10 Ways to Beat the Expat Blues. Yes, They are Real.

Wait, how can someone have the blues when they get the opportunity to live abroad? That seems a little absurd, right?

It turns out that many people are on an emotional rollercoaster within the first two weeks of living in a new country.  The good things is there is a lot of support out there to get you through the rough patches because, let’s face it, there are some rough patches.   Here are some tips I have found useful from talking to other expats and from going through  the expat challenge myself.

Moving to a new country can conjure up feelings such as:

Self-Pity 

 You had to start all over again and you have a huge hurdle to jump over before you can integrate into the community.
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Frustration 

Because you don’t know the language. It can be really hard to figure out who your next tribe is going to be when you cannot even strike up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop.

Feeling of Underachievement

The standards are different, with language barriers to break and not having a network.

Loneliness and Isolation 

Not having your usual group of pals around, familiar places where people know who you are,  or being away from your loved ones for long periods of time can create a dark place of isolation and antisocial tendencies for some of us.

Loss of Identityscreen-shot-2017-03-30-at-12-08-12-pm1-e1490868690778.png

Some people have to sell or give away almost everything they have in order to make the big move across the globe. Your friends are far away, you can’t find your favourite ice cream, the landscape is different, the Mexican food you have learned to integrate into your diet is horrible in your new country or worse, non-existent!..All of us go through some form of this. Maybe that last one was a little more specific to me.

Don’t Worry. Be Happy. 

As it turns out, these are all completely normal. They are especially normal if you move to a place without a strong support group or a job already lined up (trailing spouses, fresh students, etc.) It can even happen if you do have a great job because you are changing literally everything in your life! Don’t underestimate that, ever. You have the right to feel overwhelmed and a little funky at first.

What can you do?

Some people take it really hard when moving.  Whether it is for a job, fun, or a relationship, culture shock is a real thing. The trick is to embrace the opportunity.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” -Lao Tz

Stop Playing the Victim

The first thing I knew that I needed to do was to stop feeling sorry for my situation when things got tough. I chose this. Why would I choose something that would cause me so much stress from uncertainty and change? Because before I actually went through on the action, I thought only about all of the good parts of the situation.  I was easily convinced that whatever struggles I would go through were worth the experience I was going to have. Heck, I didn’t even consider most of my fears were rooted in reality.  Opportunities to move abroad and experience different cultures do not come frequently and I am actually accomplishing one of my goals in life. This is something that meant a lot to me and I would regret if I did not go through with it. Also, in my case, I just happened to fall in love with someone who lived on the other side of the world and let’s face it – it’s not amazingly easy to get into America.

Be Yourself, Don’t Try Too Hard to Fit in

It will make you feel hopeless and isolated if you are trying to be like everyone in the place you move to. Be proud of your heritage and who you are. You don’t need to change. People around you most likely have always wanted to go to another country like the one you are from and appreciate the differences that you bring to the table. To most people, a person from another country who carries a different culture is quite refreshing and cool to be around. I embrace my California roots and I do nothing to hide my accent and expressions. People need to see and experience that my country has more to offer than D**** T**** , Hollywood and stressed out white collar workers.  Honestly, I don’t like typing or saying his name.  Moving on.

 Learn the Language

IMG_2131Don’t worry if you don’t know the language right away. More than likely people who do not know your language wish that they did. The grass is always greener on the other side. Be proud of your accent, be proud of where you come from and make an honest effort to learn. People will appreciate that you try and they will not judge you. Think of a time when  someone came to your country not knowing much of the language but they tried. A little goes a long way. Surely you don’t think less of them for trying to learn and for making mistakes, you actually admire them more because they are wise enough to take action to learn. As an added bonus when you sign up for classes you will meet new people who are in the same boat as you! A great place to make friends.

Follow Your Creative Passions

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If you don’t have a job yet, begin a project that you always wanted to but never had the time to do. Learn something new or start that small side business of making urban greeting cards or start your own garden and cooking blog. Whatever it is, now is the time to jump for it because once you get a 9-5 job, if you want one,  you might not have the time. You won’t have to live in regret wondering what would have happened if you only played out that idea that lies in the back of your creative little noggin.

