There are definite stages that expats go through when they’re stuck in the “stay or go” dilemma.
I personally agonized over whether I should stay or go for years. These days, with time, space and wisdom gained from my past and my work with expats in a similar mental space, it’s now easy for me to identify where in the process someone is.
In this blog post, I’m going to go in depth and describe the 3 stages of deciding whether to stay or go.
Which stage speaks to where you’re at right now?
1. You’re not entirely happy in the country you live in, but the pros outweigh the cons
This is a stage you can enter as soon as the rose-colored glasses come off after you’ve moved to a new country. Typically, this happens within the first 2 years.
Coincidentally, this is also the most crucial time during which we either adapt to our new surroundings or we begin a bitter fight against reality.
The best case scenario:
Once the rose-colored glasses are off, you learn to understand your new surroundings and start to build your life abroad in more realistic terms.
You make changes in your expectations and how you approach things. You learn to make things work because you can see what you’re gaining from this experience and that’s enough for you.
This approach can sustain you for years, even if you do have niggling doubts every now and then.
The worst case scenario:
You enter into a full blown identity crisis (or culture shock, if you will) and you struggle to move out of it.
I want to be very clear here and say that reacting so strongly to your new life abroad is not a sign of you being a failure. It’s a sign of major life lessons. Embrace what they’re here to teach you about you.
Still, whether it’s for love, career or some other reason, you stick around and try to make things work through gritted teeth regardless.
Folks that fall under this category are typically the ones in my orbit the most, which makes sense because this is the stage that I was mentally stuck in for many years. I’ve no shame to admit that!
2. Something happens and the pros no longer outweigh the cons
What I’ve seen time and again is that there’s typically a trigger that blows the lid off the frustration that had been felt up until that point in time.
- a breakup
- career/job concerns – a volatile situation, wondering what’s next, not finding a satisfying job
- housing issues or the opportunity to buy a home
- someone very close back home falling ill
- becoming a parent or having another child
- visa deadlines
- the pandemic
- feeling lonely and misunderstood by locals/other local expats
- longing for home after a trip back
Whatever the trigger, it makes people go “am I/are we going to stay?”, especially when things haven’t been rosy in many aspects of their life for a while.
Suddenly, the challenge isn’t about overcoming that particular thing that has happened.
Rather, it becomes loaded with all the other issues that you’ve experienced while living in that country.
Deciding whether to buy a home doesn’t become a simple matter of choosing a house/apartment but a question of “how long are we/am I going to stay in this country?”
Becoming single is no longer about grieving the end of a relationship and forging a new path, but a question of whether you want to build a life in that country on your own.
Wondering about what’s next in your career gets tied up with questions around geography and settling down.
In short, whatever challenge life has decided to throw your way, people tie it to “Should I commit to more of what this country does/doesn’t offer?”
For some, the right answer instantly floats to the surface. Whatever sudden thing happened, it was precisely the push that was needed.
But for others, as I also wrote in this blog post, there is just something about *this decision* that’s making it hard to know what’s the next best step.
3. Realizing you’re about to go through a major life change
This stage is characterized by a combination of fear, anxiety, panic and grief. This is the stage where it’s hardest to see clearly because emotions have taken over.
This stage applies to those who already know what the right decision is (typically they look for confirmation that they’re making the right decision) and it applies to those who are struggling to know what to do.
In both cases, these lovely souls realize that they are at the cusp of a major life change.
However, since what anyone’s nervous system loves the most is status quo, the prospect of change can send your feelings into overdrive.
This is the stage where people typically seek proof that whatever they decide to do will actually work out in their favor.
At this stage, it’s crucial to be really clear on your ‘why’ – why are you making *this* decision and how does it help you achieve what you want from your life?
Without this lighthouse guiding you in the right direction on a stormy sea, you’re going to be thrown about by the waves like a rag doll.
But when you are clear on why you’re going to do what you’re going to do, you are better able to philosophically accept that you’re just going through change and because you’re dealing with change, you’re going to be feeling a whole host of uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions.
When you have this level of clarity, you’re going to go through with your decision regardless of any overwhelming feelings.
So now that you know what are the 3 stages of deciding whether to stay or go, which stage are you at?
If you’re struggling to move through your stay or go dilemma, check out my coaching offers here. I’d love to help you find the clarity and confidence you’ve been seeking.
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.