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Living away from home during tough times

Moving abroad to live or study can be a huge and exciting adventure, but there is a specific feeling of helplessness when you are on the other side of the world from the people who mean the most to you, and hard times hit unexpectedly.

Woman with curly hair looking at her phone in an empty room with cardboard boxes

There is a wide range of events that you could be faced with, but below are some of the common challenges we have seen our community struggle with.

The challenges that make us feel isolated

Losing a loved one

There is almost no situation as challenging as losing a loved one. Living abroad can have a strange way of making you feel like time stands still at home. Sometimes this disconnect can make situations at home feel surreal.

Facing that grief alone is further exacerbated by the fact that no one in your life abroad knew the person who died back home.

Disasters and social issues

Political unrest, wild bushfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis. These are just some of the issues that have occurred in the past year that have left those abroad feeling helpless, heartbroken and terrified.

From being unable to contact loved ones, to confronting images of the devastation on social media, it's easy to feel lost and helpless when you're living half a world away, perhaps surrounded by students that can’t fully comprehend.

We have seen terrorism and political tensions in countries result in a strong emotional reaction from expats, with many participating in worldwide protests and fundraising. On top of the distance, it’s common to feel guilty about not being physically able to support people you care about who are more at risk.

Watching conditions worsen, family and friends struggle and the landscape of your country change may have you wondering, ‘What kind of home will I be going back to?’. It’s incredibly common to experience survivor's guilt, where some people feel guilty for not feeling guilty all the time and others feel guilty for having a good time while friends and family are suffering.

A global pandemic

Although it feels somewhat like we’re through the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody has been able to escape these challenges over the past few years. It left those living and studying abroad feeling isolated from their loved ones and communities, and some of the difficulties the pandemic posed are still prevalent now.

Worldwide, travel is still challenging with transport prices constantly increasing and students feeling unable to easily visit their loved ones. The notion of ‘I’ll be home soon’ is not quite back.

A lot of expats are still finding themselves keeping a close eye on the news. Those worrying about the virus are often checking statistics and avoiding doing things that they usually enjoy for fear of contracting or spreading the virus, or, being unable to travel home.

How are we coping?

With all of these challenges, being so far away from home can leave you feeling helpless and limited in your ability to support your loved ones. One of the best ways you can help is to implement some strategies to support yourself.

Failing to take care of yourself hurts in the long run, for both health and productivity. Trying to deal with life’s challenges when your glass is empty runs you down physically and mentally, and makes you more vulnerable.

We asked the members of our team who have spent time overseas how they have coped with hard times.

Jennifer's story

"When I went on my gap year between studying I had really high hopes of spending a year abroad and how amazing it would be! I’d only been there 2 weeks when I got a call from home that my mum was really sick.
"It was the worst feeling not only knowing I was so far away on my own with no friends or anyone to really talk to but also knowing I wasn’t there for my family. I felt so far from home but I started writing letters to them and posting them, they were so happy to receive them and it was like a journal for me, telling them what was happening and going on for me.
"I opened up more than I ever did on a phone call or quick text! I also kept really focused on what I wanted from my trip. I had to cut it short so every moment counted and it made me feel even more how lucky I was to have this chance and how short life was, we have to make the most of every second.
"I threw myself into the experience and although it didn’t go at all how I planned and it was some of the hardest times of my life, it was also the best time and the time when I really learned so much in all senses. If someone was struggling right now I’d say I really do know how hard it can feel but this can also still be something really amazing for you even if there is challenge and sadness too."

Kelsey's story

“I left New Zealand for London with my partner in July of 2020, an incredibly tricky time due to the pandemic. Many of our family and friends thought that our decision to leave was the wrong one, however we had already organized our visas and resigned from our jobs in February, and we were both very ready for the next chapter. At that point it was 3 months into the pandemic and we had no real concept that it would continue for the duration of 2020 and into 2021.
"And so while we had a very enjoyable summer, the London winter presented a number of unexpected challenges for us. I had heard from friends how hard an English winter could be, with the cold weather and limited day time hours. However this compounded with a 3-month lockdown and none of the usual events around the festive season to look forward to, it made the experience one of the most challenging of my life, and it was hard to not get wrapped up in thinking I had made the wrong decision.
"What really got me through was the communication with my friends and family. I was as open as possible with them about how hard I was finding it, and they made connecting with me a priority. New Zealand has a 12 hour time difference with the UK, which meant that the mornings and evenings became key times for me to connect with those at home.
"Eventually I had a roster of people I would connect with each morning and evening, and this also helped me to get out of the house for a walk while on the phone which was also fantastic for my mental health. Email became a favourite way for me to connect to my grandparents, and always put a smile on my face waking up to a new email. It was a really hard time, but also very rewarding and strengthened by relationships with those at home and left me feeling incredibly grateful for the people I have in my life.”

5 tips to cope with challenging times when living away from home

Sharing experiences

Humans are naturally highly sociable beings. Feeling connected and sharing experiences is an integral part of our existence. Connecting with other members or your community, friends or family, or connecting with people on the platform can be a source of companionship, personal growth and reflection on whatever you may be going through.

Remember why you moved

Packing your bags and moving away from home to study or build a new life takes a lot of courage and strength. It’s important to remind yourself of all you have accomplished, and that you are always strong enough to withstand new challenges. Remember that by persevering, you will be okay.

You always have more strength than the challenging situation requires. Reminding yourself of all the reasons why you moved and setting goals around those reasons will help you to stay present and focused on all you are trying to accomplish.

Practice gratitude

When challenging moments strike, gratitude can help to provide a perspective from which we can take a step back and view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.

It is always challenging in a crisis to feel grateful, but reminding yourself of the things in your life that you are grateful for despite the current circumstances can be very powerful. Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when times are tough.

Take advantage of technology

Modern technology has alleviated the logistical part of distance and creating a communication schedule with loved ones can help to aid the feeling of disconnection.

Figuring out how you can best stay connected with your family and friends is a continual process of reflection, dialogue, and adjustment. But tools like Facetime, Facebook Messenger and Skype, where you can connect with someone face to face and view their body language can help with creating deeper and more meaningful interactions.

Invest in your resilience

Our levels of resilience aren’t static. When we are upset, tired and stressed, our fuse tends to be shorter and our resilience lower. One way we can maintain our resilience is through our proactive self-care strategies.

Physical exercise, sufficient good quality sleep and taking time to do the things we enjoy and with people we love, can all help to maintain our levels of resilience.


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