For many expats, after having lived abroad for a while, there comes a time when they start to think “Where should I settle down? I don’t want to live in this country forever.”
However, when your family and friends are spread across the world, or even just different places in the same country, and you don’t feel tied to anywhere either, it makes the task of deciding where you should settle down to find that elusive feeling of home and belonging quite challenging.
In this blog post, I’m going to take you through the framework that you can then follow to guide you along your personal decision-making process.
This is the same process that I went through that ultimately paved the way for my decision to repatriate (which, by the way, doesn’t mean moving back to your passport country will be the right answer for you), a decision that I’m more than happy with even after 2 years has passed.
#1 – Get to know your needs and wants
Life abroad changes you ,as I’m quite sure you know very well by now. Alongside that, our needs also change over time as we leave certain chapters in our lives behind and enter new ones.
The desire to settle down after some, or even many, years abroad also indicates the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.
Which is why it’s the perfect time to get to know who you’ve become as a result of your years abroad so that the choices you make in this new chapter in your life feel perfectly aligned to who you have become not who you have been.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What feels good to you? What do you love to do?
- What doesn’t feel good to you? What takes a lot of effort and feels like “work”?
- What do you want to achieve in this next phase of your life? Describe having achieved that already – how do you feel? What does your life look like?
Follow your internal nudges and see what they reveal to you about yourself.
#2 – Let go of your “false belongings”
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about identifying the “shoulds” in your life so that you can remove their pull on you and thereby make more authentic and fulfilling choices in your life.
I want to expand on this idea a bit more.
Whenever we live according to “shoulds” and adopt them as truths to follow, we end up in what Toko-Pa calls “false belonging”.
False belongings can be systems of belief, relationships, workplaces and groups that we strive to be a part of, but which only accept you on the condition that you stifle certain parts of yourself so you’d fit in.
The longer you stay in false belonging, the deeper the disconnect within you is allowed to grow.
For instance, we think we should be part of a specific group or community, so we shrink ourselves in order to fit in. However, being in that group makes us feel even more alone.
We think we should follow a career path that is popular or desirable, so we follow that career path and end up wondering why we feel empty, unfulfilled, bored or even depressed.
Or we think we should settle down because of what others expect people your age to be doing so you try to make suburbia work for you when in fact a minimalist but comfortable home base from where you can jet off to travel is what your soul really yearns for.
The way in which “false belongings” apply in your life can be very individual, but these questions should help you tease out where you may be trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
- In what aspects of your life do you feel like you don’t belong?
- In what aspects of your life do you feel like you have to make a very big effort for very little fulfilment in return?
Once you’ve identified these areas in your life, ask yourself:
- What would you like to experience that would make you feel excited and inspired, light and easy instead?
#3 – Make a list of non-negotiables and go on a hunt
Once you’ve made it this far in the process, you have set an authentic and aligned foundation for this next chapter in your life.
Please take a moment to celebrate giving yourself this precious gift!
In more practical terms, at this point you should be able to make a list of non-negotiables and nice-to-haves that you can use to a) research b) compare or c) eliminate any potential locations.
While making the list is easy at this point, seeing how it matches with the options available to you in the “real world” often launches the most confusing phase of the decision-making process.
#4 – Accept the normal ups and downs of being in a transition phase
This is the point where many expats in the process of deciding where to settle down get stuck, some even give up altogether and resign to a life of constant wondering where they’d be happy.
You see, it’s natural for a lot of tension and struggle to arise at this point when, on the one hand, you haven’t yet left what is familiar and known to you and, on the other hand, you are yet to materialize what is to come.
This the phase where a lot of doubt, frustration, concern and fear around what is going to happen, and if everything is going to work out in your favor, will float to the surface.
But if you accept that these feelings are a necessary part of being in that uncomfortable transition phase where anything and everything is possible, there is no need to fight against the natural turn of events.
This requires that you to let go of ideas on how the process of finding “the place” for putting down roots should unfold. Questioning the way things are going, wishing things to be different, trying to make things move faster – these are all ways to bring more suffering into your life.
The antidote to this self-inflicted suffering is allowing.
Doing everything that is within your control – researching, putting out feelers, visiting locations etc – and then stepping back to allow for the right opportunities to come your way, when the time is right.
Your only task after establishing your foundation is to continue having unwavering faith in whatever it is that you’re looking for and applying yourself until you find it – not just in your mind’s eye, but also in the physical realm.
In other words, fully believe and embody the idea that you cannot miss nor lose the right answer or the right opportunity when it is truly meant for you.
Now that you know what the process of finding where you should settle down looks like, how do you feel? Where are you in this process? Which step is making you struggle the most? Let me know in the comments below.
If you don’t want to figure all of this out by yourself, then check out my coaching services here. Let’s work together to untangle that knot of issues keeping you from recognizing the right place for you to put down roots.
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.