Manila and the Philippines welcome you to a new home here. We know that as you become accustomed to this bright, vibrant part of the world, you will find your own favorite parts to love. It’s wonderful to have you here as part of the diverse international community!
The stress associated with moving home, job and school can have an enormous impact on your well-being. Whether you are here with your family or flying solo, finding your place in a new town can take time, and sometimes a bit of support can make a big difference to how quickly you settle in and feel at home.
In Touch Community Services Inc. has 40 years of experience in helping people, and over that time they have developed a deep understanding of the challenges faced by expats moving to a new place.
In Touch offers counseling, psychotherapy and psychiatric consultation to address various issues concerning mental and emotional well-being. Our mental health professionals come from a diverse background and have expertise dealing with difficulties in childhood and adolescence, parenting and family matters, marital and relationship problems, stress and work-related concerns, grief and loss, transitional adjustment, substance abuse, domestic violence, trauma, as well as psychiatric cases. Our counseling services are conducted under different service modalities such as face to face, over the phone or online / web.
Our Mental Health Professionals
Our professional team is composed of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and coaches with a wide variety of specializations. Their local and expatriate clientele spans across individuals, couples and families aged 3 years and older. They offer counseling in the following languages: English, Tagalog / Filipino, Visayan, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and German.
All counseling sessions are strictly confidential. No information will be disclosed to anyone without your written consent except for life-threatening situations that will require intervention and support from the people who care about your well-being.
Manila and the Philippines welcome you and your family to a new home here. We know that as you become accustomed to this bright, vibrant part of the world, you will find your own favorite parts to love. It is an amazing country and often surprises people with how quickly they fall in love with their life here.
Moving to a new place can present challenges to families. The stress associated with moving home, job and school can have an enormous impact on how each family member feels, and they may exhibit their stress in a variety of ways. Depending on the family situation, some members of the family will be more affected than others.
Whether you are planning to move or have already arrived, there are support systems available for you to access whenever you need help, whether it’s on your first day or months down the track. Since 1980, In Touch has been helping the community, and over that time they have developed a deep understanding of the challenges faced by families moving to a new place.
For those who like to do a bit of reading at their own pace, the following are some tips for settling into a new life away from your home country from one of our ‘seasoned’ expat volunteers moving with a family for the past 20 years.
Slow Down: The feverish activity that is your life when you are preparing to move is incredibly draining for everyone, particularly the person who is charged with making all the arrangements and coordinating the whole production. Moving into a new place happens at a slower rate. Often there will be delays waiting for leases to be arranged, for shipments to arrive and for other necessities beyond your control. You can use this time to explore your new home, have fun meals as a family and become a ‘tourist’ in your new home town. This creates a pleasant bond between your family and your new home, and if you can approach it with a sense of adventure, the landing can be a happy one.
Take your time: Every place does things a little differently and sometimes it can be difficult to understand the processes and timing. No matter how efficient or organised you are, sometimes there are unexpected delays and things don’t always go to plan. Breathe, smile and try again later.
Find like-minded people: There are so many wonderful community groups both online and IRL that you can connect to here that can offer you information, support and confidence as you get to know your new home. School, work and the local community where you live will be a good start. You can find groups for a huge range of shared interests, and thanks to social media, these are not difficult to connect to. When you’re ready you can reach out and start to find ‘your’ people.
Take a trip: When travel restrictions lift, and it’s safe to do so, begin to explore beyond your comfort zone. The Philippines has so many wonderful options for travel for all budgets, and wonderful experiences await the brave! It’s a fantastic way to connect more closely to your new home, benefit communities beyond the cities and create shared family memories.
Be kind to yourself: From the basics like making sure you drink more (a lot more!) water and wear sunscreen to monitoring your mental health; when you relocate a family your health is crucial to the success of the move. It may seem like you need to take care of everyone else and get them settled before you can take a moment, but in reality, the opposite is true. Your family needs you to be in peak condition for them to settle in easily and feel comfortable. Just as the airlines direct parents to fit their oxygen mask before assisting minors, you need to take care of your needs so that you can care adequately for others.
Get support when you need it: It can take courage to ask for extra support whether it is from a busy partner, colleague or an acquaintance that you don’t know so well yet. The good news is that at some point or another in this mobile life, we all have asked for some extra support or advice to get us through a confusing and difficult time. Sometimes there are things that you need help with that require an impartial and understanding ear as well as an assurance of confidentiality. This is available to you at In Touch Community services, and you can be confident that anything you have to say stays in the room. You can leave your worries at our door!