Another thing to remember – the place you moved to may not have someone doing what you do yet. In this case, the market will be open for you to start your venture with confidence. When I came to Luxembourg, within two weeks I started my own Technical, Creative, and Professional Writing Group with over 40 members who joined within 3 weeks and it is still growing. I am so glad that I  jumped in without doubting myself when I saw the opportunity. It has kept me busy and also helps me with my professional career. Which leads me to my next tip.

 Start or Join a Meetup Group

Meetup groups are amazing at helping you meet new like minded people and making connections. If you moved to a place where there are a lot of other expats, you will have the opportunity to grow your network quickly and soon your calendar will be filled with things do like hikes, social nights or clubs to work on skills in your area of interests. If there is not a meetup you would like to see, chances are someone else will share that same interest. Don’t afraid to launch your own. It takes a few moments and you can create your own events. Who knows? You may meet your new best friend or next co-worker. People will see the initiative that you took and respect the self-starter attitude regardless.

IMG_0537Take Care of Yourself

Exercise, eat good food, and get enough sleep. More often than not, big changes can trigger stress eating and increased alcohol consumption (Bressert). Of course not only can the stress induce toxic behaviours to your body but also the increase of social events where alcohol is present and eating out often is likely. If you are trying your best to be social and the only events available are drinking events or include wining and dining with the company, remember to take it easy and stay hydrated. Try to limit yourself to one drink per day if possible and eat well. Also, try to organize social events that include outdoor activities or something athletic. This will improve your overall wellbeing and help you make connections with people who have healthy habits so you have more of a balance and the only friends you have in a new place thing of fun as going clubbing every weekend and never see the light of day outside of the office, maybe that is not going to help you get over your expat slump.

Practice Gratitude 

 Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.50.14 AMPractice being grateful for all of the efforts of others to help make you comfortable and feel welcomed. Instead of focusing on the negative, focusing on all of the things that you can be grateful for can help you see with new eyes. You may more clearly appreciate that you get to have this exciting opportunity to live life in a different way than most people. Remember: Your story is not conventional, something special in your life is happening and it is an adventure after all. Let people know how much it means to you to spend time with them and how much you appreciate them being supportive, like your boss, colleagues, and family members who try to keep in touch from home.

Stay in Touch With Your Family and Friends From Home Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.48.37 AM

Just because you moved across the world doesn’t mean the friendship has to suffer. You will be surprised at how much it can make you feel better to have a long conversation with a friend who knows you. Make an effort to make calls on a regular weekly or bi-weekly basis. Make plans to visit each other and even write letters. This may even strengthen your friendship and demonstrate that you are friends because you want to be, not because it was convenient for you.

Talk to Your Significant Other 

 Maybe you have mastered controlling your emotions so far in your relationship and looking like an unbreakable goddess or king. If that is you, kudos. Maybe you find yourself about to break you down into a mound full off sobbing self-pity putty and you are ashamed, vulnerable and don’t want to put stress on the relationship.

Here is the deal,  your significant other cannot expect you to be fine during such a big change. He or she is not your psychologist, but you should be able to talk to them about this. They should be plenty aware of what you are going through, otherwise, it can only compromise your relationship. You may act distant or resentful and let it boil inside, and make your actions cold towards him or her without even realizing it. The more they understand how you are feeling the more they can help, because they want to! They really do.

