Feeling lost in a foreign country… need some input, advice, comfort…
February 27, 2017 5:22 AM   Subscribe

I am a woman in her early thirties. I live in a country that is far away from mine due to personal and professional circumstances. A few years ago I suffered a series of violent events in my country of origin. I was also holding a badly paid position that I didn’t enjoy a lot. I didn’t have anything exciting going on in my love life. And I had reached a moment in my relationship with my family where I often felt neglected and oppressed. Facing that panorama in my life I decided to move overseas after finding a position to work here. I arrived here with great expectations but right now, I am feeling lost.

The first challenge is my love life. In the three years that I have lived here I have had nothing but dysfunctional love relationships. The first relationship that I had here was with a man with whom things generally went well, except for a few aspects. The first problem was that he had a ‘blue collar’ job. I know this is horrible but I felt a bit ashamed of it. He was loving but his conversations were simple and I disliked that too. Also, he tended to be very flirty with other women and I caught him using an online dating app. Finally, he never wanted to go out. He just wanted to spend time at home. With a lot of pain I ended that relationship. The second relationship that I had was with a man that I met online and I thought more suitable. He was an educated man and he showed a lot of interest in me. We went to into a committed relationship but problems soon emerged. He was very moody and would be cruel in his words when angry. He was also very judgmental and I felt that I couldn’t be myself around him. I also felt that he regarded the people of my country of origin as inferior to him and that made me sad. I discussed some of my concerns with him one time and told him that maybe it was better to break up. We decided to take some days to think about it and finally he said that he didn’t love me and that it was best to end the relationship. I felt devastated and it took me a long time to recover from that break up. Finally, I had a short relationship with a younger man. I initially had not interest in him due to his age but he insisted and showed so much interest, kindness and affection that I fell for him. Nevertheless, after some months he changed his mind and told me that he only wanted to be friends with me. I felt devastated again and so rejected. This fact that I have had a series of failed relationships makes me think that I the problem is in me. But I cannot really identify the source of the problem. I think that I commit very quickly and I don’t take my time to see if we are compatible or not. I also feel that my being a foreigner adds problems to the relationship. I think that these men have all perceived me as being very fragile and lonely, since I don’t have any family, or close friends here and I don’t speak the language. I think that it scares them a bit. Also, I feel that I always enter relationships with a lot of fears and even though I commit, I never fully do it. I always feel full of doubts and I feel overwhelmed, especially when I perceive that they are very much into me. But when they reject me I feel devastated.

The second reason that I am feeling lost is that I don’t have many friends in the country where I live. The few friends that I have are very casual friends. I also get along with my colleagues but I rarely see them after work. I normally spend a lot of time with my failed significant others and I don’t devote much time to friendship. I feel very insecure with friendship too. First, because of my position as an immigrant I feel that a lot of people regard me as ‘inferior’, maybe that’s in my head but I feel that sometimes. Second, I don’t speak the language. I don’t need it at work but to socialize it’s different. People expect me to speak their language and I feel that they always see me as ‘different’ and not really like a person who they can relate with in a normal way. I try to learn the language but I don’t have much time for that. It doesn’t help either that the people here tend to be very cold and reserved. For these reasons, I almost never take the initiative to invite someone to do something. I feel very afraid of rejection so I usually avoid taking the initiative. And I have been disappointed on that front too.

Finally, the other reason why I feel lost is related to my condition of being an immigrant and my ambiguous feelings towards it. On the one hand, I love being in the country where I live. I have a job that I like and that I am paid well for (or at least much better than I would be paid in my home country). I feel safe here. I like that the city is so pretty and that things generally work fine with transportation, health services... I also feel that I receive much more male attention here than I do in my home country and that is also nice. I feel that it’s great that I have the opportunity to learn – little by little- another language. On the other hand, being so far from my family – despite of the problems – feels like a constant pain in my heart. I almost never see them and I feel very distant from them even though we communicate online. Anyway, another issue is that I feel that I will never feel like a full member of the society here as I do in my country. Making good friends is very hard for me here, but things are not perfect in my country either and the society can be very tough there too. Finally, in regards to career, prospects are not very clear. I now have a job that I like. I am 100% sure that I did the right thing in taking this job. The problem is that my contract ends in 1 year and 3 months. I have no idea how things will look like afterwards.

So as a conclusion, I don’t know what I am doing with my love life, with my professional life, with my ‘friendship’ life, and I don’t even know where to live… What would you advice would you give to a lost person like me?
posted by Fromthesouth to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think focusing on the language would be a good start. It will let you communicate with a broader spectrum of people, and not feel so isolated. It will also help with job prospects if you need to look for a new job. I know it sucks, but it's just one of those things that will really improve your day to day life and how people view you.
posted by corb at 5:34 AM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

I agree that learning the language is a great way to improve your life. Anyone would feel isolated living in a country where they don't speak the language.
Can you maybe use audio courses during your commute, or something like that? If you could find half an hour every day to study, I bet you would see improvement happening fast.