Volunteer with In Touch! There’s plenty of ways that you can be involved in the great work we do. When you are ready, contact us and we can introduce you to a warm and friendly team of mental health advocates.
Here’s a list of what we offer at In Touch Community Services with quick links to more information when you need it: information when you need it:
Do you have any questions for us? We’d love to hear from you if you need any help or additional support as you transition to life here. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We hold coffee mornings, and in light of the current situation, these are now virtual.You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (see details at the bottom of this page) for regular updates on upcoming meetings, webinars, etc.
For easy-to-follow and practical mental health-related tips for Coping during Covid, check in here https://www.in-touch.org/covid-19.html for general wellness tips and adjusting to the new normal.
Read about real inspirational stories of hope from our In Touch community to bring you mental and emotional relief during this pandemic. Look for #ITSOH (In Touch Stories of Hope). We’re looking forward to having you join the community here very soon!
Welcome to Manila, Singles & Professionals!
It’s wonderful to have you here as part of the diverse international community, and we hope that you have hit the ground running as you explore all that this city has to offer.
Finding your place in a new city can take time, and sometimes a bit of support can make a big difference to how quickly you settle in and feel at home.
Since 1980, In Touch Community Services has been helping both foreigners and locals adjust to life’s challenges and work through issues that they struggle with. In that time, In Touch has developed a deep understanding of the issues that new arrivals face, and the team has been successful in supporting people into a healthier and happier life here.
We can help you with:
Adjusting to a different culture and lifestyle
Stress and anxiety
Protecting your mental health
The team at In Touch is ready to help you in complete confidence to work through any issues you want to discuss, and you can be confident that your privacy will be respected at all times.
We can also assist with providing seminars and training for companies that want to develop healthy working environments and help the workforce manage stress. You may contact email@example.com for more information. The team can also provide workshops for schools to benefit teachers and students. Contact us directly for more information on this service.
Do you have any questions for us? We’d love to hear from you if you need any help or additional support as you transition to life here. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We hold coffee mornings, and in light of the current situation, these are now virtual.You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (see details below) for regular updates on upcoming meetings, webinars, etc.
For easy-to-follow and practical mental health-related tips for Coping during Covid, check in here https://www.in-touch.org/covid-19.html for general wellness tips and adjusting to the new normal.
Read about real inspirational stories of hope from our In Touch community to bring you mental and emotional relief during this pandemic. Look for #ITSOH (In Touch Stories of Hope).
We’re looking forward to having you join the community here very soon!
Seeing 2020 clearly BY: Julia Cope In Touch Volunteer
If we can see an object clearly from a distance of 20 feet, we meet the criteria for 20/20 vision. The expression “Hindsight is 20/20” describes how we often look back and see where and how mistakes occurred that may have been avoided if all the facts were known. Nearing the finish line of the year 2020, some of us will be relieved to be moving past this year’s trials and errors. Many of us hope for a better year in 2021, but it’s probably wise to be cautious about our expectations.
This year has had more than its fair share of drama. When we review this year’s notable moments on December 31, we may be surprised by how much has happened, and how much we have already forgotten. That is the nature of memory -- holding on to some things and letting go of others, sometimes for protection, but mostly because current events demand it. There are definitely some real lessons from 2020 that we can all benefit from, but there are also minutiae which won’t help us move forward if we give it more attention than it deserves.
In our assessment of the 2020 experience, balance is important. It would be insensitive to deny the major negative impact of this year on a global level, with so many people having suffered a great deal through various challenges. For some people, though, there were small, very real and wonderful things that occurred on a personal level. The trick is to be clear about personal values in making the assessment for our own situation. Knowing what is really important to us and gauging whether the events of this year brought these into sharper focus, is one way to be balanced in our views.
As humans, our minds and bodies are designed to avoid pain and discomfort in favour of survival and security. It is natural to feel a strong desire to run away from bad situations and seek happier, more agreeable times. Retro TV, movies, recipes and nostalgia in general have boomed during this year, with many people seeking the comfort of days gone by, transported by their senses to a safer time. With some shallow digging, we can probably find some disturbing footage of events from past eras too. It is just that current challenges seem so much scarier than the ones we have already overcome.
There is so much from 2020 that has been overcome that can be celebrated. As in so many years prior to it, 2020 has delivered amazing results in just about every realm of human ingenuity. For a bit of a tour through the less widely publicised good news, I recommend this website. Its intention is for people to change the story inside their head about what the future holds by paying attention to the good things that have occurred, not only the bad. This change of focus can also help to identify joyful moments in our daily lives.
