Dealing with loneliness as a newly arrived expat

Published:  14 Feb at 6 PM
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How do expats deal with feelings of loneliness once they’ve made the move?

Expat life can be difficult to adjust to, especially in countries not known for their friendly welcomes to strangers, with loneliness setting in and spoiling the exciting new experience of living in an unfamiliar country. For example, surveys have shown Germany can be a tricky country as regards integration, especially in smaller towns some distance away from the major cities.

One American expat who’d spent seven of her childhood years on a USA Air Force base on the country’s western border decided some 20 years later to visit the area and connect again with the family who’d owned her parents’ rented home. After she'd reconnected with the landlord’s family and met his son, she returned home but stayed in touch. After a few years, she returned, married the son and decided to stay on in Germany.

Although she was happy within the marriage, she felt alone outside the family circle as the local people seemed distant and unfriendly. After finding a job teaching at a nearby university, things improved, but she still had problems dealing with her transition from a full life in the USA to the social restrictions of a small German town.

According to the surveys, many expats now living in Germany have experienced periods of acute loneliness, as well as a sense of alienation. One Berlin-based psychiatrist working with expat patients connects loneliness with language problems and cultural integration, giving feelings that, although people are kind to them, it’s only on a superficial level.

Learning the new language to a level which allows basic conversation helps a lot in forming deeper relationships, but developing genuine friendships can take time and patience.
Interestingly, acute loneliness in Germany doesn’t seem to be confined to newly-arrived expats, and is something of a taboo subject with many Germans. One somewhat enlightened politician called for a ‘removal of taboos surrounding loneliness’, saying it shouldn’t remain a ‘murky issue’ linked in peoples’ minds with social ineptitude and being unlikeable.

Another formerly lonely British expat found being honest about her feelings helped a lot as regards forming connections with those on the same wavelength, and another felt that accepting the very different social norms in Germany was at least part of the answer, as is an intensive course in the language. However, most believed it takes far longer to make friends than in other European countries.
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