Relocating to a new country is an exciting adventure, but it can lead to unexpected challenges and feelings of the expat blues.
Whether you’re an expat wife, trailing spouse, or a couple who decided to leave your family and friends behind to live abroad as we did, sometimes expat life abroad can be stressful, not to mention dull and lonely at times.
Various triggers can cause feelings that range from sadness, boredom, frustration and loneliness. If left unchecked, it can lead to other symptoms such as anxiety, expat depression or negative feelings about your new life abroad.
Here’s what you can do about that sinking feeling based on my personal experience and why boredom can be a good thing if you open yourself up to it.
Storytime: How Do You Get Bored Of Living France?
Bored living abroad in France? It might sound crazy, especially if you’ve been dying to live in France, but it’s true- you can get bored no matter where you live, even in France.
It happens gradually! You don’t even notice it as it’s happening until one day, you do notice. Maybe you’re depressed, lonely, irritable?
In retrospect, it makes sense.
I was experiencing a form of culture shock. I had set my expectations too high and imagined all the wonderful things I would do and feel.
The emotional and behavioural roller-coaster someone experiences when Living and or working in another culture.
According to Paul Allen in his book titled The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether It’s Right for You: Should I Stay or Should I Go?, nearly 10 million Americans and 50% of Brits dream of living abroad. Ironically 25% of those Brits who take the plunge end up returning home, presumably because the reality of living abroad (culture shock) wasn’t what they expected.
I never prepared for the reality of living in France, long after the honeymoon stage when you’ve settled into life abroad, mastered the language and made friends.
Life abroad becomes just that, LIFE. And sometimes life gets boring.
The first year abroad was magical.
My first year in France was a busy but magical experience.
Everything was new, fresh and exciting. Even dull day-to-day things seemed interesting. Going to the store and seeing all the different foods, learning how to set up utilities, discovering new surrounding cities.
My second year in France was more about settling into life.
Some of the monotonous routines that once seemed exciting and fun were becoming a busy annoyance.
Life began to take on more of a routine.
In many ways, our life looked a lot like it used to look when we lived in California with a lot of routines, only with a French twist.
- Wake Up
- Get kids ready for school
- Get baguettes
- Go to the outdoor market
- Do remote work on our computers
- Pick up youngest child from school
- Cook diner
You might be interested in reading: 10 Real Examples Of Culture Shock That Will Amaze You: Dog Poop, Boobs And Beyond.
You might be interested in reading: Doubts About Moving Abroad? Read How We Overcame Our Fears And Moved To France.
Boredom is good for your mental health.
We’ve all experienced it, felt it, and dreaded it, but you shouldn’t fear it.
Boredom can be used as a jumping-off point to force us to get creative. It can push us out of our comfort zones to seek and create stimulation from nothing. And that’s where the good stuff comes from.
There are as many ways to deal with the expat blues and boredom as there are causes.
Here are a few things I (we) did to break out of the expat blues.
You might be interested in 101 Simple Adventures You Can Do Everyday: Bust Out Of That Rut.
1.) Take a vacation to recharge your batteries.
You know how you look forward to that annual vacation from your life and work? Well, It happens even when you live in another country where everything is supposed to be shiny and new.
Taking a trip or getting away can give you the distance you need. It’s often not until we are away from our daily life’s routine and see it from the other side that we begin to appreciate it.
I make an annual trip to Montreal to see my family, and when I return home to France, I always feel like there’s a fog that’s been lifted. I can see more clearly and appreciate my new life in France. Getting away, recharges my batteries.
2.) Buy a car or live where you don’t need one:
Depending on where you live abroad, not having a car can be limiting.
For several years, we lived in a quaint medieval French town where we could access most of what we needed in our daily life on foot, but we also lived in a town where everyone had a car and for a good reason. There wasn’t much to do in our town.
Everyone we knew had a car so they could get away for the weekend. Train travel is great, but it’s expensive when you’re a family of five.
So we bit the bullet and bought a used Renault scenic for 2500 euros which opened up many new possibilities for us.
- No more waiting in the rain or the blazing hot sun to catch the bus to the big Carrefour. ( A big grocery store chain that has everything and more you could ever need).
- No more panicking about how we would get our daughter to a friend’s birthday party at a place that has no bus access.
- No more borrowing cars or renting expensive cars for road trips.
- No more asking friends to drive us home after a night out.
- We could drive to the beach whenever we wanted to.
We now live in Montpellier, a big city with excellent public transportation, buses, trams and train access. We gave up our car because we didn’t need one anymore since we used public transportation for almost everything.
3.) Exercise more or join a gym:
It’s a proven fact; exercise helps improve depression and anxiety symptoms.
The links between anxiety, depression, and exercise aren’t entirely clear; however, working out and other forms of physical activity will help ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better.
An unexpected bonus is you might meet a new friend or two at the gym.
4.) Volunteer or teach a class if you don’t work while living abroad
Some people move abroad because of a job where they can meet and interact with new people, but Blake and I didn’t have jobs in France so we had no natural way to meet new people.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a job in France because our visas didn’t allow it. We earned the bulk of our income from rental income and various
For me, volunteering at a senior center teaching English fulfilled the gap I needed to connect with other people. I met some wonderful people and made lifelong friends through my volunteer work.
I also volunteered a lot at my daughter’s French elementary school.