Joy is different to happiness. There is a distinction between happiness as a state of being, and joy which is more of a moment of pure realisation and connection. Joy can be fleeting. Some of us strive for happiness on an enduring basis. We can take self-assessments on this to see how close we are to meeting that goal. Moments of joy shine like beacons during dark times, delivering hope and rewarding persistence.
When the decorations start to come down, the lights are turned off and the credit card bills menace our inboxes, the delightful distraction of the Christmas season will be gone and we will once again face more of the same stuff we have dealt with this year. There may be an impulse to rush around to try and make ourselves feel better. We could mark our calendar for all upcoming holidays, and get fully immersed in each celebration as it looms, but this would only distract us for a moment. These events are important traditions for us to appreciate and share, but they serve a greater purpose than keeping us entertained. Perhaps feeling better in the short term isn’t the ideal goal to focus on, it’s more about being clear about how to recognise joyful moments in our everyday life.
When we review the year that was 2020, we have the option to focus on positives and negatives. Alternatively, we can choose not to label anything as ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ because that won’t really help us take personal responsibility for what happens next. What might help is taking what we have learnt this year and making some kind of commitment to improving the situation where we are. In an atmosphere of negativity, it can slip our minds that we can be a positive force in the world through our small actions multiplied many times.
Although it has been a very difficult year in many ways, let’s try not to label 2020 as anything. Taking time to notice the many positive outcomes of this year will allow us to take charge of our own story, and not feel compelled to ‘doom scroll’ through the opinions of others. Every year has disappointments, trials, mistakes, emergencies, drama and boredom. Inconvenience is part of the journey and some people face more of it than we will ever comprehend. Thankfully, if we look closely at our lives, we can see the joyful interludes that punctuate the dark and dangerous times, and this is what will help us through. We have the option to look back at the past and remember the best bits of that, or hunt for a perfect vision of future happiness; but finding something to be grateful for to celebrate right now will mean that the arrival of 2021 is simply another milestone, and not an anticlimax or a disappointment.
Thank you 2020 for the lessons and welcome 2021. We look forward to what you have to teach us.
Bring on the -ber months! BY: Julia Cope In Touch Volunteer
It’s August. The humidity rolls over us in a lazy wave before the rain pelts down and provides some relief before rolling away and making space for the next storm. In August, we usually see wet and crowded roads, shoppers sheltering under covered walkways and a kaleidoscope of umbrellas on the horizon. Normally, August brings back the routine of school, and the return of friends from their summers spent in faraway destinations signals the beginning of another bevy of events. This August has been different, and we all know why. Soon it will be September and the festivities of the -ber months will arrive.
I recall a moment last year when I was halfway through a rather bland shopping errand, when I looked up and saw the most enormous inflatable snowman. It was August 31, 2019, and it took me a few moments to process that the following day would mark the beginning of the festive season in the Philippines. That feeling brought me so much joy that it warms me to this day! For the uninitiated, the period between September and January is a full-on blast of festive fun. Families are reunited as some Overseas Filipino Workers are granted leave to return and bring their carefully-saved salaries back to share with those under their care. For Filipinos, gifts are exchanged between people irrespective of the closeness of their connection, such is their generosity of spirit. In my experience there really is no close competitor for the title of “Most fun place to spend Christmas” than the Philippines. Even the most hardened, Grinch-like festive season denier will be worn down here over time as the mood is so infectious.
I’ve been wondering whether things might be a little different than normal this year. I say that without a touch of sarcasm as my experience tells me that the resilience and fortitude of the Filipinos will not be dampened by our current crisis. There may be significant impacts, and these will be felt worldwide. It’s not over yet. With the reintroduction of MECQ and a long road ahead before the curve has flattened, we live in uncertain times. Although we don’t have a crystal ball to predict how things will be for the coming season and beyond, we can grasp each opportunity to turn the current chaos into the joy of the -ber months as we know them. We can help ourselves and those around us to experience a “Christmas Miracle” of sorts.
A big part of the festive season here is the traffic. Manila’s traffic is a grand dame: a diva with moods and demands that create all kinds of havoc. Christmas is a special time for these kinds of moods. Parties and events from September to January can run at break-neck speed and keep the most agile person gasping for air. It’s a lot of fun, but the exhaustion is real. So the combination of many places to be and bumper-to-bumper traffic is a threat to everyone’s sanity. I don’t anticipate that these kinds of problems will exist to the same extent this year. Despite the hassle, these events are a part of the festive season fabric, and without them, there may be a feeling of loss. It may be some time before we can mingle as in bygone days, so a substitute will need to be found. Although it has been wonderful for many things, Zoom cannot replace a Christmas party! This year, parties might be a lot smaller, limited in size and possibly even time-restricted. What do you need for a party? Good music, some food and drinks and a positive attitude can be a good start, and we can control all of those things in our own environment.