What do you say? Find the time to talk at a private quite and romantic dinner. Let them know that this is a time when you are feeling very vulnerable and that you may be a little more sensitive to their actions for a while. Remember, they are also going through a lot themselves. The last thing you want to do is blame them for how you are feeling. It is not fair to them and not accurate either. Remember, it is the situation and you are dealing with the changes. Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.44.55 AM

It is important to establish what you can do to support each other as best as possible during these times. For instance, if your partner does not know what to do to make you happy, he is going to be frustrated and feel like he is failing at the relationship. Men want to do things for you, they are not mind-readers. Just clearing time to talk about your feelings to each other may be all you need at first. Just a simple “How are you feeling today?” when you see each other in the evening can open up endless possibilities for bonding and making each other feel supported. Let your partner know that. Let them know that private date nights are important to you especially right now. Maybe you both can spend some time on the weekends to explore a new area together in your new country. All of these are reasonable things to bring up and may help you transition into a happier person. Learning how to navigate tough conversations is a powerful tool in your relationship. Good Luck.

Do Your Own Thing –

Make your own friends. Don’t let all of your social activities be with your partner. Make friends that you choose, not friends that your partner introduced you too. Join a club or have a girl or guys night out with your partner. This is key to helping you develop your sense of identity in your new place. Join a club or activity that is different than what your partner does. This way you have something to share that he or she is not familiar with. This keeps the excitement going in the relationship also, after all, I’m sure your partner did not want to be with you because you are exactly like them.

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST……

  • Listen to music from home.
  • Watch TV shows or read books from home .
  • Enjoy cooking your favourite foods from home.
  • Try the food of your new place! Enjoy the culture and embrace the newness.
  • Explore, adventure, get out into nature. Nature has the same nurturing properties no matter where you are in the world.

Have other suggestions?
Bressert, S. (2016). Stress and Drinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/stress-and-drinking/

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If you Don’t Have Time Now, Will you Ever?

There are many reasons for people not to find time to improve themselves in some sort of way. One of the many things trainers and teachers will hear is that people do not have time to practice or exercise. Be sure that you are giving yourself the time. Nothing is more important than you are. Your friends, your family, and your quality of life are all affected if you do not give yourself the opportunity to thrive physical, mentally, and spiritually.

Even with exercise if you have 20 minutes, help yourself out by going for a walk, moving around or stretching. Meditation is wonderful because you can do it anywhere you want. In the car, in bed, in class…there is no obstruction, only yourself.

You have to be the one who realizes how important it is for yourself and how much you want to grow and evolve your body, mind and spirit. It has to be more than you want to watch that TV show or eat that bag of chips when your not even really hungry. When you have been able to evolve past your physical cravings and reduce overindulging in your senses, then you are able to achieve anything.

Words from Lao Tzu on Taming the Ego

True Words are not necessarily beautiful.
Beautiful words are not necessarily truthful.
One who is achieved does not argue,
and one who argues is not achieved.
One who knows the deepest truth
does not need segmented information.
One who knows vast amounts of information
may not know the truth.

One of deep virtue
is not occupied with amassing material goods,
yet the more he lives for others,
the richer his life becomes.

The more he gives, the more his life abounds.
The subtle way of the universes beneficial, not harmful.
The integral nature of a person
is to extend one’s virtue unconditionally
And to contend with no one.

Your Basic Guide to Traditional Chinese Medicine

•No, you do not have to use needles

•Yes, it does work. It has been proven to help reduce pain and symptoms of auto immune diseases, as well as utilized in cancer therapy and various other mental health problems.

•It is not to replace emergency medical care. So if you get into a car accident, don’t expect green tea and brown rice to come to your rescue. Of course, I didn’t need to tell you that:)

• The doctors are real. It takes a licensed TCM doctor, acupuncturist, or Medical Qigong Doctor just as much training and education as a traditional doctor. They have to learn Anatomy and Physiology and go in depth to learn about interactions to herbs and medicines just like the traditional doctors. In fact, many of the herbs that TCM doctors prescribe are in modern day pharmaceuticals because of their proven effectiveness. They take your health seriously. There are training hospitals all over the world for this.

TCM practitioners utilize multiple modalities, which are used individually or in combination to achieve general and specific health care objectives. Amongst these modalities acupuncture has captured the attention of the world and is fast becoming one of the most popular natural treatment methods today. Following are the modalities of Chinese Medicine:

  Medical Qigong Therapy

Energetic modulation applied to the body to cleanse, gather, circulate, balance and strengthen the body’s energetic system.

