Did you know there’s a pattern to adjusting to expat life? That you can more or less mark a date ahead in your calendar when life abroad will suck?
But it’s like the growth spurts of a baby (the parents among you will know what horrors these two innocent words can entail ;-) ) — even if you know they will happen around a certain time, you’re never prepared for it. Vaguely knowing that everything will suck from one day to the next and sitting up all of the night, wondering if you made a terrible mistake in ripping your children, yourself, your family life from safe moorings … Two very different things.
Tornado Tower, Doha, Qatar. Photo by Brida Anderson

We’re not in … Kansas anymore: Tornado Tower, Doha
The pattern of adjusting to new surroundings is the same, whether you put your child into nursery or move to a foreign country. It’s always a pattern of 3 when the change will suck ((roughly speaking, of course. Everyone’s different.)  So everything’s fine until: 3 hours in, 3 days in, 3 weeks in, 3 months in (if you’re unlucky/have trouble adjusting: for a multiple of 3 months: after 6 months, 9 months, 12 months), then 3 years in. Next adjustment pains come after 5 years and 7 years.
Now, “pains” is a big word. Depending on how well you cope or how good you are at suppressing, the “pains” someone else feels might just be twitches for you.  A day where everything sucks, and the next day: clear skies.
A lot depends on

  • where you move
  • and how familiar that country is to you,
  • how quickly you feel at home,
  • whether you find a support system (family you brought with you, friends that are already in place),
  • how well you can connect deeply with friends using Facebook, Skype, …
  • whether it’s your first move abroad or just another in a row of experiences abroad
balcony railing with metal tendrils in Qatar. Photo by Brida Anderson

It might be a small thing, but I enjoy the tendency in Qatar to adorn houses – inside and outside – with metalwork that shows vines/tendrils

It might be a small thing, but I enjoy the tendency in Qatar to adorn houses – inside and outside – with metalwork that shows vines/tendrils
We’re well into our fourth month in Qatar and I had thought we were settling into our new life quite well. There was just some stuff that was annoying (well, when isn’t there anything that’s annoying ;-) and the vague feeling that something wasn’t right.
It may sound silly but it took me this long to realize that I was holding my breath in Qatar. I didn’t talk to anyone in Skype, unless I had to. I didn’t send any emails to some of my friends while the other emails were more attempts to paint a picture of this new home for them, as if they were poised to travel here and I wanted to prepare them. I didn’t realize the pattern until last night. If I only ‘hold my breath’ long enough, Qatar won’t become a reality. Every time I talk to a friend, every “normal” email I’d usually exchange would cement the reality that I am stuck here, thousands of miles from my friends and family. So if I only hold still, if I don’t breathe, it will pass and I’ll wake up back home.
Yeah, it sounds crazy writing it like this. It wasn’t at all a conscious thought process. But realizing the pattern startled me: Is life in Qatar so bad that I wanted to “wake up” at home?
The answer is: no. Of course there’s plenty of stuff that’s jarring for someone moving to this country. But that’s the case for most countries you move to. Just the details differ. What made it unthinkable to “breathe”, to really arrive in our life here, was the thought that it meant I had really left my family and friends thousands of miles behind. They probably don’t need any “briefings” on Qatar because who knows if they’ll ever make the trip here. My husband famously summed up Qatar’s attraction for tourists as “you can see all of the sights in a day”. That was 3 years ago, but still holds true today. Maybe it’s 2-3 days now ;-)
So who’ll spend a small fortune flying here?
Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised when in autumn and winter friends and family will be running into our door. But I don’t think I should hold my breath. So Skype and email will be the only link I have to my friends. Which is something I just can’t wrap my head around. I’m a Skype newb, I’m shy, not really the type to hop up and down in front of a camera. But I’ll have to learn.
To get over the blues, I made a list of things I really love about our new life here. I did that when I was living in New York and it beat the sudden flight of homesickness.
I’m not gonna publish all the little things here, but some of them, just as examples: To count your blessings. What do you have in your new life that you could never have in your old?
For me, that’s our house here. The compound we live in. The tendency of the Qataris to decorate houses and balconies and stairwells with metal tendrils (see photo above). Most of all: Having a beautiful pool in 2 minute walking distance, and having it all to myself in the morning. I’ll only have that in Qatar, I’m sure. At which point I realized that because my children and we were sick for most of the past 6 weeks, I haven’t been swimming in said pool for over 6 weeks. No wonder I was feeling down …
What’s your experience with the first months of adjusting to life abroad?
What’s the small things that made you happy?
Pool in Compound in Doha, Qatar. Spring 2014. Photo by Brida Anderson