While I’m sure I can’t be the only one who experiences this, at times expat guilt can feel very lonely and isolating.
Partly because of the sheer volume of dreamy Instagram accounts I’m exposed to that feature others my age trotting around the globe without a care in the world, but mostly because it’s something rarely discussed when it comes to long-term travel.
Sure, we all can easily agree that missing family and friends is just a sucky thing that comes with this crazy (but amazing) lifestyle, but what about the guilt associated with living so far away from our loved ones?
I often feel as though I’m letting them down and missing milestones constantly, and the feeling only worsens the more I settle into my life abroad.
If I don’t have a real sign of permanent return happening anytime soon, how am I supposed to cope with this?
Pressure From Loved Ones
I’m very lucky to have a very supportive base of friends and family back home who don’t make a habit of “guilting” me into returning home, but I know not everyone shares this.
I do find it pretty devastating that some families and friends purposely pressure and guilt the expat in their life to come back home. Especially since most of the time we expats leave our home countries because we’ve found greater happiness and purpose in our new countries, or by continually travelling.
This sort of situation really can put expats in an impossible situation. I never want to be a selfish monster only serving my own happiness, but at the same time I know I can take it too far and become a golden retriever people pleaser, bowing to everyone’s wishes.
So, where’s the middle ground?
Self-Inflicted Expat Guilt
As I mentioned, I’m a total people pleaser, which is a quality that can make expat life difficult at times.
Trying to enjoy my “new” life that my husband and I are building here in Australia while aiming to maintain relationships with friends and family back home is a never-ending juggling act.
These are the main ways I harbour expat guilt, and as you’ll notice, they’re pretty much all due to my brain overthinking.
Balancing It All
It’s tough to feel like I’m staying on top of keeping in regular contact with everyone, meanwhile also nurturing new friendships here. And with saying that, it makes it sound as though staying in contact is a burden, when it’s anything but.
In all honesty, I feel as though I need to have a good report for home, when somedays I have nothing good to say.
The pressure I put on myself to keep everyone happy is completely self-inflicted. I get in the habit of putting everyone’s happiness and wellbeing on my own shoulders.
I worry about family ageing and being an absent Auntie. I hate that I missed my best friend’s graduation, and that somedays I just don’t want to answer the phone. I feel bad when things aren’t going well back home and I’m not there to “fix” it.
Is this all crazy talk, or does anyone else feel this way at times?
Becoming a Local
If anything, the more rooted I become here in Australia, the more guilty I feel.
When I joined my husband here earlier this year and we got married, we still had very little of our own possessions and honestly didn’t know exactly how long we’d be here. But now as time’s gone on, we’ve really started to nest more, and I can’t help but panic a little.
Does this mean I’m officially saying goodbye to my life back in Canada? Or will we be selling everything and starting from scratch again in Canada someday? Or, in a completely new country even?
The truth is – I don’t know. I wish I could answer everyone’s questions about when (or if) I’ll be coming home when in all honesty I have no clue.
What Can We Do About it?
As you can tell, I definitely don’t have all the answers for this one since it’s something I’m dealing with day to day. Most of the time it doesn’t get to me much, but I definitely have my days where my expat guilt is a little overwhelming.
On days and seasons like that, here’s a few things that have helped me:
Talk about it
I had mentioned this a bit before, but I strongly would advise you that if it’s particular people back home causing you some serious strife and guilt about living abroad to talk to them about it.
A lot of the times what we may interpret as teasing or simply questioning can actually be a sore spot for others. So that said, it’s always worth it to be honest and explain how it can affect you.
Reassure your loved ones that although you may be far away in distance, the relationship you share is valuable to you.
Connect With Other Expats
Finding other expats in your community or online through blogs like this can really help you feel a little less alone.
I’m lucky to have friends nearby who are also expats and can understand a lot of the challenges that come with living abroad, including expat guilt.
It definitely eliminates the sense of isolation, and is a good reminder that you’re not crazy 😉
Remember Why You’re Here
When it all gets to be a little too much, it seems tempting to just return home.
Something that helps me ease my expat guilt is remembering why I am where I am. Yes, partly because my husband’s an Aussie, but it goes beyond that.
Whenever I’ve gone for a visit back home, I’m reminded of why I needed to leave in the first place. I love Canada and my family and friends, but the opportunities and life I can live here is extremely different. While some may not understand, I know that in my situation, I really benefit from living here.
Despite the expat obstacles, I enjoy the challenge and I love the sense of freedom and independence I feel as I start over somewhere new.
Whatever the reason is that you chose to live abroad, remind yourself often.
As I had mentioned, I tend to feel responsible for others emotions and wellbeing. While there’s nothing wrong with wishing happiness for your loved ones, it’s not your responsibility to fix everything.
In my case since I’m a Christian, praying through this and trusting God to take care of my family just as He takes care for me has helped loads.
It’s a hard mental exercise sometimes, but remember that it’s not your job to fix everything. Or, rather that you being home won’t in fact fix everything.
Keep Living Your Life
Although settling into your new home and building a life can make things feel a little scary and permanent, I do want to encourage you to keep on going.
Make your new country a home, despite your fears. If the time ever does come to return home or onto something else, remember you can always sell your possessions and embrace the new season.
It’s a hard one for me to remember, but as the saying goes, “the only thing constant is change,” so becoming stressed over the changes happening won’t do any good. Embrace it and make the most of your expat experience!
So, I definitely don’t have all the answers when it comes to expat guilt.
But, I do know that placing guilt on oneself and a sense of responsibility for others won’t get us anywhere either.
We’ll have good days and bad days, but at the end of each day, we need to realign our focus and be grateful for being where we are.
Life as an expat is rarely boring, that much I can say, and it’s a life I won’t be trading in anytime soon!
Thank you for reading yet another one of my rambles. Have you experienced expat guilt? If so, how do you handle it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below <3