The Hardest Part About Living Abroad

The hardest part about living abroad as an expart

Living as an expat is incredible, but there are challenges as well. This is the one that gets to me most.

Dear Taipei,

I’d been thinking about writing this entry for quite a while, but I keep putting it off. And now that I’ve written it, I keep hesitating to press the “Publish” button. Why? Because I recognize that I live a relatively comfortable life here, and I don’t want it to be misconstrued that I don’t appreciate that fact.

I’m so grateful for my time here and the certain privileges I’m afforded as an expat. I know that compared to people who face real struggles, I really don’t have any room to complain about anything. But this, personally, has been hard for me, so I’d like to write as truthfully about it as I can. And maybe someone else out there can empathise, so it’ll be worth “confessing”.

Hanging with friends in Taipei

A leaving party for my former housemate and friend.

For me, the hardest part about living abroad hasn’t been missing my family or friends back home, as much as I do. Nor has it been craving creature comforts, as I can definitely survive without them. And since I have a stable job, it’s fortunately, nothing financial related.

No, the hardest part has been saying goodbye to the friends I’ve made here.

Again.

And again.

And. Again.

I’ve lived here for a little over two and a half years, and in that time I must have said goodbye to over a dozen people who, for the time they lived here, were a huge part my world and life here. It’s not just my fellow expat friends, either. My Taiwanese friends have been just as likely to get up and move abroad, so it’s not just an issue of having a lack of local friends.

Having true friends—people that genuinely understand you, and you them—is a fundamental part of feeling settled and content anywhere. But when you live abroad, you have to create a whole new definition of “home”. In order to do so, you need to feel like you belong, that you’re part of a community, and you aren’t in it alone.

So every time I have to say goodbye, I feel the foundations of my stay here shake. 

Friends in Taipei

Nothing beats chilling with great friends.

Sometimes, it does get to me, and I feel really down, and to be honest, a bit lonely. I do my best to shake the feeling away, but it seems to get to me more and more. I question why it matters to me so much… and feel stupid for letting it get to me.

In those moments, I try remind myself that I still do have a handful of people here I feel do truly understand me, and whose friendship I’m very thankful of.

I guess the constant upheaval of friendships is inevitable when you’re making friends who, like you, are not tied to one place. I really admire when anyone takes the leap to move on to bigger and better things and further themselves.

So honestly, I couldn’t be prouder to be friends with so many people who are determined to step out of their comfort zone, and go through the often arduous process of finding their feet again in a new country. Because, when I think about it, that’s the life I want to continue living, too.

Goofing around with friends in Taipei

Goofin’ around. Three of my friends in this photo left Taiwan for new opportunities abroad. Damn, I miss them!

Perhaps then, a major part of why it bothers me is that it makes me question how long I should stay here myself. I’ve written about when is the right time to move on in the past, and although my life is markedly different from then, it seems like those same thoughts are creeping back.

Every question I try to answer just breeds more questions. When I think, “how long is too long?”,  I equally question “how short is too short?” I spend time figuring out what exactly I want from my life, and realise that in many ways, Taipei gives me those things. But there’s always this voice that says I eventually need to break out. I’ve become for the most part very comfortable here (apart from this friend issue), and although the feeling of comfort is what most people yearn for, it’s the very one I try to escape from.

Ever since I started living abroad, there’s an odd part of me that doesn’t feel comfortable being too comfortable. I definitely feel my best self when I’m out of my comfort zone and pushing myself. The sense of determination I feel when I have to make things work and make a home out of a new place makes me feel more alive than living life comfortably in one place. That’s the exact reason why I left my home city of Sydney in the first place—and now I’m starting to feel that same thing here too.

Coming back to my friend drain issue, there’s really no solution other than to keep putting myself out there, and making new friends. I know I should, and I’m trying. But to be completely truthful, there’s a huge part of me that’s so tired of meeting someone I feel connected to, taking the time to develop a deep friendship, and needing to say goodbye to them X months later. It’s emotionally exhausting, and it takes its toll.

But that’s what I signed up for living abroad. For all the wonderful things that life as an expat here offers, there has to be some trade offs as well. Losing friends, and questioning what’s next are two of them for me.

And so long as I remember that, I guess it’s not that bad after all.

– TTT

What do you find the hardest part about living abroad? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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3 comments

  1. hendrik ten cate · · Reply

    Well written, well formulated. Sad is that you even had to say goodbye to your Taiwanese friends. Wish Taiwan could quickly change.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words hendrik ten cate! Taiwan has a lot to offer, but it’s hard for locals with the low salaries and long hours. I understand why my local friends want to leave – other countries offer a much more attractive professional opportunities.

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  2. Thank you so much for this. I’ve come from the UK and now live in Dubai and have been living here for 3-4 years. In all honesty I’ve hit a mental wall and it’s not depression but lack of motivation. Your post really resonated as the friends you make become your ‘2nd family’ and are the ones you come to rely on for emergencies, social gatherings, points of contacts. The friendships take a long time to make and it’s the connection that you make. Plus it’s vice versa and you become that for your friends. When they leave to start a new life you can see them start to disconnect from the life they lead to look forward to their new life. It hits hard though and it is that constant trying to make new friends and connections which can be draining. It adds to the impermanence of an expat life and it’s something that I struggle with. I am lucky at the moment as I do have incredibly good friends around but there is one particular lady who is moving and she holds the group altogether. However, I keep telling myself how lucky I am, have a great husband and kids, lots of hobbies and interests but expat life is a tough one

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