How could we know if it would be a good decision to put an end to our expat life? Here are some common situations leading us to change our lifestyle. Be warned that impulsive decisions that stem from anxiety tend to quickly take the form of regrets. Conversely, a never-ending process of reflection and gathering information will be ineffective and drain your energy.
1. After living the honeymoon phase in a city you have chosen, you now can see its shortcomings. You weren’t aware of it at the time that you made the leap to move abroad. I would give the same advice to you when choosing a partner. Of course, you will find shortcomings in the same person you formerly saw as flawless. That is not a sign that you were wrong. The idea is to choose the shortcomings that you can handle. Know yourself, your sensitivities, your values, try to be logical despite the temptation to extend something that is not painful enough to end and not fitting enough to commit to fully. Be brave. Time is a precious and limited resource that we should value, so stop searching endlessly for perfection. Know yourself enough to make a coherent choice and accept that either way you will lose opportunities. To stay in an uncertain space, delaying the resolution is also a decision you are making.
2. Maybe your context has changed. Maybe you lost your job, broke up with your partner, a close relative has a concerning health condition, or you got pregnant. You suddenly got in a situation with unforeseen parameters. The place is still the same, but with these conditions you can’t enjoy it anymore. The balance has changed. Up until now, sunny weather, your career perspectives, the presence of your good friends, and a promising relationship were compensating you, giving you meaning to be far from home. This is no longer valid. You pay the same price, but for something else, it feels like fraud. In a way you got lucky. A slap in the face woke you up. It is time to face reality and reflect on your life choices.
3. Your needs and taste changed. To quote Heraclites, “The only constant in life is change”. Five or ten years ago your needs, concerns, and drive were different and surely in tune with the stage of life you were in. You may have experienced situations that changed your mind, you are tired of precariousness and temporary accommodations. You are running out of time and you would like to try something else. The place you are in feels a bit tight or simply does fit you anymore. That’s a part of growing. In certain ways, it is sad to accept a period is ending. To no surprise, you may have mixed feelings. On a wedding day, people cry, because it is exhilarating to open a new chapter, but also sad to leave behind something that meant so much to us. It is tempting to stay attached to a familiar place even if it does not fit you anymore. Extending that period for too long can be draining.
4. Either way, it isn’t a good feeling to leave or to stay. We tend to be trapped in logical thinking around decisions, that include too many parameters to find the right answer. Let go of the need to find certainty where you won’t find it. It is absolutely vertiginous to say but it is up to you. Like any breaking point decision, it is legitimate to find ourselves paralyzed. It is a mistake to think this a matter of a right or wrong decision. It is more about the right commitment, awareness, and persistence. Take the first step, try and calibrate. Put your energy in what is truly empowering and meaningful. We are blindly beating sticks in walls to see if we are on the right track. Strangely, it is unwise to start walking only when we will be sure where we will go. This advice is even more valid for the people that tend to overthink and look for safety. Don’t lose yourself in never ending and useless forecasting.
5. You don’t belong here. We have absorbed this idea that the world can be explored, and we can connect with whatever person with the right amount of openness and curiosity. Settling down, building a long-lasting community, making projects and long-term commitments is totally distinct from backpacking, going on holiday or having an experience living abroad. Making yourself at home in another country is challenging and a bid for serious involvement. It is totally valid to find that you were keen to explore a place, but didn’t want to commit and settle down there. Maybe you were just enjoying being part of an international community, you were tasting the exoticism of a local culture with delight or making a collection of experiences and anecdotes for whatever reason. After all, it is ok to discover you actually feel closer to your own culture and don’t want to truly make part of the local “foreign” community that surrounds you.