You could also try:
Have a party in your village street in your front yard. Dress up, show up and have a fun time with your neighbors in sight but not on the same premises.
Create a party message board in your building. Write a message that expresses your festive feelings towards your neighbors and all those who keep the wheels turning where you live.
Make donations to hard-working organizations that need a boost right now.
Provide some party ingredients for the people who help you and have made this difficult time a little easier for you.
Double-down on the decorations. Don’t let the gloom of what can’t happen affect the things that can go ahead as normal. Trim the tree, put up those party lights and let the whole world know that Santa Claus is indeed coming to town!
The standard gift list in the Philippines is a bit longer than anywhere else I have ever lived. So shopping truly needs to start in September for that list to get covered by December 25. Lately, it’s been a little difficult to get out though. Online shopping is helpful but can be headache-inducing, and it doesn’t always give the same attention to smaller, local enterprises. Bazaars and markets are the stuff of dreams for an efficient attack on the Christmas list. Usually, there are so many, so often that it’s all handled on-time and on-budget. Again, we will need to find alternatives to our preferred shopping experiences, and this may make us wistful for the convenience of previous years. Either way, there’s a lot of small businesses and communities who have been cut off from their regular clientele. To help them, we may need to make a little extra effort.
Some alternatives to consider:
Seek out little-known artisans and local producers whose businesses will need a boost.
Take the time to contact businesses you would normally support and buy what you can from them directly.
Ask friends and neighbors to suggest alternatives to the big brand-name and franchise stores.
Check out ‘DTI GoLokal!’ and ‘Kultura’ for responsibly-sourced Filipino crafts.
Contact market and bazaar organizers for their list of regular traders if they won’t be able to run their usual events.
Donate towards a charitable organization or community group in need of gifts.
Travel may not be a viable option either. So many places are out of reach right now, and many of us are not feeling like the risk is worth it. Connecting to the many places we call home or to exciting destinations will have to wait a little longer. At this time of the year, this can be deeply upsetting, but we must have faith that this won’t go on forever and make the best use of this time of stillness.
Alternatives to international travel could be:
Finally sorting out all those photos and mementos from all the previous trips
Sending cards and gifts by post to our loved ones with heartfelt and thoughtful messages
Planning and budgeting where we would go next
Planning and possibly visiting somewhere in the Philippines - staycations are restful!
Giving household helpers extra time to travel home, especially if they have been unable to leave over the lockdown period
With the understanding that this year may be psychologically tough on all of us, it will be necessary to prepare ourselves for all these feelings of grief and loss that may arise over the -ber months. Even before the festive season arrives, these feelings of grief have accompanied the loss of friends who have repatriated suddenly, loved ones who have succumbed to COVID-19 (either here or in our home countries), as well as the financial and business implications of lockdowns worldwide. One thing that this crisis has driven home is just how interconnected we are, how dependent we are on each other for our well-being and how one small action can have enormous consequences: a ‘butterfly effect’ on a gigantic scale. If we are connected in adversity, then we are equally connected in positive circumstances. One small positive act from us could ripple throughout our communities and lead to a life on the other side of COVD-19 that is worth waiting for. What have we got to lose? Bring on the -ber months; I think we’re ready.
Resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic: Have you underrated your strength? BY: The distracted expat In Touch Volunteer
I might be forgiven for digressing in my recent quest to be a diligent parent. It started with an article on children’s resilience during the corona virus (Covid-19) pandemic (so far, so good). Within minutes, however, I became intrigued by related links. Before I knew it, I had started a multiple-choice resilience quiz, battling the urge to choose all answers to many questions. Aware that I might be losing the point of the quiz (I do take tests quite seriously), I paused to think about the idea of resilience instead. The resilience process and expat adjustment share similarities. In the current Covid-19 pandemic, how can our expat experience serve us?
As a starting point, what is resilience? There is no shortage of explanations out there for the everyday reader, like me, to absorb. The explanations are not all identical. Generally, though, they seem to boil down to maintaining balance during difficulties, adapting to challenging situations, persevering, and ultimately “bouncing back”. The idea seems to be maintaining a balance that, if it tilts, errs towards positivity. This balance can result from an interplay of psychological, social, cultural, and biological factors. The balance may even vary in different areas our life. Interestingly, resilience can be learnt – it need not be something with which we are born.
