The Expat Blues: When you’ve had a bad day

A bad few days, expat blues

There are bound to be bad days when you are an expat. Uprooting your entire life and starting up new is no easy feat after all. The psychological strain associated with moving is often referred to as the Expat Blues. So far on my expat journey I had yet to really experience the expat blues. So you could say I was long overdue for this. And after doing uprooting myself for the last 2 summers consecutively, perhaps a string of bad days was inevitable. In fact, I was sort of surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. After all, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be in Toronto and there was that tearful departure at Changi Airport.  Sadly for me, what started off as one bad day continued on a little longer than expected. And it all started with what should have been good news. 

An Expat Awakening

Since arriving in Canada, I’ve been gently reminded of this huge transition I have just undergone by some wonderfully kind friends. And whilst I was aware of the transition from a procedural perspective, I think that was where my awareness had stopped. I’ve moved so many times before that the process no longer phases me. The suitcases and boxes eventually get sorted, and I slowly become familiar with my new surroundings. I find places to run those daily errands and I know the drill about putting yourself out there to make friends.

But after being in Toronto for a month or so, acclimating to the climate and culture, things really started to sink in. As a result, a few weeks ago, I had a series of days where the clouds seemed to blow in bigger and linger for longer. All of a sudden I was starting to feel the weight of the huge transition I had undergone. The realisation of where I was and what I would need to do to carve out a life here seemed like an uphill battle that I was never going to win.  And quite frankly, I didn’t want to do it. Or perhaps more importantly, I wasn’t sure if I have it in me to do this. And with the dark clouds setting in, so did my expat blues leaving me with that heavy feeling in my heart and a frown I could not turn upside down. 

    

A Slippery Slope

Settling in takes time and if I have slowly been adjusting to the new land I was in, why the bad day? For me finding work was the trigger.  In the short time I had been here I had come to understand that the job hunting process is tedious, time consuming and trying to say the least. I’d been told that it can take months to hear back from applications sent off. That résumes (or CVs) can sit on managers desks collecting dust for ages. And they favour applicants with ‘Canadian experience’. To top it all off, I was told that it was highly encouraged to email companies and organisations with what I can only describe as a ‘please hire me’ letter outlining why I would be a good fit for their organisation. The Brit in me cringed at the unorthodox means of getting a job here.

In addition to all this, I did actually get a job… for a post I was overqualified and underpaid for. And although it should have cause for celebration, instead it brought me to tears.

The Breakdown

And so ensued the breakdown. Remember that scene in the holiday where Cameron Diaz says she just doesn’t cry? And then she tries and still no tears. Well for the first few days of this breakdown that’s what happened. I knew I was upset, I wanted to cry and yet every time I tried… nothing.

However I was left with a heavy heart. A painstaking stifling feeling in my chest as I longed to go home. Back to London. I remembered how easy it would have been to find work in London. How I actually had a career path mapped out for me that didn’t involve any further education. I pictured where I wanted to live and how I would continue on with my life weaving in the life lessons I had learned from my time abroad. 

A Free Flow of Tears

What finally caused the free flow of tears was something quite simple (as usually is the case when you feel fragile). I couldn’t get my Skype to work. And all I wanted was to talk to someone who cared. So, I cried finally! And then I cried unprompted. For four days straight I was an emotional wreck. I missed my friends and my old life. The freedom and independence I once had. I wanted to be able to get somewhere without a car. I wanted to be able to afford a car. But most importantly, i just wanted someone to tell me it was going to be OK. That I wouldn’t have to work the crappy underpaid job forever when I was qualified for so much more. That this wasn’t why I left my life and my friends… for this… 

The light at the end of the tunnel

I’ll admit that I don’t fully feel like I am out of the tunnel. I don’t think I will feel like that until we both have jobs that allow us some financial independence. The hard part of course is that I don’t know when that will be. But what has helped is talking to my friends (when I finally managed to connect). Some promised me things would get better when we have our own place. Others reminded me of the huge undertaking we had embarked on, reminding me to be gentle with myself. And my father reminded me that like everyone else that arrives in Canada, we’ve got to start again, and that means starting somewhere. Even if it isn’t where I would like to start.

Maybe by the end of this I, too, will singing the famous lyrics of rapper Drake ‘started from the bottom now I’m here’ (They play way too much Drake here!). Maybe it’s the unofficial motto of the city of Toronto. But for now, I’m not sure I can take comfort in the whole ‘rising from the ashes’ symbolism. And although admirable, at this moment, I don’t have the energy to carve out my immigrant life here. Because essentially that is what I am doing here. Like every arrival in Canada, I’m no longer an expat really but rather… an immigrant. And that word is definitely associated with struggle. 

I’m trying to look to the future, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t browsed the jobs section of the Guardian lately and wondered if coming here was a mistake. But again… doesn’t every expat feel like that at some point? Especially when they are down in the dumps with the expat blues!

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expat blues, bad days

5 Comments

  1. When I graduated from the university in Canada, it took me eight months to find a contract job – work long hours and underpaid, and you are right, lots of companies need “Canadian work experience”, and even the work experience in Canada but outside Toronto does not count. I sent out emails and as you did, I told every employer to “hire me’, and it did not go well. In the end I went to the job interview and just does not give a sh*t, and it worked.

    I also think what I am going to do after I return to Canada this winter without a job and if life would be hard than ever, but I started to give less monkeys and just see how things will pan out. I will be okay, so will you. It is not the end of the world.

    Reply
    • Wow! I can’t believe even after having an education here it took that long to get job within your qualifications. One of the reasons I’m not in a role I’m trained for is that they don’t recognise any teaching experience outside of Canada. So while I have 8 years of experience as a teacher, across the globe, here it counts for nothing. I hear you on not giving a monkeys! I did accept the job for the underpaid job but as I said, I’ve still got my eye on the job market back home. I”m sure things will pan out. But for now, I’m extremely frustrated and find it ironic that I had better opportunities in one of the worlds most notoriously expensive cities to live. Here’s hoping things look better in the next 3-6 months lol

      Reply
      • Employers dont recognize your 8 years teaching experience does not deserve to have you, and you will be better off somewhere else. It will get better and we are tough enough to deal with any situations. Hang in there and you will find something, and dont forget to enjoy your own time before having a boss hehe

        Reply
  2. I feel you, and have been there. Thanks for sharing. I think all of us tend to paper over the cracks of moving abroad when we share our stories with family and friends. Partially because we don’t want them to worry, and partially our own vanity. Either way, it’s important to share our ups and downs.

    I shared (in the website link) my own first bad experience with expat blues. I’ve had a few instances since, and even sometime even now – 10 years later – sometime feel like a real stranger in my adopted country (going from Canada to the UK, so opposite to you).

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Greg. I actually read your post and had to laugh about getting drenched and then coming home with a blister. There is nothing I hate more about living in the UK than having wet feet! Sometimes I feel like I’m a being a debbie downer when I mention how challenging it can get but one of the reasons I start my blog was to dispel the myths that expat life was all glamorous and cheery. I can’t stand it when people say I’m ‘lucky’ to have these experiences. I know I am lucky but that’s not to say there haven’t been some blood, sweat and tears spilled to experience all that luck. Keep writing your stories! The good and the bad!

      Reply

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