You may be surprised to hear this but expat shame is something that can prevent many expats from deciding whether to stay or go.
Shame has a big role to play when it comes to expats struggling to adjust to their life abroad but also deciding whether they should move somewhere where life feels just a tiny bit easier.
Here are the three ways that I have seen expat shame typically rear its head during that agonizing “should I stay or go?” phase:
1. “I’d feel like a failure if I moved back/moved somewhere else”
Expats are a proud folk and for good reason. It’s hard to uproot your entire life and start a new one somewhere else.
But when adjusting to life in a foreign country hasn’t gone as well as you thought or hoped it would AND you’ve started to question whether you should move somewhere else / back to your home country, it’s far too easy to feel like you’re a failure. Hello, expat shame!
A failure in your own eyes because you supposedly failed to create that perfect life abroad, and a failure in others’ eyes, too, or so you think, for wanting to move so your life would be easier (again).
The truth is that we can’t ever predict how things are going to work out, try as we might.
Sometimes circumstances change drastically and unexpectedly, or you change.
Sometimes your best efforts yield very little in return, no matter how hard you try (in which case perhaps you’re living in an astrologically challenging place for you?)
Sometimes, you were never meant to stay in your chosen location for longer than you already have.
Sometimes, you need to grow as a person so that you’d have an easier time in your chosen country.
Either which way, it’s crucial that you view your every experience abroad as a lesson to be learned rather than something to drown in feelings of shame for.
Instead, ask yourself these questions:
- What have I learned about myself from my experience in my chosen location?
- How is this experience encouraging me to take a different approach to things going forward?
- How can I implement what I’m called to learn or change?
2. “I don’t want to talk about how I’m struggling or thinking of leaving”
When you’re in the thick of trying to understand whether it’s truly time to give up on your chosen location or whether you’re being pushed to grow as a person, it’s easy to want to hide from talking about it with anyone.
If you’d talk to friends and family about it, they may not understand all the nuances of your situation or perhaps get prematurely excited about the prospect of you moving back.
You may even fear that they’ll see you as a failure should you open up to them.
People also don’t want to reach out to expat coaches, or even a clarity coach like me, because opening up the conversation topic can feel like opening a can of worms.
Talking about the problem makes it more real.
Talking about it means that you will have to change something.
Talking about it means that you may not like the answer.
Which reminds me, sometimes people think that my job is to tell people what they should do so they fear they fear they won’t get support from me either.
This idea always makes me chuckle because I never tell people where they should move nor do I ever reach the point of having an opinion on someone else’s life.
Instead, I’m on the hunt for the option I see *YOU* being most excited about.
My job is to reflect that back to you and encourage you to pursue that option because your excitement doesn’t lie (even if it’s buried under a ton of unhelpful thoughts and fears).
It’s hard to find neutral people to talk to who can create a safe space in which you can discover the right answer for yourself without judgment, pressure and projecting.
If you have people like that in your life, do reach out to them!
And if you don’t, I hope you’ll consider reaching out to me.
3. “I don’t want to move back/ move to be closer to my friends and family/settle down etc.”
Not wanting to do what you think you’re expected to do can bring up a ton of expat shame and guilt.
It doesn’t even matter if there’s no one in particular expressing any expectations towards you and it’s just you going around thinking that there are things that you should be doing (even if you’re not even inspired by them).
Personally, even though I have my own moral compass and set of values in life, I don’t believe in enforcing any of it on others’ lives and I get absolutely furious when others do that to me.
I want to see people discover their own set of values and happiness metrics and fearlessly live according to them.
It’s what I aim to do in my life every single day.
So if there’s no one in your life currently encouraging you to follow your own path in life, let me be the one to say this to you:
I don’t care if you don’t want to live close to your friends and family. If you don’t feel inspired by it, then don’t do it. You have the right to choose who gets to have prime space in your daily life and to what extent.
I don’t care if you never want to settle down in one place. If that’s not something you feel inspired by, why should you choose otherwise? Seriously, I dare you to answer that rhetorical question.
I also don’t care if you never want to move back to your home country. Happiness can be found everywhere. The key is knowing what are the ingredients of your “happy bubble” and then creating a life based on those ingredients, wherever that may be.
Don’t let anyone ever make you feel ashamed for wanting what you want.
The minute you feel a “I should/shouldn’t do…” come up for you, recognize it for what it is – as the moment where you’re about to veer off your own path in life and go against your own interests.
Aim to get back to things that make you go “I really want to do…” instead.
Your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.