Lessons i have Learned

A Guide to Expatriate ‘Syndromes’

Opting to live life overseas away from your friends and family can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Some people move abroad and never look back, enjoying every minute of the exciting adventures that an expat life can bring. Others struggle to come to terms with existence in a strange environment and may develop negative emotions that taint their experiences abroad.

Here’s some of the more common expat ‘syndromes’ and how you can make positive changes to stop them interfering in your life and making your life overseas a misery.

Short-timer Syndrome

Short-time expatriates are those that relocate to a new country for a short period of time, generally a year or less. Quite often these expatriates and their families find it difficult to make new friends and form strong social networks because mentally they, and the people they meet, know that the ties will only be temporary and it won’t be long until they move on again. This is known as short-timer syndrome and can lead to expats feeling isolated and under-valued by their acquaintances.

How to Counteract Short-timer Syndrome

  • Accept your situation for what it is and embrace it. The onus will be on you to find friends and a place for yourself in your community. Consider forming a ‘short-timer’ forum, where people in a similar position to yourself can get in touch and you can form friendships on similar terms.
  • Don’t let the fact that you’re only going to be in the host country for a short time put you off getting involved. Do things as you would if you were planning on staying forever and enjoy your life.
  • If you have children make sure that you arrange social events for them so that they too can enjoy the time in their temporary country of residence.

Expat Child Syndrome (ECS)

Expat child syndrome is a term created by psychologists to describe any emotional difficulties that a child experiences as a result of being relocated to a foreign country. It can manifest itself in different ways including unsocial behavior, withdrawal, disruptive behavior and refusal to co-operate. In most cases it is short-lived and slowly dissipates as the children settle into their new lives abroad. In more serious cases, however, it can develop into more significant psychological issues. For more information on Expat Child Syndrome see: Expat Child Syndrome

How to Deal With Expat Child Syndrome

  • Create stability and structure for your children as soon as possible. Get into a routine as quickly as you can and stick to it at all costs. The closer this routine resembles the one in your home country, the better.
  • Take familiar items with you and set up home as soon as possible. Familiarity will help your children to settle in much quicker and will give them a sense of reassurance. By filling your new home with some familiar items you can help them to pass through the transitory time of adjustment.
  • Recognize that your own attitude affects their behavior. Many people find change unnerving and during a move abroad it is quite easy to become stressed and emotional. During these times it is crucial that you recognize that children may model your behavior and, as such, you can quite easily pass feelings of uncertainty, emotional stress and fear directly onto them. Try and remain calm in front of your children and always speak positively about the move. If necessary, freak out once they have gone to bed.

Three Year Syndrome

Last week UK newspaper The Telegraph wrote an article covering the phenomenon of Three Year Syndrome. This usually occurs after an expatriate has been living overseas for a period of around three years (as the name suggests). Three Year Syndrome is characterized by boredom, a lack of interest in the host location and a general feeling of being stuck in a rut. In the worse case scenario The Times suggests:

If you are really unlucky nothing will change and you will become an established part of the bitter and twisted expat club, to be found daily dispensing advice to anyone that will listen
(and cough up the cost of a glass or two) on where it all went wrong and what they should do to avoid the same mistakes.

How to Prevent Three Year Syndrome:

  • Get a new hobby. Start writing, photography, arts and crafts… anything that is completely new. This will give you a new challenge and will also offer you an opportunity to broaden your horizons and make new friends.
  • Start you own business. If your visa gives you the permission to do so, consider letting your entrepreneurial spirit loose and open a business doing something you love. See our article on expat businesses ideas.

Trailing Spouse Syndrome

Trailing spouse syndrome is a term that is applied to an individual who relocates abroad as a result of a move inspired by their partner’s career or personal circumstances. The experiences of the trailing spouse can become negative when they start to experience stress and discontent as a result of being without work or purpose in their host country. In more serious conditions the individual can become withdrawn and their relationship with their partner may seriously suffer. For more information on trailing spouse syndrome see: Trailing spouse

How to Counteract Trailing Spouse Syndrome

  • Get a job. Instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself get out there and make some money. Here’s some ideas for how the trailing spouse can make their situation more lucrative: jobs for the trailing spouse.
  • Study. Go to university or join a course and study something that you have always been interested in. This will keep your mind occupied and will give you an opportunity to meet new people.
  • Volunteer. Instead of focusing on the things that are missing in your life consider some of your strengths and use them to help others who are less fortunate.
  • Get a new hobby. Do something totally different. This will give you a fresh challenge, will motivate you and will potentially help you to make new friends.
  • Form a “trailing spouse” club. Get online and create your own social network or forum where trailing spouses can get together and share their highs and lows. It will give you an opportunity to meet people who are in a similar situation to yourself and will also present you with a fresh challenge.

Have you experienced or suffered from any of the above ‘syndromes’? If so leave a comment and let us know what happened. How did you overcome them and what advice can you offer others in a similar situation?

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