How do you deal with feelings about moving far away?
June 29, 2015 6:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to a new country next week. I was super excited about it, but now just feel sad. How do I deal with emotions surrounding this and get happy about it again?

I've lived in a major U.S. city for the last five years. I accepted a job in a major European city (which I love) and I am moving next week.

I've always wanted to live in Europe, and for the last month was thrilled about this. Now that the move is about a week away, I am totally in existential crisis mode = overthinking everything, having trouble sleeping, etc. In my current U.S. city I have a great network of friends, easy access to all of the hobbies I am passionate about, and at this point am generally content. In the new city, my employer has been extremely helpful but I only have one friend there, don't know the primary language, and am worried that I am going to get there and think, "seriously, I left what I had before for being alone in this place?"

I know that weird feelings about moving and making a huge change in your life is totally normal, but I need to get back into a positive zone about it. How do I do this?

Possibly relevant details: I'm an extrovert and am generally good at meeting people -- but on the flip side of this, get unhappy about long periods of time alone. I've lived abroad once before but it was with a boyfriend so it was a built in support network kind of. I'm more or less single in my current city, don't have debt or pets or anything so relatively unattached.

Personal stories of your experience on this if you've done it would be 100% helpful.
posted by anonymoosemoosemoose to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the same position as you - leaving behind the city I've been in for five years to move to China next week, where I don't speak the primary language very well. I'd been dreaming about the move for years, and now that it's happening in LESS THAN A WEEK, I'm terrified and melancholy.

So I'm framing my move as a chance to experience new adventures, and have new stories to tell all my friends. I think of it as re-establishing the friendships and connections closest to me in a new context and a new place (I just tell everyone to come visit and stay with me!)

I'm also planning out activities (walking tours, events, local concerts) for the first few weeks in the new city, and I'm finding that it helps me get excited about the move again.

You're in such a good place - no heavy baggage in your current city, and a helpful employer taking care of some of the stress of moving. There's always that moment when it hits you that you're somewhere new, and this is all happening (for me, it's when I change all my currency to a bundle of red Mao faces), and then the excitement and sense of possibility will take over.
posted by beijingbrown at 6:58 PM on June 29, 2015

You can't make it not scary/melancholy; make it fun. Thinking of it as an adventure may work well with your extroverted personality (as it generally does with mine).

You're supposed to feel mixed up and conflicted. That's part of the fun. Whenever I'm in a situation like this, there's always a part of me, in the back of my mind, thinking "remember this... won't it be strange to think back on this time when all the things you now think are familiar were strange and new". Keep a diary, a log of your travels. Record not only what you do, but what you expect. Keep in mind that your expectations will be very different from what you really find, so enjoy setting them out and having them confounded.

When you get there, work out the best place to go meet people and go. Learn enough of the local language to get by, and immerse yourself. If you're looking at it a certain kind of way, struggling in the local language is isolating and horrible. With a different mindset, however, it's a crazy game in which the normal social rules don't apply. Nobody can blame you for being too expressive and pushy (the normal things people complain about with extroverts) because you're obviously trying to communicate with improvised sign language and a few odd words. People find this endearing. They'll try to teach you the language. Let them (even if they're telling you something you know): they'll feel like they're helping you, and that's a great way to make a connection. When you're operating in a semi-lingual state, like that, you relate to people in a very different way that can be hard to recapture when you become more fluent in the local language.

Enjoy your conflicting emotions. Leaving a place, leaving friends and familiar places, is melancholy. But there's a certain kind of melancholy that can be pleasing in its sadness, because it underscores how much you love the people and places you're leaving behind. Parting is, as the famous phrase goes, a sweet sorrow. Keep in mind that nothing is forever. You're bound to come back again. But this moment of leaping out into the unknown is a time in which you'll find what you really value about your home town. That's a hard purchase that will pay dividends when you come back.

I have many regrets in my life, but one of the sharpest is that the first time I set off on a big journey like that, on my own, I was so wrapped up in not letting the changes overwhelm me that I missed out on the sense of adventure that animated me later on. I don't know if this is your first big move, or if you're a globe hopping veteran. Either way, the first time in a new place is an irreplaceable experience quite different from any other.

