic here and many locals disapprove of, so I have to hide an important part of my life. I think I just need to accept loneliness as part of my life and a consequence of my decision to move so far away from my culture. Sometimes I want to move to a European country but I have a perfect job here and also it would be hard for my partner to get a job there as he has no special skills. At least I am lucky I am in daily contact with some good friends back home through WA. I always dream of the day when suddenly I will meet the perfect match, a great friend with who I will click and feel at ease but I am not optimistic.


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