10 things that expatriates feel when living abroad

May 21, 2016

Do you dream to say F*** to your boss and quit everything to start a new adventure abroad? Well you know that the difference between dreams and reality is ACTION, right? First of all, you will need to be really brave to fight against the scare to leave your comfort zone and trust me this is hard because you always know what you loose, but you don’t know what you will get. It has been very tough for me to leave my country to follow my dream of starting a new chapter of my life abroad. Sometimes I have doubts about my future but anyway I really do not regret my decision because I am learning so much from this experience. If you finally take the decision to move abroad, you are going to live a very rich journey that will change who you are forever. As I was an expat child who was raised in a multicultural family, I have developed a strong curiosity to discover the world, meet new people and my lifestyle is driven by passion. The expat life will immerse you into a new culture; you will try new things, gain new skills, and get to know you better. In fact, you will experiment a rainbow of emotions and experiences; learning, improvising, dealing with the unexpected. So get prepared for this amazing new life and discover 10 things that expatriates feel when living abroad:


You feel especially lost when you live in a country where you do not speak the language and there is no way to communicate with people. When I lived in China, the simplest task like taking a taxi or ordering a meal at the restaurant was a huge challenge. And let’s not forget the paperwork that you have to manage when you arrive which can be a total distress moment ahah! But that’s part of the expat life and you will soon be amazed by your problem solving abilities! Your survival instinct will always guide you to find a solution.

2. Cultural shock

Each country has a different culture and is unique. You will experiment some cultural shocks that will surprise you; make you laugh or sometimes make you really mad. These cultural shocks are anyway good for you because you will learn a lot from them. They will open your mind and make you realise that the notion of normality doesn’t mean anything. You discover there are other ways of doing things, and after a while, you will surprise yourself embracing a new habit or belief. When I arrived in Spain, I was so surprised to see people putting olive oil instead of butter on their toast for the breakfast! I finally think it is not that disgusting (with a bit of jamon iberico) and even healthier. Your lifestyle is changing and this is cool, it means you are adapting.

3. Thrill

Starting a new life abroad is a thrilling project! Each day will surprise you since you are discovering a new culture, lifestyle, people and maybe a new language. You left your reassuring routine, many things are so different from your country and it is really exiting. Personally I am quite addicted to this feeling and this is precisely the reason why I particularly loved my expat life in Shanghai. Because the Chinese culture is an antipode to the occidental culture!

4. Disconnection

After living abroad for a while, you will have discussed with different people, adopted different habits, your opinions may have changed and you see your country and your past life with fresh new eyes and from an external point of view. You will start to follow closely the actuality in your new country and miss some news about your native country; your preoccupations are being different from your friends and family and feel sometimes too disconnected from their lives and your country. Sometimes I do not speak my mother tongue during one week or more and cannot even find my words when I speak with my relative from my home country. You will note that you do not speak your mother tongue in the same way and start to integrate some words used in the other language you practice. All this means that you are very well integrated in your new country.

5. Loneliness

♫ My loneliness is killing me ♪ !!!! Seriously, unlike when you study abroad, making new friends when you are an expat is not that easy and takes time. When you arrive to a new place, nobody is waiting for you and everybody has already its group of friends. So your integration will only depend on you! You have to make the first step if you want to meet people. One of my tips to meet people was to go to an institute to learn the language; it was a very good way to get to know other expatriates that are living the same situation. Then I got involved in expat blogs and forums such as, I finally met some of these people in the real life and they became one of my best friends! Although you meet a lot of new persons, they will not become immediately your friends and you will feel often alone and it is normal. You have to be patient.

Sometime, one of these new friends you made, that became like your “family” will go back home and you will feel really alone. In addition, keeping in touch with your friends or boy/girlfriend from your home country takes a lot of effort. You will feel that a gap is setting up between you and your friends due to the distance, the time difference but above all because you are not having the same life and sharing moments together anymore. And the most difficult is that they will not always understand or be always interested in your adventures because they are also busy building their own lives. Be humble, ask and listen about their life. Take the initiative to keep the contact through whataspp, messenger, facetime or skype.

6. Deception

Living abroad will not always be a happy journey. In fact, you may be very disappointed by your new job that is not that interesting, be heartbroken by your boy/girlfriend that you left at home and you will loose the contact with some friends because long distance relationships aren’t easy. You will notice that some friends are not contacting you anymore or don’t answer to your 1000 words emails because they are very busy and because it is such a pain to answer to a long email. Forgive them and anyway remember that you never loose a real friend. And after all, you are lazy and busy too and will certainly forget about their birthdays because you are quite disconnected.

7. Freedom

♫ So freeeee to do what you want to do ♪!! (I am a karaoke fan) When you will have organized your new life abroad, found a new home sweet home, met cool friends, work in something you wanted, you will have a great freedom feeling, being self-confident and proud of what you achieved. After having given up every thing in your country, your comfort, your security and made it work thousands of miles away from home… you feel like you’re capable of anything and it is true!

8. Guilty

Expatriates have no choice but to miss some big events happening in the life of their relatives. I have missed so many birthday parties, a bachelorette party, a baby shower, a wedding and felt terribly guilty not being able to come. I am afraid to disappoint for attending to my dad’s 60th birthday or going on a family trip instead a bachelorette party or wedding. However when you live abroad, it is impossible to attend to all the events for money and time reasons so you will have to prioritize and choose. The choice will be difficult and don’t look back after making your decision if you do not want to suffer too much.

9. Homesickness

This really depends on people, while serial expat got used to it, some persons can feel homesickness from the first day or after a while. One of the things that the expatriates use to miss is the relatives (especially at Christmas) and the food! As a French, I could kill ( not literally of course) for a plate of very smelly and creamy cheeses with a good wine from Bordeaux! There are so many little things you never thought you would miss and you would give anything to teleport home just for this whim (going to the cine to see a movie in VO from your country….). Sharing that feeling with an expat friend is very comforting and creates obviously a strong complicity because this person will understand you.

10. Different

In fact moving abroad has changed you, so it is normal if you feel different. You will realize this when you go back home and everything looks the same. Flying back home always gave me the strange feeling of regressing and this why I have always been attracted by an international lifestyle. And your best friends will be foreigners or big travellers.

Living abroad is the opportunity to be alone with yourself and you are the only responsible of your happiness and integration. Don’t expect that going far away is the solution to solve your biggest problems. But it will open your mind, enlarge your horizon, you will discover new passions, perhaps learn a new language and make your feel more confident.

However I have lived in 4 countries, I feel confused when I have to answer to the existential question: where are you from? “Well its complicated you know, born in Bordeaux, but I lived in Toulouse, Indonesia, then Ireland, Paris, China and now I’m in Spain!” So what do you think about this mess? Bisous, Melissa ♡




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  • Peter June 13, 2016 at 6:59 am

    Hi Melissa, I enjoyed reading your last two blogs, not only the content but also the layout. What you have to say about 10 things as an expat really struck a chord with me. Today I have been an expat for 8 months, I know where I have come from, have no idea where I am going to but I am enjoying the journey every day. I have been ‘home’ once since I left and was struck by the fact that everything seemed the same there except for me. Congratulations on an excellent big, I will read more soon. Peter

    • melissaslittlesecrets June 15, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      Hello Peter, thank you so much for your kind comment. It is really interesting to read that you are experiencing the same kind of emotions. I just visited your blog and discovered we have a lot in common. I also got my PADI open water diver in Mauritius (trou aux biches)! I hope you are enjoying fully your expat experience in this paradise. All the best, Melissa

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