  • Self-regulation – This aspect involves the instruction, guidance and monitoring of practices individually designed to meet specific needs.
  • Qi emission – This aspect is applied as energetic bodywork through touching or non-touching methods to rebalance patterns of energetic dysfunction.

BodyWork Therapy

Involves a number of different techniques such as Tui Na, Acupressure, and An Mo to manipulate the soft tissue and influence the flow of energy in the body throughout the meridian system.

 Acupuncture Therapy

Fine, disposable, sterile, one-use needles are used to open or close specific points grouped along certain lines of energy flow called meridians, which go deep into the body. Disease, for example is prevented or treated by stimulating or reducing the flow of vital energy of “chi” through specific points in the body. Vital energy then is strengthened or sedated, monitored, and balanced to achieve the desired result.

 Nutrition Therapy

Programs restore balance within the body using food therapy which recognizes the energetic properties of food specific for individual constitutions with the seasons.

 Herbal Therapy

Considered “special foods”, herbs can be taken in various forms such as: teas, tinctures, powders, liniments, extracts, plasters, capsules, pills, etc. They are very effective in nourishing, strengthening and regulating the flows of energy throughout the body.

 Other modalities commonly used With the above

  • Moxabustion – a form of herbal heat therapy
  • Cupping – suction cups are used for the purgation of pathogenic factors as well as stiffness and pain
  • Scraping – sometimes called “coining” has similar use as cupping as well as deep massage
  • Magnets – used to influence the polarities of the energetic flow to manage pain and other ailments

Source: http://www.longevity-center.com Longevity Center Clinic and Institute in

San Jose, Ca

Tai Chi – Scientific Studies to Inspire Your A$$ to Move Slowly

  Tai Chi versus brisk walking in elderly women

Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

http://ageing.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/4/388.long

Outcomes:  A short style of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) was found to be an effective way to improve many fitness measures in elderly women over a 3-month period. TCC was also found to be significantly better than brisk walking in enhancing certain measures of fitness including lower extremity strength, balance and flexibility.

 

 Evaluation of the sustaining effects of Tai Chi Qigong in the sixth month in promoting psychosocial health in COPD patients: a single-blind, randomized controlled trial

The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3824309/

Outcomes: Tai Chi Qigong (TCQ) has sustaining effects in improving psychosocial health; it is also a useful and appropriate exercise for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients.

 

 Impact of Qigong on quality of life, pain and depressive symptoms in older adults admitted to an intermediate care rehabilitation unit: a randomized controlled trial

Hospital Sociosantari Pere Virgili, Barcelona, Spain

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24927783

Outcomes: According to our results, a structured Qigong intervention, together with usual care, might contribute to improve quality of life of patients admitted to a post-acute intermediate care rehabilitation unit, compared to usual care.

 

  Improving Sleep Quality in Older Adults with Moderate Sleep Complaints: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Tai Chi Chih

University of California, Los Angeles, USA

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2491506/

Outcomes: Tai Chi Chih can be considered a useful nonpharmacologic approach to improve sleep quality in older adults with moderate complaints and, thereby, has the potential to ameliorate sleep complaints possibly before syndromal insomnia develops.

 

 Research on psychoneuroimmunology: tai chi as a stress management approach for individuals with HIV disease

Integrating Wellness, Inc., Richmond, VA, USA and School of Nursing, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2211366/#R9

Outcomes: As a stress management strategy, tai chi may enhance one’s coping ability and potentially impact neuroendocrine responses and, ultimately, immune function. We investigated this mind–body intervention, along with two other intervention groups and a wait-listed control group, in a randomized clinical trial to discover its specific biopsychosocial effects in individuals living with various stages of HIV disease. This article focuses on the novel tai chi intervention and provides preintervention and postintervention

Women in El Salvador are Punished for Having Miscarriages

These are only some of the people seeking refuge in other countries.

