Coping with stress that comes with living abroad is an essential skill for every expat. One of the hardest challenges of living abroad is making an unfamiliar place feels like home. It’s an issue that most people would meet when they first move to another country. But in fact, I’ve never considered this as a real problem until recently.
I started my life as an expat since I was 14. I was an international student in the U.S., and my parents lived in Taipei during my ten years in the states. Although I was away from my family, somehow, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to make New York home.
Well, moving to Shanghai isn’t the same story.
Maybe it has a lot to do with my age. I am much older now, and I just don’t adopt the same way I did 14 years ago. Maybe it’s because I am here for work not for school. Being an international student is quite different from “adulting” in a foreign country.
It’s been three months since I moved to Shanghai. I found an apartment and settled into this megacity of Asia a week after my arrival. Establishing a simple daily routine was easy. These were the regular things I do every day:
I wake up at 5:30 am every morning (without an alarm clock) and make myself some coffee and breakfast.
I work on my blog and engage on social media. I read many articles on building a blog.
I study Swedish. (Yes, I am a Swedish learner!)
I compose and arrange music for my students.
I head to school to teach and come home in the evening.
The order varies depending on the day of the week, but I did these every day for the past few months. In the beginning, I felt empowered by the routine I created for myself. It was a productive lifestyle, but I didn’t realize I was stepping into misery.
I know many people would do fine with a routine, but the routine was exactly what got me depressed four years ago. I quite my life in NYC because I wanted to escape from routine, so how the heck did I get myself back into this loop? I don’t even know. All the bad memories of being alone in a big city caught up to me. I felt out-of-place, and I had a mental meltdown.
I understand it’s not healthy to keep feeling this way, and I don’t want to fall back into that black hole. So, I started to analyze the reasons and what I could do make myself feel better. Here are the why and how:
I am living in the future and am not acknowledging the present is the best time.
I kept telling myself I can never make Shanghai home. The city is not my final destination. I am just here to gain experiences and save up some money. I will move on to something better.
I keep pointing out the problems with Shanghai instead of appreciating the good.
I even wrote a blog post about it. Have a read: 7 Valuable Skills You Need for Travel in Shanghai.
Besides speaking fluent Mandarin, I can’t identify myself with modern Chinese culture. I reject it subconsciously.
It’s not necessary for expats to identify themselves with the culture of where they live. But due to the political situations between Taiwan and China, it’s not that simple for me. I am from Taiwan, and the two countries share a piece of complicated history together.
Also, Chinese often assume I am Chinese because of my fluent Mandarin and my Asian face. Chinese would think I know how everything goes and get annoyed if I don’t understand how things work.
I am Taiwanese, not Chinese. Besides Chinese government considers Taiwan as a part of China, I am just as foreign as any other expats. (it does make things easier for us tho.)
I have some friends in shanghai, but I was not enthusiastic about making new friends and meeting new people.
I am not sure why I behave this way. It might be because I spend most of my time working and teaching. I also realized it usually takes me at least five months to settle into a new city before I start meeting new people.
My wanderlust is calling me.
I left NYC in 2013, and since then, I was freelancing as a musician and held several part-time jobs. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I had lots of freedom taking small and big trips all over the world. My current schedule as a piano teacher still gives me lots of flexibility, but it’s not like before.
Once I identified the issues, the solutions seem clear to me.
Here are how I am coping with stress that comes with living abroad:
Look up events on MeetUp, CouchSurfing, or Internation.
I find activities that seem exciting to me so that I can look forward to something. These websites are great for meeting new people and getting to know expat community in the city you live. I remembered that I made some amazing friends through the regular Couchsurfing meetup while in Taipei. We later met up in different countries include Belgium and Canada 😀
Go on day trips to unknown places.
Usually, I just want to cave in when I have a day off, but getting out of Shanghai even just for a day did wonder for me. I visited Hangzhou for an afternoon although the weather was terrible.
Change up the routine. Do something new.
I decided I’d be lazy for as long as I need. Taking a break from social media was a healthy choice. I also skipped studying Swedish for a few days. And instead of cooking at home, I splurged and went out for some delicious food.
Find my crowd. Accept who I am and stop trying to blend in.
I was an active couch surfer. I was all about meeting locals because that’s the best way to learn about a city. Traveling and living abroad need a different mentality. When living abroad, finding people who can make you feel at home is important. It’s more important than trying to fit in.
The truth is I may never feel at home in Shanghai. I know deep inside, I reject becoming a part of it. And that is okay. I fully accept what I feel because that’s who I am.
Did you just move abroad? Are you having trouble adjusting? How do you cope with stress that comes with living abroad? Share your thoughts!
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Also published on Medium.