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Beating Expat Negativity – Our Tips for a Positive Life Abroad

By alison - October 23, 2012 (Updated: February 24, 2015)

Let your expat life soar with a positive attitude

Let your expat life soar with a positive attitude

It’s a normal part of expat life, heck any life, to be angry, frustrated or depressed now and then. But are you killing your chances of having a successful and rewarding life abroad by wallowing in negativity? Today we give you some tips on staying positive when expat life is getting you down.

We all know at least one expat who is a Negative Nelly (or Ned). You meet them in expat meet-up groups and trolling around expat forums.

You can spot Negative Nelly right away because nothing is ever good enough in her new country – the service is bad; the weather is terrible; the food is too bland or too spicy; nothing works the way it does ‘back home’. In fact, it seems like every time she opens her mouth it’s to say how much better something is in her home country. Which begs the question… If Nelly’s home country is perfect, why did she leave?

Thriving Abroad

The truth is we voluntarily become expats for two main reasons. We immigrate for our career or we immigrate for love. Of course there are a million variations to these reasons, but we’ll dig a little deeper into these main categories in a moment.

I mention the word ‘voluntarily’ because we’re not talking about people who’ve been forced to leave their home for political or safety reasons. That’s a whole other discussion. Most of us are expats because we chose to be, one way or another, and now we have to cope with that decision in a positive way.

Career Driven Expats

There are countless reasons people work abroad. Some are voluntary, like the ability to gain more work experience in your field, or to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Maybe the job prospects for your particular career are more plentiful in another country or maybe you’ve climbed as high up the corporate ladder possible in your home country.

Sometimes the reason to move abroad is less positive. The economic downturn of the past few years has hit many countries hard and maybe there are few jobs at home. Maybe your company has down-sized or outsourced jobs and you need to move abroad to continue working for it.

No expat life outside your job? It's time to become more well rounded.

No expat life outside your job? It’s time to become more well rounded.

Whatever the reason, you are here now to be employed and earn money and while money can’t buy happiness, the lack of it can sure cause problems.

So how can you stay positive if you immigrated solely for your career and the rest of your expat experience isn’t stacking up?

  • Find interests, hobbies and friends outside of your work circle. It’s great you want to throw yourself into your new job (or old job in a new country) but you know the old saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ Becoming a more well rounded individual will not only help you stay positive in your personal life, but your new positive attitude will help strengthen your career by approaching it with a focused and positive outlook.
  • Focus on the skills and experiences you are adding to your resume by working abroad. These are always positive to future employers. Whether you want to return to your home country in the future or move on to the next challenge, you will have a career advantage over other people applying for the same position.
  • Nothing says you have to stay with the job you emigrated for. If it’s that bad, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. It’s much easier to look for work in the country you are currently living in. Use the job that moved you as a stepping stone to something better in your new country.

Expatriating for Love

With globalisation, the number of multinational couples and families is on the rise. If you and your partner are from two different countries, at least one of you is going to have to become an expat. It can be tough to choose between your home and the love of your life.

Of course we can’t forget trailing spouses. (That’s why I’m here after all!) You and your partner may come from the same country but what if s/he needs to emigrate to find work or further her/his career? You may have to sacrifice your own career, friends, family, and/or lifestyle to support your partner and that’s sure to result in some feelings of negativity and resentment.

Do something you love to find your centre in your life abroad

Do something you love to find your centre in your life abroad

Maybe your love isn’t a person. Maybe it’s adventure, or travel, or even new experiences. These are all great reasons to move abroad. But what if your expat experience doesn’t stack up to your high expectations?

  • Remember to focus on why you love your partner (or travel, adventure, etc). It can be easy to be bogged down with stress and negativity when you’ve made big sacrifices for love. Write down a list of all the positives about your love and pull it out when you start wallowing in the negative.
  • Just like career driven expats, expats for love need to find interests other than their partner. It can be scary to go out and meet new people, in a new country, speaking a new language, but it really is one of the keys to surviving expat life. You need to surround yourself with things and people you love. Pick up old hobbies you didn’t have time for. Go to expat meet-ups. Join a gym or a class. Do something completely for yourself. You deserve it!
  • Talk to your partner about how you feel, but do so without blame. Believe me, this is a tough one. It may feel like your partner has everything going for them – a new job, instant friends at work and integration into the new community, while you’re stuck at home alone. Chances are things aren’t a bed of roses for your partner either. So work together to find solutions of how you can carve out time to be together and focus on your relationship. After all, a partnership means working together.

Battling Negative Nelly Syndrome

Whether you became an expat for work or for love you don’t want to waste your time in your new country, wallowing in negativity. If you feel like you may be suffering from Negative Nelly (or Ned) syndrome there are a few things you can do.

Don't let expat red tape make you a Negative Nelly (or Ned)

Don’t let expat red tape make you a Negative Nelly (or Ned)

  • Think about why you came here in the first place. Whether it was for work or for love, those reasons should outweigh the downsides of the expat experience. If they don’t, it’s probably time to rethink your situation.
  • Consider if you would have the same problem (or worse) at home. A lot of times, the things that annoy us about our new country would be just as bad at home; we just don’t focus on them so much. Maybe bureaucracy and bad customer service have got you down, but is dwelling on it going to fix anything? Probably not and complaining about it all the time is going to make you and the people around you feel frustrated. Be careful of viewing your home country through rose coloured glasses. If everything was perfect there, you wouldn’t have left in the first place.
  • While we can’t change the amount of paperwork we have to deal with or the rainy weather, there are often things we can do to better our situation in our new country. This could be anything from volunteering for a charity you feel passionate about to moving to a different neighbourhood. Look at the negative things in your expat life and focus on fixing the ones you can change and putting up with the ones you can’t.
  • Suck it up. It may sound harsh, but sometimes you just have to give yourself a kick in the behind and force yourself out of being negative all the time. It’s ok to feel sad and miss home. In fact it’s downright normal. But chances are, your new home can be pretty great too – if you let it. Every time you get pissed off by something negative, think of something great about your new home. Try to strike a balance where the positives outweigh the negatives. Pretty soon, the downsides won’t make you so upset.

Thriving AbroadWe all have days when we miss our home countries, our families and friends, our old jobs or even something as simple as spending a whole day speaking our native language. These things are what made us, well, us. But focusing only on the negative and looking backward instead of forward will keep you stuck in a rut and you’ll miss out on all of the incredible things that could be waiting for you around the next bend in your expat road. I’ll see you on the other side.

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Resources for Expats Living in Belgium and our Resources for Expats and Trailing Spouses.

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Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu. She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
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5 comments

  1. Comment by Kathleen

    Kathleen October 23, 2012 at 14:12

    I loved this post.
    I know all of the above. But sometimes you need someone to repeat everything to you again to make you feel better.
    Thank you.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison October 23, 2012 at 14:20

      You’re welcome Kathleen and thank you for the kind comment. It’s true, we all need a little perspective from time to time. Even after 7 years as an expat, I still have negative days. It helps to remember what we’re here for in the fist place.

  2. Comment by Amy

    Amy October 23, 2012 at 16:06

    Oh man, I’ve definitely been there – on both sides! Great article, Alison!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison October 23, 2012 at 16:29

      Thanks Amy! I think we’ve all been there. The trick is not to move in and take out a mortgage there 😉

  3. Comment by Adrian

    Adrian October 26, 2012 at 10:59

    That’s right, I have been now become an Expat, and I can feel how tough it feels to live in Abroad but if we look on the positive side, we get to learn and experience so many things and our adaptive skills get more strength by that. thanks Alison

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