You might be interested in reading: What kind of visa do you need to visit France legally?
5.) Keep improving your foreign language skills
I love languages, and even though I spoke almost fluent French when I moved to France (my family is French Canadian), my French was not perfect.
I decided to make an active effort to improve my French. I learned new Francais expressions, which can differ from Quebecois French. Helping my daughter with her homework also taught me a lot about French culture. I know all there is to know about snails now. (see photo above from my daughter’s schoolwork).
6.) Write a blog or keep a journal for journaling
I started this blog as a way to keep family and friends up to date with what we were doing while living in France. What I didn’t know was that many mental health experts recommend journaling because it can help manage symptoms of depression, improve your mood and is good for your mental health.
Journaling is not a cure-all, but even if you’re just scribbling on a page, it can help clear your mind and figure out what is bothering you.
For me personally, there is something very satisfying about writing- it feeds my soul, gives me purpose and keeps me busy.
7.) Cooking as therapy: Learn how to cook regional dishes in your new country
No matter what country I’m living in or visiting, I always take the time to learn how to cook the local cuisine, whether through cookbooks, youtube tutorials or with friends.
Travelling wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the amazing and memorable foods found in the places I visit. So aside from eating out at restaurants every night (which can get expensive), what better way is there to learn about the local cuisine than to learn how to cook it?
Aside from the obvious practical reasons for cooking, there are also therapeutic benefits, socially, cognitively, physically, and intrapersonally. Some healthcare counsellors even suggest cooking or baking as therapy for people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.
Cooking also encourages creativity and makes you feel good about yourself because it’s a way for you to nurture others and gives you a sense of immediate gratification.
Some of my favourite dishes to make since moving to France include:
- Tomates farcies
- Endives au gratin
- Moules et Frites
- Magret de canard
If you hate cooking, learning to cook may not be for you, but if you are up for the challenge of learning to cook new foreign foods, it may give you a sense of purpose in the kitchen beyond necessity.
8.) Make an effort to make more friends:
Our life changed drastically once we made friends in France. Not only did we have more fun doing various activities with our friends, but we also learned about French culture through them beyond what you read about in travel books.
9.) Travel differently or try something you normally wouldn’t do.
One of the best things about living in France is that you’re only a few hours by train or car from Italy, Spain, Monaco, Germany and thousands of other cities across Europe.
You would think we were off visiting all those places regularly, wouldn’t you?
Although we do travel more than the average person, travelling for the sake of travelling is not only expensive, but it can get repetitive. Maybe it won’t for you but for our family, it did. There are only so many museums and Gothic churches you can see and visit before you start getting bored with that. And if you have kids, it makes it all the more challenging to find things the kids will enjoy also.
One of the things we’ve tried to incorporate into our travel style; to mix things up a bit and make travelling more interesting for our family is to make the voyage to our destination part of the experience. And to also try things we wouldn’t normally include on our bucket list of things to do.
Take a cruise:
I never thought I would ever take a cruise, but that’s exactly what our family did, and it was fantastic. We took a seven-day cruise around the Mediterranean sea and made stops in Valencia, Rome Palermo, and Savona. The entire cruise was around 2800 euros. I bought a last-minute deal. We had two cabins, all our food was included (excluding alcohol), and every night there was free entertainment on the ship. Our teens really enjoyed the cruise too. The ship’s name was the Costa Serena if you are interested.
Travel by train:
Rather than jumping on a plane to visit different European cities, our family purchased a one-month Interrail pass which allowed us to freely jump on and off trains and travel to different destinations. It really was an amazing experience, sleeping on the overnight train. Playing cards and games together and looking out the window at the landscape speeding by. I’ve since fallen in love with train travel. I wish we could do it more often, but train travel is expensive in Europe.
(Eurail passes are for non-European residents. If you are a resident of the EU like we are, you can purchase Interrail passes.)
Because the train travel through Europe was such a wonderful experience, my husband and I did the same thing in Asia and travelled through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and back to Thailand by train, bus and sometimes TukTuk.
I’m not a Disneyland kind of mom, but when you have kids, you make certain sacrifices. Rather than moping about taking the kids to Disneyland, I embraced the idea and we went to Disneyland Paris for Halloween.
To my surprise, it was so much fun. Especially riding the rides at night.
The possibilities of what you can do to spice up your travels are endless. You need to find unique things to do that match your style, budget, and interests. We have kids, so this is what we did.
10.) Upgrade yourself and do something life-enriching:
The surest way to break out of your Expat rut and boredom is to do something life-enriching.
Use your time to do something you’ve always wanted to do but maybe didn’t have the time or inclination.
For me, this blog is my life-enriching project. I’ve been running it since 2012. it keeps me busy; I’m always learning and fiddling, writing, and networking.
My husband wanted to write a book, and so he did.
What can you do? What do you want to do?
11) Seek therapy or an expat group
If expat boredom is part of a larger issue, like depression, you should get professional help from a mental health provider. If therapy is out of the question, look for expat groups in your area or online where you can talk about your feelings with other people in the same boat as you.
Don’t expect your new life to be fulfilling and exciting all the time just because you live abroad in a new culture.
Life can get just as dull in your new country as it does in your home country if you let it. The key is to adjust your expectations, be proactive and make a conscious effort to get out and live your life to the fullest.