I would make this a priority, because it would help with almost all of your problems: it would improve your chances of friendship, job prospects, feeling included in society, and your love life.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:40 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I normally spend a lot of time with my failed significant others and I don’t devote much time to friendship.


I try to learn the language but I don’t have much time for that.

Quit dating, and quit hanging out with your exes - neither of those things sound good for you. Sign up for an in-person language class and you will at least begin to get to know people who are not your exes and not your work colleagues. I know that might seem like a commitment you can't take on right now, but it will help with the isolation and loneliness, and that will help you stop feeling so vulnerable that you date men who aren't very good to you.
posted by rtha at 5:43 AM on February 27, 2017 [21 favorites]

Hi - everything's going to be fine. Just get that going for you right off the bat. I can't say that I can share all of your experiences, but I can share a couple, so I will try to tell you about my experience and hope that it can help you. Firstly, I am also living in a country where one could say it is difficult to really get to know the people and establish deep friendships. Now, this is a common perception of people that move here - it is not typical of the people that are from here, and this is an important distinction. Feeling comfortable in a new place, for me, is about integration into the culture. Taking what and who I am, and seeing how it can help me find a corner I can call my own. My first, and I would say most important, step was the language. This, for me, is the root of integration. Learning the language was what stopped other people in saying "oh, remember that alchemist is here and we all have to change". Not knowing the language created an awkward feeling of either being excluded in the ongoing conversation, or of having forced everyone to speak a common language and take away the spontaneity and humor. Now, being fluent in the language has, for me, given me the opportunity to be seen as a societal equal for my friends and colleagues. The conversation just flows around us, and the interactions are just about the context and not about "oh, but you speak so well" (which really means "you are ok, but you are not quite there yet because I can notice that you are different"). Part of the initial barrier was the inner fear that I will sound childish or stupid. You will - but you have to get over this. You have to keep pushing otherwise you will just be stopping yourself. Take *every* opportunity to immerse yourself in the language, speak in the supermarket, speak on the buses, etc. Don't let yourself "fall back" into a common language - just push to make it work. As the language improves I noticed that cultural integration improved. I could understand the subtle nuances of the culture. I could understand the *why* something is funny or something is sad, and that says a lot about the culture itself and that helped me relate even better to the people around me.

keep going, keep getting better, it all improves in the end :)
posted by alchemist at 5:44 AM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

I might be biased because I love languages and language learning - but learn the language ASAP. You are putting a barrier between yourself and other people in your new country. Learning language is also a good place to meet people, both native speakers of the language and people from other countries and cultures who are learning the language. Knowing another language is also something good to put on your resume.
posted by Melsky at 6:19 AM on February 27, 2017

1. Learn the local language. It's the key to having a successful social life.

2. Get rid of the inferiority complex you seem to harbour. It's unappealing in many ways.
posted by Kwadeng at 7:44 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi, I have been an immigrant in two different foreign countries for the last 5 years. First off: try and be kind to yourself. Living in a foreign country is hard. If it feels like some things are more difficult for you than the people you're surrounded by, it's not because you're inferior; it's just because it's goddamn hard living in a foreign country.

Second: you absolutely have to carve out some time to start learning the local language. Everything else flows from that. If you don't have time to take a language class in the evenings (usually it's once or twice a week), get your hands on some language CD's. Check out your local library before you buy anything; they will often have at least a small section dedicated to people trying to learn the local language. I like the Pimsleur lessons myself, but what really matters is finding something you don't mind listening to. As soon as you've got a bit of listening comprehension in the local language, start trying to do things in that language: sign up for an exercise class, a knitting club, whatever you like. Go regularly and be polite and friendly. It can feel horribly awkward to go to a class for weeks and awkwardly nod hello at people because you can't for the life of you remember how to say, "Horrible weather we're having today, aren't we?" or even, "Good evening." But if you stick with it, it will come.

Third: in general, as an adult in a new city you have to work hard at meeting new people and making friends. It doesn't just happen magically. This is doubly true if you're an immigrant in a new country. It's exhausting and hard work, but necessary. Look up a bunch of meet-ups, clubs, gatherings, etc, and commit to going to one of them a week, or every two weeks. Throw yourself out there and take some chances. If you have a nice conversation with someone, ask them if they'd like to get coffee sometime and if they say yes, get their contact info and contact them. If they say no, try not to get discouraged and try again with the next person you connect with. Focus your energy on meeting new people, rather than hanging out with your old exes. Also, look around for ways to connect with other immigrants, because they're going to understand some of your struggles better than the local people, and it can be such a relief talking to other people who just get it.
posted by colfax at 8:28 AM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've known people to join Toastmasters both to practice speaking in a non-native language and to expand their social circle. If there's one in your area I highly recommend it.