Threats of being imprisoned for half of your life doesn’t exactly make you feel like you live in the best place in the world, doesn’t  make you feel free, or even human for that matter. This is just one of the reasons why people migrate.

I recently had the chance to work with Amnesty International for the Feminist and Women’s Cultural Festival on March 12th. We mobilized against the total ban on abortions to some members of the legislative assembly of the Commission of that country to tilt their vote in relation to the reform of the current law on abortion. Many people did not know that this was still happening. Here is a link to stories of women in El Salvador who are still imprisoned and waiting for help.

El Salvador: Scandalous proposal to increase jail terms for women accused of abortion

12 July 2016, 14:52 UTC

A new proposal by a group of parliamentarians from opposition party ARENA in El Salvador to increase jail terms for women accused of having an abortion to up to 50 years is scandalous, irresponsible and flies on the face of basic human rights standards, Amnesty International said.

“Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all.”

Following a change in the Penal Code in 1998, abortion in El Salvador has been banned in all circumstances – even when the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is at risk. The current jail term in the Penal Code is from 2 to 8 years. The change in the law has led to wrongful prosecutions and misapplication of criminal law where women are immediately assumed guilty. Women with few economic resources are particularly affected by the ban.

 

Source: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/07/el-salvador-scandalous-proposal-to-increase-jail-terms-for-women-accused-of-abortion/

Stories:

An American Moves to Luxembourg

I have been in Luxembourg for about 4 weeks now. It is said that every girl must  experience living abroad at least once in her life, and now, here I am.

Why  Luxembourg? I will explain another time.

For now, here are a few things that I have learned since arriving:

      •A lot of people think that Luxembourg is in Germany. Poor Luxembourg lives in the shadows of its larger siblings.
            •I can’t even work at a grocery store here with a degree. Every cashier speaks almost five different languages including

Spanish, French, German, English, Portuguese, Dutch, and Luxembourgian. 

        • As an American, I feel so deprived of the language and cultural education I received in school growing up. On the other hand, Luxembourg natives are endowed with at least 3 different languages in school, but many feel deprived of other subjects once they reach college. The grass is always greener on the other side.
          •It is illegal for Luxembourg shops to be open on Sundays, except for grocery stores (which are open until 12). Shopping malls are closed and all offices are closed. Most restaurants and cafes are open. If you want to go shopping you have to go 20 minutes to France, Belgium or Germany. This means your choices are to rest and do nothing or travel, not bad choices.
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Sunday Stroll along a castle. Seriously, it makes you feel like a princess in a fairyland at times

Luxembourg is incredibly culturally diverse, almost more than any other country in the world. There are people from 15 different countries, not in the EU, in my French class and I am the only American. It’s refreshing.

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Matteo and I spotted at an expat meetup

• The cost of living is incredibly similar to California. This is because the city has a housing deficit, so it resembles San Francisco in some ways, making me feel like home. On the other hand, the minimum wage is 2.000 Euros per month.

• There are totally good places to have American food just as modern, happening and delicious as those I see in SF or New York City.

• The grocery stores and produce are amazingly luscious compared to the US. Think Whole Foods at Safeway prices, and even cheaper. I’m always in awe.

Unlimited choices of great Belgian beer and Rosé at very cheap prices.
Luxembourg also has their own brewed beer called Diekirch.

There are really fun and eclectic places to go out, it isn’t boring. Some of my favorites include a live theater restaurant, an American burger place called Brooklyn where a polish guy sings amazing folk Americana music, and café where you make your own spiked hot chocolate.  Not that bad for a country whose population is half of San Francisco.

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Chocolate House to the rescue

• It’s easy to feel sad, especially if you move here in the middle of winter and the sun hides 80% of the time.  I totally underestimated the emotions I would feel relocating my life and leaving so much behind to start new and fresh. The thing I have learned is not to be so hard on myself and to keep going out and meeting new people. Travel. Workout. Enjoy the opportunity that I have. I asked for it, I got what I wanted, now it is time to embrace my gift. Many people will never get the chance.