Thanks to some in depth research from the Interchange Institute in America relating to the relocation of couples and families abroad, we can glean valuable insight into what causes the most stress when emigrating and attempting to integrate.
If you’re an expat reading this you’ll certainly recognise and relate to some of the issues and aspects of moving abroad that we’re about to highlight! But if you’re planning your relocation or you’re being moved abroad by your company, hopefully you will be able to protect yourself from some of the most stressful aspects of the move.
It is possible to reduce the stress associated with moving abroad and with integrating into your new life as we will now show – but in order to do so, it’s important that you understand where some of the hidden stressors can come from. Everyone knows that the practical aspects of planning the move can be stressful…but not everyone is necessarily prepared for how difficult it can really be to make your new house a home for example.
There are three main areas of expatriation that can cause stress – the practical aspects of the move, establishing a new home abroad and integrating into your new community – and we will deal with each of them separately so that depending on where you’re at in the planning or relocation process, you can access the information most pertinent to your situation quickly: –
How to Reduce the Stress of Relocation
According to the Interchange Institute’s research, only a fraction of the so-called trailing spouses they surveyed were consulted by their partner’s employer with regard to the move – but of those who were involved in planning the relocation, the majority did not therefore feel pressured into it, and subsequently found adjusting to their new life easier.
What this tells us is that it is so important that each partner in a relationship is involved in planning the move, and has equal say in the critically important aspects of the relocation – from country choice to ultimate destination, and from community to choice about the final decision on housing and accommodation for example.
There are always positive and negative aspects to making such a massive move, and anyone who feels pressured into making the relocation will struggle more with the negatives and be more likely to fail to recognise any positives. Therefore, at Expatra we would always encourage partners and families to work together as far as it is possible when planning a relocation overseas.
The more involved each member of your relocating family can be, the more likely they are to feel empowered and therefore in control. It’s imperative not to lose this feeling of control over the path your life is taking when you move abroad, because otherwise it can undermine everything.
On days when things perhaps don’t go as you had planned, if you’re not feeling in control anyway this will really undermine every aspect of the relocation. Therefore, as stated, ensure everyone is as involved as possible with planning your family’s move abroad.
How to Reduce the Stress of Making Your House a Home
We previously commented on how important it is to get your home environment right when moving abroad, and that it’s key to the smooth integration for families. Important points to consider include making the home environment as comfortable and secure as possible, and wherever possible, ensuring a house is of similar quality and comfort to the home a family has left behind.
The Interchange Institute’s own study entitled ‘At Home Abroad’ closely examines how important expatriates’ housing is in terms of the success or otherwise of their integration overseas. It highlights certain key points such as paying close attention to an accompanying spouse’s housing concerns, because they are the ones who usually have to make the house a home, who often spend a great deal of time in the home and who need to feel comfortable in the home environment for the majority of the day.
What’s more, open plan living can work well for a relocated family because it promotes and encourages communication – which is critical to allow all members of the family to stay in touch with each other, and to iron out any areas of worry or concern that arise in the new nation abroad.
The success of an expatriate’s assignment abroad can be better assured if their living environment closely meets their needs for comfort and security – as a would-be expat you can use this information to your absolute advantage by ensuring any house you pick really does tick all your boxes in terms of security and comfort.
Don’t cut corners with your accommodation – many elements of your new life will challenge you, and at the end of the day you need to be able to come home and relax and feel happy in your surroundings.
How to Reduce the Stress of Integrating into Your New Life Abroad
The final element that can cause stress for an expat is attempting to truly integrate abroad. In part ‘time’ is a great friend for expats – with ‘time’ comes familiarity, and with familiarity comes peace of mind and ultimately a sense that you’re ‘at home abroad’ and that you belong in your new environment.
However, there are other ways you can ensure your integration is smoother – and language is key. If you cannot effectively communicate and if you cannot understand and be understood, day-to-day frustrations and issues are magnified up to a thousand fold.
Articulate and intelligent individuals can feel reduced to nothing when they fail to be able to communicate in even very simple settings such as the supermarket. What’s more, when you’re a foreigner in a strange land who cannot communicate, you can feel legitimately isolated because few people will have the time or inclination to help you – it’s just an unpleasant side of human nature unfortunately.
Expats can really help themselves therefore by learning the local language as quickly and as comprehensively as possible – there are no short cuts.
It is also imperative that expats fight any feeling of isolation – but this can be hard if you’re not living in a location where there are plenty of other expats. According to the Interchange Institute, those who find integration easier are those who have young children and who reside in a popular expat hub.
Those with no children or who live in a nation or location where expats are few and far between can find it more difficult to meet people and make friends. To get around this problem it is critical to make every attempt possible to put yourself in front of potentially likeminded people!
Expats are encouraged to take all opportunities to socialise – whether it’s attending a gallery opening or a community coffee morning, joining a social club or a sports team, what matters is that you make the effort to go out and meet people.
There is nothing wrong with admitting that you’re new to the nation or the area, and that you’re looking for ways to make friends. Obviously sensible precautions should be taken before taking up any invitation to meet someone one on one!
In advance of your relocation you can look online and on forums and find out if you can hook up with anyone who’s already living in your new location – you may not make good friends with the first people you communicate with or meet, but they may introduce you to others from whom you go on to learn about other social gatherings more to your liking.
Once again it’s a case of there being no real shortcuts – expats have to work hard to make friends in order to integrate.
Recognising that there are stressors associated with relocation abroad is important if you want to avoid or lessen any stress and get on with enjoying your new life of opportunity overseas. We hope the above is of use…and if you have any tips you’d like to pass on to fellow expats or would-be expats to help with integration abroad, please get in touch.