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14 Things Only People Who Have Worked Overseas Can Understand

14 Things Only People Who Have Worked Overseas Can Understand

Some two and a half years ago, I decided to make a bold decision and follow my partner to the far away land of art, cheese, and fine wine — France. He had just landed a five-year work contract there. While a long-distance relationship did take place at first, eventually I decided to sort out all the loose ends at home, pack up my entire life into two suitcases, and move to another country for an indefinite period of time.

While I did have my fair share of the “expat blues,” cultural faux pas, and difficulties with navigating the paperwork, in the long-run, moving overseas and starting a job abroad proved to be a tremendously positive life experience.

As an expat, you are likely to encounter numerous misconceptions and false assumptions about your lifestyle that people back at home make. Additionally, you are likely to deal with a number of odd questions from the new acquaintances you’ll soon meet in your newly adopted homeland. If you have ever worked or lived overseas, I’m pretty sure you can relate to the following 15 things!

1. We do not automatically become fluent in another language

A lot of people assume that changing your geographic location serves as a super-booster to your language learning skills. The truth is, it doesn’t. You don’t wake up on the next day after your arrival, go to the grocery store, and start casual chit-chatting with a cashier. Even if you have spent months studying the language back at home, you won’t magically become fluent from day one. Language adoption takes time and has a number of factors that play into a person’s level of fluency. In fact, asking us why we are fluent already most likely will make us feel embarrassed, as we haven’t yet reached our desired level of proficiency.

2. We are not “lucky” or “blessed”

It may seem that we are now living in a better country with amazing job prospects and sun 365 days per year judging by our Instagram or Facebook feed, but that’s not 100% true. In fact, finding a job and sorting out all the moving stuff and paperwork requires anything but luck. It’s more like hard work, persistence, and tremendous dedication to making things work that plays a major part.

Anyone can choose to work and play where we are now. For some reason, most people decide not to make the leap of faith and put effort into the potential prospects elsewhere (and there are always opportunities available for those who seek them).

It’s not that we were “lucky” or “blessed” to get that opportunity and you didn’t. It’s just the fact that we played hard to get it and you’ve chosen not to.

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3. We do miss our friends and lose contacts

The friendships you establish abroad as an adult cannot be compared to those nurtured for years at home. When you first move, you are likely to miss all the little things — like being part of the annoying gossip at the water cooler in your old office, not to mention more strong bonds like you had with your college mates and childhood friends.

While working aboard, you will inevitably miss friends’ weddings, will have to decline invitations to college anniversary meetups, and miss out on other social gatherings you would have gladly attended.

While scrolling my Facebook feed, I still feel really sad when I see yet another close friend getting married, or my old gang having great times together on a night out, without me. Sadly, the price you have to pay for your decision is losing some important social ties and missing out on important events like your nephew’s graduation or your BFF’s son’s christening.

4. We have bad days too

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    Another shocker — moving abroad does not automatically solve all your life problems. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns.

    Some days, we lash out aggressively on social media about the officials losing our carefully gathered, 40-page-long personal dossier, or the incorrect spelling on our credit card — and then being asking to pay on top for the issuing of a new card. Or not knowing where the nearest grocery store is and walking five blocks in the wrong direction in search for food for breakfast.

    When you write back with things like: “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. You are living in France/on the beach/in the most beautiful place on Earth. It can’t be that bad,” you are not winning our affections.

    Yes, the weather might be better and my new place might be gorgeous. Or perhaps the cost of living is cheaper, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with the same routine and problems that you face at home.

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    5. We don’t make instant connections with the locals

    Making friends as an adult expat in a non-English speaking country isn’t as easy as you may think. You don’t just walk into a bar and make everyone instantly attracted to you by speaking a few local words with your foreign accent.

    Yes, you have the new coworkers who may eventually invite you out for beers in a month, or three, or a year (depending on the host country’s social culture). In fact, you are likely to act odd (and foreign) enough to scare off some potential buddies by breaking the informal cultural rules like trying to hug someone instead of doing cheek kisses (faire la bise) in France. Also, don’t assume everyone hates you or is acting rude because they don’t smile back, like in Russia, for instance.

    Making local friends abroad isn’t as easy as one might think. Most often, new transplants tend to mingle with other expats mostly — and there’s nothing bad about that.

    6. We feel extremely lonely at times

    Yes, living abroad can be marvelous. And yes, it can get extremely lonely on some days too. Sometimes, we think that no one back at home understands our true woes and life challenges. However, a lot of other people travel long term and work abroad. Maybe they are not facing the same problems as you, but they know exactly how you feel. Try connecting with other expats through Facebook groups or expat forums to help you beat the initial blues.

    7. We know that routines can become huge challenges

    Remember your first trip to the local grocery store? For me, that was a total disaster. I had my usual shopping list in mind, yet when I arrived to the store things went slightly amiss. I couldn’t find a lot of the usual brands I buy, and if I did, those things cost a small fortune. I had zero idea of how the local brands would actually taste and simply had to guess. Also, I had no idea what some goods were called in French, thus could neither locate them on the shelves, nor ask an assistant to guide me to the right direction. My trips to the supermarket would take two hours instead of the usual 30 minutes — even for minor shopping.

