I never really knew about the kind of disconnection I would feel as an expat until today. I’ve been able to integrate myself relatively well into countries that are much more foreign to me as a South African, so it is ironic that today I became aware of the many challenges to ‘fit’ into the Netherlands – a country where it should be easier for me and where the language barrier should not be so much of a barrier because of my knowledge of Afrikaans.
But moving to another place is not just about the language. There are many things that can hinder one’s connection to a place. Feeling a sense of disconnect is completely normal and it is part of one’s experience of being an expat in another country. Sometimes the emotion is overwhelming as it was for me today. But mostly, I try to enjoy every second of living in a foreign country and embrace its excitement, freshness and challenges.
How did I deal with this strange sense of disconnection today?
1. I Read Dutch
I came home and read a Dutch magazine. I looked up some words. It felt so familiar because of Afrikaans yet so foreign as I struggled to place the language in its cultural context. But reading a familiar magazine in terms of content albeit in a different language ironically gave me a greater sense of connection even as I struggled to read certain words and fully understand their meaning.
2. I Slept
Moving to a new place has many psychological effects. One of which is a constant tiredness that I’ve been feeling. Foreign environments demand from us a completely new set of rules and regulations to which we have to abide. So sleeping is the best way to get clarity on your thoughts in a new locale. It helps you to better adapt so be sure to have a good night’s sleep every night!
3. Love Your Friends
People are ultimately what make a place. And in the past few months I’ve lived in the Netherlands I’ve made three really good friends who I absolutely adore. It is as though we’ve been friends for many years. I messaged them throughout the day when I felt this disconnect and it made me feel better – knowing that they too are foreigners and experienced what I experienced today.
4. Attitude of Gratitude
I curbed this strange feeling of disconnection mainly by filling myself with a sense of gratitude. I instantly felt better. I thought about all the amazing things I am grateful for here even if they were the smallest of things (which often have a huge impact on me). For example, I recently received a letter in the post from the municipality reminding people in my street to drive slower around the corner because there was an accident last year…I couldn’t believe I had received a letter of this kind and it warmed my heart. I thought of this letter today as I walked home.
There can be many ups and downs to being an expat, which are normal to life as well. After this so-called disconnection episode I experienced today I gained a deeper understanding of myself and that as a relatively new expat I should indeed be easier on myself and give myself time and space to adapt which is perhaps not something I have done up until now.
How have you dealt with a sense of disconnection as an expat if you ever experienced this? I’d love to hear how you worked towards a better adaptation for yourself in your new home.