Staying sane when working overseas

Working abroad is an adventure. It can sometimes get overwhelming, threatening the expat’s psychological health. Here are simple suggestions for maintaining positive mental wellbeing:

  1. Take a break in your adopted country. Everyone needs a bolt-hole (the metaphorical garden shed), and many cities have well-known retreats – Moganshan, for example, is an established getaway for Shanghai urbanites.
  2. If that doesn’t work, retreat to your home country. This is the ultimate sanctuary. Take as long as you need – work out of your home office if you can.
  3. Many of us, of course, can’t do either. So, seek refuge in the city by pampering yourself. This could be fine dining, spa treatment or a luxury overnight stay (as strange as it seems).
  4. Join a spiritual or support group. Church is not just for church-goers; go there and sit in calm, reflective silence.
  5. Wherever you are, take a step back and reflect on the big picture. This fundamentally alters your perspective. Instead of dwelling on gritty travails and setbacks, think about how far you’ve come. Expat life is a brave move, so congratulate yourself.
  6. Seek professional counsel. Some problems will not go away and could perhaps worsen. While you might have great friends, they are not necessarily experts when it comes to mental health issues.
  7. The last option, I’d argue, is to quit altogether if things get too rough. Many of us are encouraged to leave one’s comfort zone; stay out of it for too long and there can be repercussions.

Finding friends when relocating

Finding friends in a foreign environment can be tough. Here are 7 top tips:

  1. Begin at work. Your new colleagues will probably be the only local you know, and certainly trust in the first instance. They will be warm and welcoming – so respond to this. If they invite you out for lunch or a drink, join them. It’s your golden opportunity to cement friendships inside the office, and through them you will have new friend-making opportunities.
  2. Join an expat group. As above, they will be welcoming too. Every expats will be in the same position. Go along to an activity or two, and see what happens.
  3. Find a hobby. “Hobbies” might seem a quaint term these days, but they still have appeal. Whether it’s yoga or shooting, a hobby can introduce you to like-minded people.
  4. Similar to the above, language classes are logically a great way to meet other glomads. With a new language under your belt, you will also make more progress in your adopted country.
  5. Go digital. Open a social media account and share your experiences with others. Through social media you will discover new people.
  6. Be wary of local customs and practices if you are looking to make local friends. One wrong move, however inconsequential it might seem, can ruin a relationship for good.
  7. If all else fails, go to the bar and drink (a tip that can be applied to many situations). Many foreigners like bars. The downside with this approach, however, is that shallow relationships are born.

Keeping in touch with people back home

Wherever you are, don’t neglect relationships back home. They are a source of strength, sanity and career salvation (if things go awry in your adopted country):

  1. Set up a regular “check-in” with the boss. This could be a weekly call or a status update dropped in their inbox. Of all relationships, this might be your most important. Get this wrong and the expat dream is over.
  2. Similarly, keep recruiters updated on your whereabouts and situation. Anything can happen these days: is your job that safe?
  3. On those occasions when you return to your home country, make sure to meet with the people that matter – the boss, your family and friends. This is paramount.
  4. Launch a video chat to chat with family for that extra personal connection. This is especially true when maintaining relationships with younger people, who develop so quickly (unlike the rest of us).
  5. Similar to the above, digital technologies are uniting the world like never before. Identify the social network or messaging app that works best for you and your connections, whether it’s Facebook, Google+, WhatsApp or any other medium.
  6. Go back to snail mail. A handwritten letter is a romantic thing to do and carries more meaning than a hastily written post in social media.
  7. A few words are better than no words. An email that simply says “Busy at the moment. Will write more later.”, while appearing curt, is a reminder that you are still alive.