Don't try to not be sad, or nervous, or vacillating. Except those feelings as a necessary symptom of a great and subterranean excitement: like jumping out of an aeroplane or asking out your secret crush. Conflict (especially internal conflict) is a necessary prerequisite to adventure.
posted by Dreadnought at 7:08 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Listen: you're short-time, and pre-trip. The emotions you feel right now are a natural part of pre-trip jitters.

Take it one moment at a time. Go through with your plan. Don't ask yourself to evaluate your choices until at least 4-6 weeks from now. You can always change your mind about the long term, but in the meantime, just go through with your plan and enjoy the crazy high of the strange adventure. You'll find problems in your plans and you'll fix them, but right now, don't torture yourself with thoughts about big meanings and long term outcomes. One step at a time. Your feelings are totally normal, but don't let them change your plan right now. You can make decisions later once the stress of travel is behind you - and pre-travel stress packs a punch. So just understand that pre-travel stress is totally what's expected, and breathe, and get through it, and see what the other side looks like.

Don't make any more big decisions until you're on the other side and safely ensconced. Chances are very good you're going to be swept away with your new setting, and be telling yourself I did exactly the right thing for me at the right time. Nothing is forever, but do give this experience its chance.
posted by Miko at 8:37 PM on June 29, 2015

Moose moose moose,

I moved from my home country to my husband's home country where I don't speak the primary language (which uses a different alphabet).

The apprehension you're feeling is normal. It feels like jumping off a cliff, exciting but with a healthy dose of WHAT AM I DOING.

Be aware, I also went through a sort of secondary panic about 3 months after arriving, like, WHAT HAVE I DONE.

Here is what has helped:
1) Realizing this was "just a big adventure" and how lucky I was to have this chance to live in this country and experience a different life.

2) Bringing a few select things from home -- To make it easier to bake/cook things from home I brought American measuring spoons/cups and a Fahrenheit oven thermometer. The radio here is about 40% American music but when I'm really homesick, I will spend the day listening to music (iPod, headphones). I also brought a few emotionally significant items from childhood.

3) Re-connecting with a friend of mine who is also doing the ex-pat thing in a different country. We laugh about things like the unsuitability of foreign peanut butter.

4) Restraining myself from calling family, so that I'm only talking to them once every 3 weeks. It gives me time to process what has happened rather than jump on the phone and rely on them for support.

5) Getting friends and family to send "care packages" with stuff we can't get here (hot chocolate mix, instant oatmeal, peanut butter, ha ha).

6) Realizing that most of the young people here actually speak English, because they learn it in school and a lot of people here have spent time abroad. Usually they are really surprised that someone from the US is here, and they are very friendly when they realize I am here for the long-haul and not just a tourist.

We've been here a little less than a year and it feels like home already. Don't panic. It will be OK.

posted by amy27 at 11:49 PM on June 29, 2015

Yeah, there's this idea that if you feel bad that means you're doing something wrong. But it's often not true. In the case of something like moving to another country, it's really normal to be feeling a lot of unpleasant feelings (homesickness, angst, loneliness, etc.) alternating with a lot of really good ones. At some point you kind of have to accept it and take it in stride as a natural part of the process. When you're at the height of loneliness and angst, make sure to remind yourself how normal it is, and that pretty much everyone goes through it.

If you were exclusively excited and happy about every new thing you did, you'd be an incredibly perky outlier. :-)
posted by trig at 12:02 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Please read up on culture shock. You're already experiencing phase 1, the pre-trip anxiety, and it will help you immensely to be able to identify the next phases as you cycle through them. This book looks pretty good. The Art of Crossing Cultures is a canonical work in the area.

Best of luck in your new adventure!
posted by Liesl at 7:24 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read your question as being about feelings and how to cope, experience, live through and resolve them. I found the book and the practice of "Focusing" [author Eugene Gendlin] to be an excellent practical guide that I believe will help you immensely with this and make your foreign travel even more enriching.
posted by Jim_Jam at 8:55 PM on June 30, 2015

« Older Building side income with Etsy and Ebay   |   Hair Raising Questions on Tipping. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.