Good luck. My experience has been that the first year or two in a new place is a time of struggle and adjustment - and that's without a language barrier. I hope things get better soon.
posted by bunderful at 9:14 AM on February 27, 2017

I try to learn the language but I don’t have much time for that.

Nthing that you should enroll in an in person class and make the time. One of my team members started going to German classes two evenings a week. She manages to find the time to attend despite working 60+ hr weeks and travelling almost to and from clients for almost an hr a each way every day. She also finds some time to go on dates and engage in sports. It's a matter of prioritising.

But instead of going on dates I would recommend that you identify one other hobby that brings you into contact with people and also commit to that. It is much easier to meet people through shared interests. Once you have a better friend group you'll be less keen to latch onto unsuitable romantic interests as well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:08 AM on February 27, 2017

can you name the language, in case anyone can give you specific help with learning it? For instance, you need the right books, and in terms of which specific books and publishers that can vary a lot. For Mandarin, for instance, Tuttle publisher; for German, you need: Hammer's German Grammar, Die Neue Gelbe (this is a grammar workbook, which is absolutely essential) and a decent dictionary such as Pons or Duden, and that book which gives alternative translations and why you make the choice between them whose name i forget, and dict.leo.org for chatrooms for applied translations.
You need three dice, one you assign to person, one to tense, and one to one of the six verbs you're learning, you throw them over and over and say it immediately, you do this for hours on end at night, i used to do between one and twelve hours a day, it helped. But that wouldn't work with Mandarin or Arabic. So it matters which language.
And people will always treat you as dumb until you can speak, always.

You probably can't read or place the men right at all, and it's true it's easier to make contacts with strangers through sex than friendship, i have no idea why but that's true in all societies, somehow sex is a gateway we let anyone through but friends have to be super-vetted, which is odd, they have to come from the right background, language, blah blah blah (for instance, most people drop their friends without children when they have children and replace them with new ones who do).

I always had terrible problems making friends, it turned out after decades that mild autism was the block i couldn't surmount, but you can fake a social life. Here's how
1) go out alone. Some things don't really work alone - eating out is just expensive, nightclubs are full of groups, pubs are usually rubbish unless you like being propositioned: but cinema, theatre, art galleries, hiking and cycling etc work fine.
2) Sports, which i can't really do, does lead to lots of friendships, so join a team(s) if possible.
3) evening classes, hobby groups etc: formal artificial group structures for sure, but great for deceiving yourself that you have a social life
4) volunteering: ditto, but easy to end up in awkward situations... free though

Also maybe you should get a radio, there has to be some bearable show in the language of your country, or some podcast.... you get used to breaking down fast speech into words more.

Carry a dictionary with you at all times and constantly look up words as you see and hear them. People think you're a weirdo and you learn lots of vocabulary fast.

If you buy a very small dictionary eg 1000 or 2000 words and learn all the words in it, or buy a frequency dictionary and learn your way down: vocabulary is all at the start.

Above all, prioritise renewing your contract or getting more work, visas and all that paperwork depend on this, and keep all your payslips, tax returns etc, every last one including the envelope in the case of tax things. The 'cold north' loves its paperwork... 'proof' in terms of bits of paper is usually the deciding factor in law, which issues the bits of paper (visas etc) without which you cannot live.
posted by maiamaia at 11:40 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

it's always lonely and painful being abroad, it never goes away, and there's always a bit of barrier in being a foreigner. Pain is something to be lived through (my age - i am old - how i was brought up to think). It can be less, but it's always a bit there i think.

All cultures have a sort of external wall of politeness, but you can only get 'in' certain ways. Even 'warm' cultures don't just let you in, they just have more welcome before you hit the wall. How do foreigners do in the culture you come from? Ways in are usually: you know one person, so they will introduce you to their family; work; having children; having children at a school, so you get to know the other parents; rooming together at university; etc. It varies, you have to find the doors.

Basically you don't take time to learn the language, you just use it all the time: you think, feel, write, read, talk and listen in it, nonstop, all day, it takes about six months. Whatever you do and follow in your language is what you learn first. So read poetry and follow politics, as a result i could understand italian political satire on tv and read renaissance poetry before i could understand more 'basic' fare, normally a lot of the norms are similar across cultures so that translates and you can fit the language into them, somehow.

