how to cope when you hate your host country
Living in a different country isn't always sunshine and roses. Sometimes the experience is a complete emotional rollercoaster. One moment, you're all thrilled and tickled with the newness of it all - the sights and sounds, the new people you're meeting, all the fun you're having. The next moment, something happens that throws you for a loop, knocks you on your ass, and literally leaves you cursing the ground you stand on. Most times, though, the good experiences outweigh the bad, and the bad experiences just turn into funny stories that you share with friends over drinks. But sometimes, the bad feelings don't just blow over. Sometimes everything about your host country works your last effing nerve. Sometimes the potent combination of: being isolated from family and friends, not speaking the language, confusing cultural differences, climactic anomalies and missing 'normal' food becomes way too much to bear. And as the days and weeks pass without any sign of your situation improving, you find yourself seriously wondering if you should just call it quits, pack up and go back home where you belong.
Since I've actually experienced the scenario above (and talked myself out of a one-way plane ticket home), I thought I'd share some suggestions for dealing with the post-honeymoon phase; or, as i like to call it: 'a survival guide for expats who've considered repatriation when the novelty wasn't enuf'.
7 Ways to Cope When You Hate Your Host Country
Don’t lash out
Often, the reception you get from the locals in your host country can feel less than hospitable. It can be tempting and sometimes, warranted, to fight fire with fire, picking a fight with anyone who rubs you the wrong way. Fighting the good fight day in and day out, however, quickly becomes exhausting. You're constantly on edge, waiting for the next person to 'make your day'. You'll end up wearing yourself down long before you wear them down. My advice: even if you’re getting bad energy from people, resist the urge to give it back. At least not too harshly. In short, throwing shade is cool. Throwing epithets and punches, not so much.
Don’t clam up
I get it. You hate the place, so obviously you want to limit your exposure to it. But becoming a recluse solves nothing. Find places that you enjoy going to - bookstores, cafes, parks, libraries, movie theaters - and make it a regular habit to visit them. If you haven't found your social group yet and feel shy about going out alone, go to restaurants and bars during off-peak hours, when you're less likely to be surrounded by couples and families. Sign up for a class or join a gym. If you do end up taking some time to be a recluse, that's ok. Just try not to let it linger for too long.
Take a step back
Remove yourself as a participant in the daily expat struggles that you encounter. Become an observer instead. Imagine that you are there to explore, compare, and document, as an anthropologist, journalist, artist, historian. Treat this experience as your work or project. Approach your time abroad this way and you’ll be less likely to get emotionally riled when frustrating things happen. Even if you do get riled, at least you’ll have a productive outlet for your emotions.
Stay in touch with people back home. Especially those who are good listeners, or make you laugh. Join online groups or communities (some of my faves: Black Americans Living Abroad
Solo Women Travelers, Bellas Morenas de Espana), where you can share with other people who can relate to the experiences you're going through. Look for local gatherings or groups to join - especially those where you're likely to find other expats. Check Couchsurfing, and Meetup.com to see if there are active groups in your area.
I'm not usually an advocate of binge-watching tv, but as an expat, it may not be as easy or feasible (due to language barriers or telecommunications issues) to watch your favorite programs from back home. Scheduling time to catch up is a good distraction from expat woes.
Maybe it’s your city or region that doesn't agree with you? Explore other parts of the country, or find cheap ways to travel to nearby countries.
Get a job
Occupy your time? Make money? This one's a no brainer. Find side jobs based in your home country that you can do remotely from your host country. Check Craigslist, ODesk, and other freelance job sites for opportunities. Giving private English lessons is another good money-making option that works for almost anyone, since native speakers are usually highly prized non-English-speaking countries.
Remember the reason
Why’d you want to move to another country in the first place? Is that reason still valid? Have you strayed from your original goal? Do you need to set a new goal to help motivate you?
What are some ways that you've battled the expat blues? How do you know when it's time to throw in the towel and head back home? Share your thoughts in the comments!