All my life I had wanted to travel the world and eventually take roots in a foreign country. Not expecting it would happen this way, it did. My fiancé was offered a job opportunity in Dominican Republic. Now you’re probably thinking who wouldn’t want the opportunity to live in the Caribbean, bask in the sun, eat the local foods, and learn a new language. Yes I was consumed with the idea and my fiancé was too. So we started our move to Santo Domingo. The first city of the new world. Colorful, beautiful architecture, and history for days. What’s not to love? Everyone back home kept exclaiming how excited I must be and I was. From others, I got told how crazy we were. Which may be the case but back to the point; deep down I was more than terrified to move to a new place not knowing anyone and not fluently speaking the language. I quickly recognized it would be a bigger challenge than I had once thought. I was about to leave my family, friends, and job; I started getting more and more nervous. You don’t know the feeling of being homesick until you aren’t capable of communicating with almost anyone. For me, my first few weeks were hard. Really, gut wrenchingly hard. The type of hard, where I genuinely considered hopping on a plane home to New Jersey and not looking back. I was a mix of emotions. Angry, sad, angry again. A lot. I tried to put on a happy face but most of the people closest to me knew I was having a hard time. Looking back, I wish that there would have been someone to tell my future self, that in a few months time, I would be doing great. That it would get easier. That I would end up loving my life as an expat.
So to all expats, new, expert, and future, this is an open letter to you. To tell you that it will get easier. To tell you that it will all be okay.
Dear future and current expats,
Homesickness is a natural part of moving to a new place, let alone a new country. Let alone a new country where you may not speak the language. You are not alone. Let me say it again, you are not alone. We all go through it. We all deal with that horrible feeling in our stomach of longing for everything we left behind. There will be days where you just want to curl up in a ball and not get out of bed. There will be times, when you’re ready to throw in the towel, say F*** it, and pack your bags. There will be moments where something triggers that feeling in your stomach and you just feel like sobbing. As much as you may think its not, this is natural. When I got to my new country, I was homesick 90 % of the time. I started hating where I was and longing for everything I had left. I started reading about how long it takes for homesickness to go away as an expat, and found most articles said six months. Six months, six whole months, I didn’t think I would make it that far dealing with this feeling. But I assure you this is not the case for everyone. It took me about a month to two months to not feel homesick on a regular basis. Now, I rarely feel homesick and only very limited times do I have that feeling. Don’t let that wormhole, we call the internet, scare you. You will be okay. Homesickness is a temporary feeling. For me, the best remedies for homesickness are keeping myself busy and staying occupied. Find a hobby, any hobby or passion you have and do that. I assure you, it will help.
Not only is homesickness something we all go through, but we all experience culture shock. No matter how much you convince yourself you won’t have a culture shock, you will. No matter where you go, when you move to a new country, you will have some sort of a culture shock. Whether its dealing with the language barrier, dealing with island time, getting used to your new manual washing machine, having less than par water pressure, or the new foods your palate doesn’t know yet. The list goes on. I know you islanders know what I’m talking about with the washing machine and water pressure. Anyhow, for me, the foods and culture isn’t what prompted my culture shock. It was the language barrier. Granted, I still don’t speak Spanish fluently, but I have gotten to the point where I can communicate a lot more easily at stores, restaurants, and services. I understand way better than I speak, and that’s all from putting myself out there. For a while, I relied fully on my fiancé who speaks Spanish fluently. I had anxiety everytime I had to go into a store or do anything for myself. You will get through this with a little bit of time. Everyday you put yourself out there in a vulnerable way, is a step closer to your assimilation. I remember being embarrassed to speak the Spanish I did know, thinking someone would make fun of me for having an American or “gringa” accent. I read a quote recently by Amy Chua, ” Do you know what a foreign accent is ? Its a sign of bravery”. This is the truest thing I have read in a long time. Who cares what accent you have, never feel ashamed or embarrassed of yourself. You are you and thats the most important gift you have to give. A piece of advice, try and learn the language as much as you can before getting to your new country. But in time at your own pace, you will assimilate to a point where your new country will be home to you. And no matter how assimilated you get, every time you hear your native language in the background, you will still turn and look.
Along with moving to a new country, you will learn a lot about yourself and life in general. You will realize that you’re stronger than you thought you were. I don’t care who you are, it’s not easy to pack up your bags and move thousands of miles from everything you have ever known. It’s not easy to be in a place where you don’t speak the language. Its not easy to be in a place where you literally know no one. But, you will have a far greater appreciation for what you had back home than you ever thought you could. Moving to a different country will change you. It will change you for the better. You will be able to step back and truly appreciate what you left behind and appreciate what you have gained. You will gain a new perspective on life, that you will honestly only relate to other expats on. You see being an expat, we’re all in it together. We all experience the same trials and tribunes of the life we lead.
So if you’re thinking of moving abroad, don’t let the fears deter you. Let it encourage you. If you’re an expat with experience, next time you see someone in the store struggling to communicate, lend a hand. Because, we’ve all been there. There are ups and downs for sure, but what you gain far outweighs anything else. If you’re already an expat, and you’re feeling all alone, don’t. You are not alone. When you feel like throwing in the towel, packing your bags, and booking a one way ticket, I beg you to hang in there. It will get better.
An expat who wishes someone would have shared this with her.