    Next, figuring out things around your neighborhood will take time too. Where’s the closest corner store, where I can grab some forgotten items from my shopping list? And the pharmacy? And the bakery? What are the working hours? Do they close for lunch? And don’t get me started on figuring out the go-to coffee/lunch/shopping locations in a new city.

    If I could give one piece of advice to my past self, it would be to do your home base research in advance! Post questions in expat groups, browse Foursquare or Yelp or any local alternative if you don’t want to spend two hours running around the neighborhood in search of tea on the day you arrive.

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    8. We can get ill too, and that’s 100 times worse than at home

    Getting seriously ill sucks, but when you are ill abroad, multiply the “sucks” factor by ten. You need to have a good command of language if you want to visit the doctor (in the case that you already have your health insurance stuff figured out). You can’t get a lot of drugs without a prescription abroad, and even if you do, you still need to explain what’s your problem and you may not be able to ask for your usual drugs as they can go under a different brand name. If you need to stay at home, there’s no one to look after you or bring you comforting soup. When you are ill abroad, all you can feel is tremendous self-pity. Don’t make it worse by writing something like: “How did you manage to get a cold in such a warm place?!”

    9. We hate when our loved ones get sick or in trouble at home

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      You know what being desperate is? It’s when your loved one is in trouble and you are miles away with no chance of being next to them in the next few months.

      Sometimes, your phone rings during an odd hour and you know it’s going to be nothing good. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to some of my good expat friends. And when you hear the news is bad, the worst thing is that you can do nothing about it. Just wait and see how it goes without your direct involvement.

      10. We learn to value the simplest things most

      If you ask us how life is going abroad, we probably won’t start telling you about visiting fancy restaurants or having epic adventures. With equal excitement, we’ll talk about how we got into a pleasant chat with an elderly lady and could understand 98% of what she said. Or how we’ve gotten our first piece of praise for speaking so fluently. Or about our first dinner invitation to a local’s home.

      Living abroad makes us value the little things a lot. The most lavish things are not always as enjoyable or as memorable as the cheap, simple things we’ve experienced.

      11. We don’t really like our birthdays

      Usually, your special day ends with the last phone call you get from home and after you’ve browsed through all your greetings on social media. After that, you just get dressed and act as if it’s yet another ordinary day in your life. You may throw a small party with some of your new friends, but it’s going to be nothing compared to the good-old feasts you used to have with your loved ones back at home.

      12. We don’t know when we’ll come home next

      We miss you like crazy too, but too often we simply can’t tell you if we will be coming home for holidays this season. Sometimes, our working/living permits require us to stay in the country for at least a year. Sometimes, we spend our vacation days too lavishly and run out of them well before Christmas. Sometimes, we have important things on our plates and simply can’t leave for even a few days. Add up the flight costs and additional travel expenses, and traveling home becomes quite a challenge for us.

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      13. We may not plan to move back home

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        Another question that often baffles me is: “When are you moving back home?”

        Do you really think that I invested so much time and effort into working my way here and packing my life into a suitcase just to move back in year? Highly unlikely.

        I might decide to come back home someday, but for now, my life is here. And I’m trying to make it work. Please, support me rather than acting like it’s “just a phase.”

        14. We will change

        Living and working abroad shapes your personality a lot. You become more mature, independent, and open-minded. You quickly adopt new rules, social cues, and cultural norms, and may even end up having reverse culture shock when you come back home.

        Usually, you return home as a better person than the one you left as. You now have a bunch of amazing experiences and cool stories to share, and a vast network of personal connections with people from all around the globe — whose couches you are welcome to crash on at any time!

        If you ever get the chance to live or work abroad, grab it!

        photo credit: Pinterest

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        Elena Prokopets

        Freelance Writer

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        Last Updated on August 20, 2019

        How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

        How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

        Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

        Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

        I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

        You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

        Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

        When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

        I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

        Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

        Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

        Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

        1. The Inner Critic

        This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

        • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
        • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
        • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
        • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

        The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

        Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

        2. The Worrier

        This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

        The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

        3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

        This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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        This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

        The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

        4. The Sleep Depriver

        This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

        The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

        • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
        • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
        • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
        • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

        How can you control these squatters?

        How to Master Your Mind

        You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

        Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

        There are two ways to control your thoughts:

        • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
        • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

        This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

        The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

        Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

        For the Inner Critic

        When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

        You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

        For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

        You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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        “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

        If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

        • They rile up the Worrier.
        • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
        • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
        • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
        • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

        Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

        Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

        For the Worrier

        Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

        Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

        You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

        • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
        • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
        • Muscles tense

        Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

        If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

        Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

        “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

        Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

        If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

        Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

        Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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        For example:

        If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

        “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

        Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

        “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

        Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

        For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

        Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

        The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

        • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
        • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
        • Muscles tension

        I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

        Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

        Breathe in through your nose:

        • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
        • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
        • Focus on your belly rising.

        Breathe out through your nose:

        • Feel your lungs emptying.
        • Focus on your belly falling.
        • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

        Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

        Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

        One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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        Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

        For the Sleep Depriver

        (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

        I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

        Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

        1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
        2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

        When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

        From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

        For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

        If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

        You can also use this technique any time you want to:

        • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
        • Shut down your thinking.
        • Calm your feelings.
        • Simply focus on the present moment. 

        The Bottom Line

        Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

        You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

        Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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