I got the bus, i had free time in my bedroom late at night, i had no radio tv or internet, so i learned: buying the cheapest books and borrowing them that i could, but basic level of vocab, so cookery books and detective stuff mostly. You had relationships, they're great because you can ask them to critique your constructions. I worked through the two grammars i had over and over, workbook and advanced (ie very detailed) grammar, when i finished i started again. On the bus i read books and looked up words i overheard and saw on signs in my dictionary. In groups i listened eagerly and looked up words in my dictionary. I had no close one-to-one relationships any more than in my native country because of the autism and i had no money (literally, i was given bed and board) so no classes, but looking back i might have been able to join some by begging, being autistic you take no as no and don't try further. Now, in terms of Welsh (i'm an immigrant to another language area within the UK) i use a website with forum dedicated to learning it, a thesaurus and dictionary, ask work colleagues, go to lessons when i can, read cheap books i buy mainly second hand using a dictionary (there are no electronic options, podcasts, etc that i know of) and try to use a welsh-language thesaurus when looking things up. I hate reading children's and teenage books because they're boring, but i must soldier on until i can manage better :(
posted by maiamaia at 11:56 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

also don't confuse 'educated' with 'someone i can talk to deeply about things'. That's a very traditional culture view. It's true that going to university especially changes how you think (replaces natural normal thought, mostly based on feelings, with always using logic...) and makes it difficult to really closely talk with someone who hasn't got that background (and vice versa i'm sure), but there's plenty of shallow educated people and plenty of people who really think about what they feel who are interesting to talk to. I work in a shop and i talk to every damn customer and i can honestly say, there is no, not one, not one single thing that links all the people who are interesting to talk to, not one - except i spoke to them, or they spoke to me, and it started... I would rather not be frigid and isolated by my autism, be like you, but my world of superficial relationship is useful to fall back on, to pad out, when you are lonely and isolated and don't have important close relationships. Dating taught me one thing above all others: that my lack of close friends means i don't have anyone to talk to about my relationships, so make bad decisions and don't know what to do and have to experiment in real life to learn, when a few words of good advice would have sorted the problem out instantly. It really is the long way round to learn
posted by maiamaia at 12:06 PM on February 27, 2017

On top of all the difficulties that come with moving to a foreign country, it sounds like you were unhappy at home for reasons that mostly had nothing to do with the actual location. If you don't do anything to address those things, you'll feel lost no matter where you are.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:49 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

It might help us give you more solid advice if we knew which your home country is, and which your new country is, but I do understand your need for privacy.

That said, it does seem like you are contradicting yourself a little bit:

I try to learn the language but I don’t have much time for that

I almost never see them and I feel very distant from them even though we communicate online

I don't mean to be unkind, but as others have said on here, you do have to make time to really learn the language by immersion, and what is it that you are doing that you have no time to learn it? Speaking the language will open up many avenues to you for making new friends, and even dates, as people feel like you're making an effort to be part of their culture.

Outside of the fact that you are indeed an immigrant, I wonder if there is an English-speaking counselor that can help you work through some of your problems, although I do believe that were you to find one or two friends that much of these negative thoughts would dissipate. In my past, I've found that trying to date when I feel insecure about my circumstances has been disastrous because people can and do pick up on negative vibes. Even under normal circumstances, making your dates the center of your life is never a good idea, so do make learning the language a priority.

I've seen immigrants here in the US take English classes, and meet other people that way, so perhaps that's an option for you. As for what you do when your time is up - I think if you put time and effort into immersing yourself in your new culture and still haven't found your life to have changed in any substantial way, perhaps rethink going home? Don't think about that for now.
posted by Everydayville at 1:49 PM on February 27, 2017

What advice would you give to a lost person?
Stop, observe, think, plan.
posted by SyraCarol at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

The language barrier complicates things. I would definitely spend more time to learn the local lingo if I truly intended to settle there.

I too have experienced this feeling of being lost after settling in a new country. The main thing that depressed me was my inability to assimilate/make friends//understand the local culture.

The following definitely helped me:
- Keeping in touch with friends and reconnecting with friends.
- Counseling helped greatly to figure out what my exact needs were, as well as to refocus errant thoughts.
- Meeting people with the same hobbies; easier to gab on a common topic.
- Meetups can help, however I found many already have established groups/cliques that are difficult to break into.

You still have over a year in your job; you'll never know what's going to happen after. I would suggest making sure that you have sufficient savings in case the boat capsizes, and focus on what you want in the present.
posted by TrinsicWS at 6:10 PM on February 27, 2017

« Older Resources to Teach "Formal" Writing to Middle...   |   The etiquette of tying your dog up outside Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.