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Difficulties of being an ex-pat

Here are 7 things that I found which have the ability to give you stress, maybe without you even realising it, when living abroad.

When I made the decision to move to Mauritius, I initially thought ‘Well I’ve lived there before, so it’ll be easy!’. I had lived there when I was younger, but I hadn’t accounted for the difference in living somewhere as a child, and living there as an adult.

Little to say, I went through a period of adjustment…. a long period of adjustment! And what made it worse is that I didn’t realise it at the time. So now, as the dust is settled, I can look back, and make sense of what was going on, and why I felt so out of place.




I am bilingual, and I am aware of how wonderful it can be to open different cultural doors just by knowing a different language. But language in itself is its own culture. I mean, in the UK, you may have probably heard of the famous argument - Is it called a bap or a bun or a bread roll?!


I have also most certainly seen this in my role as an English trainer, where I spent many an hour discussing the differences and similarities of both English and French expressions. (By the way, beware of ‘faux amis’ – words that sound the same in different languages, but have no connection whatsoever!).


The naturalness of expressing yourself in your mother tongue is, I feel, taken for granted. So, just learning the language may not always be enough. You need to be aware of the cultural annotations and expressions, when they’re used, how they’re used, and that takes time! So sometimes, you might just end up feeling a little left out, isolated, or even stupid, for not being able to follow a conversation.


When can we call ourselves fluent in a different language?





I looked up the definition of culture, and one of the definitions was the following:


​'Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. ... '


….well, you get the idea. But the main one I would like to focus on here, for counselling purposes, is the differences in cultural thinking and mindsets, and as mentioned above, ‘.


Now I could go on forever on this subject, and I will definitely cover different segments of it in the future. But I wanted to highlight that it wasn’t until I experienced opposing social/cultural views or behaviours that I really felt like a Brit! Like for instance, it doesn’t matter whether the person in front of me in the shop has 4 or 5 baskets full of shopping and I only have 2 items, I will wait patiently behind that person until it is my turn, like the good citizen I am! It’s only when my very lovely shopkeeper tells me that I can cut the queue so I don’t have to wait to pay for my 2 items that I go ahead of the person in front of me (this is a small local shop by the way!). I could never do that myself! Cut the queue? Well I never!

Obviously, that’s a small example, but this is just a tiny idea of how far and ubiquitous these cultural differences can be, and the difficulty in getting past them.


Did particular cultural issues sneak up on you unexpectedly?





This may be one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, as it’s usually with the help of your support system that you can overcome many of the points on this list, and more.


Nowadays, thanks to technology, that distance, is being gapped to an extent. We can speak to and see our loved ones when we wish. However, not being physically around long term friends, for example, can possibly affect that friendship going forward, as you will no longer be participating in activities as you used to.


Do we choose to make this sacrifice when we decide to move?





Unfortunately, despite leaving your family, friends, work (unless you’ve moved for professional reasons), and so many things behind, one thing you can’t leave behind are your problems.


If anything, moving abroad may have really underlined particular issues that you perhaps ignored or just didn’t realise before, therefore forcing you to look them closer at them.


Though I do wonder whether looking at your issues more attentively is a good thing or bad thing? If you choose to look at certain aspects with the help of counselling, is that something that is widely available or even acceptable where you are now?


Thankfully, again with the help of technology, counselling can be gained and offered to anyone and by professioanal, potentially in the world. So, hopefully, if you would choose to get help, even if not popular in your country of residence, you could still do so within the privacy of your own home.


How does your country of residence view seeking support for mental health issues or personal issues? And how does it compare to your home country?



Now this one was quite a big one for me in the last couple of years, especially when I was trying to tick the boxes to be able to practice here. I realised how frustrated I became at not receiving a simple (what I thought was simple!) confirmation email after I had submitted a form several times. And even after going to the main office, hardly anyone had even heard of the organisation in question! And don’t get me started on the amount of time and paper used for receipts, warranties and who knows what else is used when buying something as simple as a toaster!


Getting used to the different legal systems and bureaucracy of a country just throws a whole bunch of different loopholes into the mix, when there were already so many.


Now, I am not saying that where I came from, all was perfect, as that is far from the truth. But through certain important and personal experiences had here, I sometimes felt that there was a lack of concern for someone who was just trying to get from A to B. And this made an otherwise smooth journey, unnecessarily complicated.


How has bureaucracy affected your transition to a different country?





Questioning ourselves is a normal thing to do for a lot of everyday decisions – ‘Do I really need that item today? Or could I do without so I can be lazy and avoid going out for one thing?’.


But once we start experiencing the reality of emigrating, having a lot of self-doubt is not something unusual. The only difference here is, if you choose to move back to your home country, retracing the steps we have already taken may prove to be complicated. Not to mention all the work involved.


To say that you will not, or did not have a moment of doubt (not regret, doubt!), will be almost unheard of. And as with most things, it’s a case of weighing the pros and cons. But is this something you can ONLY truly do when you are living and experiencing life in the country where you plan to move to? Or can you realistically list the good against the bad before actually physically moving there?


The programme ‘A Place in the Sun: Down Under’ comes to mind, where families make the choice to either move to Australia or stay in the UK after staying in Australia for a week. But would one week have been enough to make that decision?


Did you have any doubts, or regrets about your decision to move to another country?

7. FOOD!


And I am finishing this list lightly with food! How big of an issue it is depends on you of course. I will list this as both a positive and a negative (as are many things on this list!) , as you will have the opportunity to savour and try so many new dishes of the country you are living in, which can be extremely enriching, but sometimes you might just miss a good old fish n’ chips at the weekends!


What was your favourite comfort food back in your home country and  are you still able to enjoy that in your current country of residence?



Are you milk or are you oil?

So, I wonder what other things we could add to this list, or whether there is anything here that perhaps you didn’t think of?


Do you feel like a drop of oil in a bowl of water, where both elements refuse to mix together? Or perhaps you feel more like a drop of milk that, though is distinguishable initially from the water, slowly blends into it.

Personally, I have found myself creating almost a sub-culture, where I adapt to some aspects of new culture, whilst holding onto other aspects of the old. And it is ever evolving.

If you are finding it challenging or stressful to adapt to your new environment and would like a safe space to speak about it, then don't hesitate to contact me on the following:


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Thanks for reading!

milk in water