Five tips for not losing your mind after moving abroad

When you move an ocean away from your family and friends, the first few months are full of practicalities and excitement. Everything is new! This is so exciting! Where do I buy toilet paper?!

Three to five months in, the everyday routine is no longer new. That’s when some of the longer-term challenges start to appear, it gets really tiring and the loneliness hits hard. After a few overseas moves, I’ve learned a bit about how to make it over this midterm speed bump. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Go for quantity over quality when it comes to making new friends

Now that you’ve figured out the groceries and things, go out there and meet people. When you’re not in school or work, it can be difficult, but you’ve got to think of this like getting your electricity hooked up. It’s just as important really. If you speak the local language – sign up for classes, join a walking group, get a community garden plot. If you don’t, look up expat meet-ups on Internations or, seek out local expat FB groups. Even better, look for a tandem language partner and combine language learning with making new friends. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not finding people you connect with right away, just keep going to things, having coffee with people. My husband and I made a rule to always say yes when we first moved to London. Dinner, the pub, whatever it was – just go. We met some of our best friends through other people, so it will happen eventually. It’s both harder and easier when you have kids – there’s the school parents and toddler groups to go to, but it’s harder to go out in the evenings.

Don’t stop exploring

I know you’re tired. Living somewhere new is exhausting, and that’s something your friends and family who have never done this will have a hard time understanding. It’s tempting to settle in and stop going to places you don’t know because you’re sick of new things. For sure, take a mental health day and relax, but don’t fall into a pattern of never seeking out new places anymore. This is part of the reason you moved here, remember? Do your research and find a new neighbourhood, a historic site, or even just a new restaurant. Instagram’s location tags are a fun way to finding new places nearby.

Make medium term future plans

I’m not good at this one. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and realize two months later you haven’t done much. Make plans for three months in the future for an overnight stay two towns over, or that festival in the town square. It gives you something to look forward to, and gets your head out of the everyday.

Sign up for local news

Find out what the local newspapers are, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Sign up for the newsletter from the city council or neighbourhood association. If it’s not in your local language, make good use of your best friend, Google Translate. This is how you find out about those local festivals that can be such good fun and remind you why you made this crazy move in the first place!

Keep working on your language skills

Oh it’s so tempting, after getting to the point where you can interact with the grocery store cashier and order a coffee, to stop trying. I’ve been there, for sure. But even when you’re feeling frustrated, do your 10 minutes of Duolingo every day, watch films you know in the local language, and set up a weekly walk with a tandem language partner. I have to constantly prod myself into these, despite having language class twice a week. Don’t forget how far you’ve already come! Remember when even going to the store felt insurmountable? You can totally do this.

10 thoughts on “Five tips for not losing your mind after moving abroad”

  1. I have reached the “Frustrated with learning the language” phase. I know enough to manage in the grocery store,I can buy my bus ticket or get a ticket for the Tram, but I can’t hold a real conversation with a person. I know it will get better, and I know I will learn German(before I die) but I want it to happen NOW.

  2. Thank you for this information! I will be 70 in about 16 months and plan a move to Slovenia (by myself0, with no plans to return to the U.S. It’s good to know that I may hit some walls, and I’ll just need to roll with the flow. I do have goals set and look forward to accomplishing them. I love to go on adventures and plan to write about my travels and living in a new country. I’m excited, and scared, but look forward to a new beginning! I appreciate what you have written! Again, thank you!

    1. That sounds great! Yes definitely, hang in there and don’t worry if things get frustrating at the beginning. Sounds like you have some really good plans, and Slovenia is so central for travel. Have a terrific time!

  3. I’m now almost 5 years in Germany (still hard to believe!) and still get “The Fear” every time I open my mailbox in case I’ve done something wrong/forgotten something and there’s a whopping fine or scary letter in there haha! For sure, there are a lot of challenges when you first move here – from the bureaucracy to dealing with the speed of the LIDL cashiers! I’ve made a hell of a lot of clangers along the way – so much so, I’ve written a book to help newbies to Germany – – only wish it had been around when I first arrived! Really nice blog post 🙂

  4. Catherine Wheeler

    What a great blog and a great help to me. I moved to a town 6k outside of Heidelberg just last week! I have an American husband, pretty fluent in the language, and 7 and 10 year old daughters who have everything to learn! They attend the local school. As for me, I have a basic grasp of the language but my biggest fear is loneliness as I am a very social person and I cannot get over how there are no parents to meet in the school playground. Help!!!!

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