Psychologist Rick Hanson identifies a number of characteristics in resilient folks:
happy (for those of you raising an eyebrow over the idea of happiness during adversity, this is about gratitude for what is working in your life and the self-confidence that flows from resilience)
motivated to keep going despite challenges
Hanson sees resilience as a process. He stresses that the focus is on identifying one’s inner strength, one’s inner resources in light of a particular challenge, and thinking about past experiences that have worked for us. We may reach out to professionals as part of this process. In Touch Community Services offers expert counsellors to fit individual needs and can assist with this process.
For many expats, this process may seem familiar. The adjustment required by relocation can make us look inward. Although expat travels can be an enriching adventure, there are the challenges of “expat grief”, adjusting to a new environment, functioning for periods of time with a limited or no network, and possibly dealing with additional difficulties or trauma while functioning in daily life. The balancing act requires adaptability and inner strength. Expats I have met who discuss adjustments, from the comfortably settled to the humanly frazzled, acknowledge that they have had to go through this experience. Ultimately, they use their knowledge of personal adjustment and past successes to move forward, sometimes resulting in a personal “new normal”.
The Covid-19 pandemic - with its uncertainty in many areas, ongoing changes, and the need to keep going - may seem reminiscent of the expat adjustment experience. There is the grief of letting go of the familiar and arriving in this new “location” of the new normal with many factors beyond our control, the added (sometimes new) responsibilities that threaten our sense of balance, and the never-ending availability of updates that highlight the challenges and risks of the current Covid-19 pandemic. To add to the list of challenges, many expats in the Philippines also have the uncertainty about their base or location. All of this can contribute to increased stress or anxiety. It is here that expat resilience, developed from repeated adjustments, may come in handy.
So, what inner strengths can expats use from their relocation experience during the current Covid-19 pandemic? 1. Experience of getting through uncertainty and a sudden change Unwelcome as this may be for some of us, the truth is that most of us have had to deal with uncertainties surrounding moves (including upcoming locations, school placements, departure dates, duration of stays abroad, and limits on frequent visits to friends and family elsewhere in the world). Additionally, we have had to respond to new situations on relocating that have required flexibility and stepping out of our usual comfort zones. We know that we have navigated uncertainty and changes before - a very useful starting point for uncertainties now.
2. Perspective This is linked to the point above. Expats enjoy the richness of their diverse experiences abroad. However, relocation experiences are usually an upheaval. In addition to how we respond to uncertainties and sudden change, we have had to adopt a balanced view as far as possible. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this can be crucial to staving off worst-case-scenario thinking.
3. Communication Expats understand that making connections is important. In the current Covid-19 pandemic environment, virtual contact is a helpful substitute for face-to-face contact – even if it is not as ideal as meeting in person. For many of us, this will be an extension of an existing virtual life with friends and family abroad. If you are rebuilding your network due to relocation or some other reason, see Julia Cope’s In Touch article Same, Same… but Different, which identifies steps to making meaningful connections.
4. Realistic expectations of situations, ourselves, and others Expats are experienced with shifting circumstances around relocation plans, modifying expectations, and sometimes, not planning too far ahead. Linked to this is allowing space for self-care, self-kindness, and letting go (with the Covid-19 pandemic, this applies to plans rather than places).
5. The ability to recognise a new situation that may require a different approach The effects of Covid-19 pandemic can go beyond daily inconveniences and the typical expat experience. For some, there may be an understanding of how to tweak past experiences or acquire new ones to manage. For many others, though, the strength may be their ability to identify the need for extra help in uncharted waters and the courage to reach out to a wider community.
So, back to that resilience test. The goal-oriented part of me resisted the urge to award myself a star (after all, picking all answers would have included the “resilient” options, whichever ones they were). The focus is more on maintaining a steady course, drawing on our experiences where we can, and reaching out for a helping hand if we feel the balance is not as positive as we would wish. For some of us, this may be the experience that makes us aware of how we are resilient – and that may include an initial imperfect response changing to a more ideal one. As expats, we are no strangers to that process.
For more information on well-being and mental health, you can find us on Facebook. If you would like to speak to a counsellor in confidence, contact In Touch Counselling Services on (+63 2) 8893-1893 / 0917-863-1136 / 0956-053-4257. For urgent help, the Crisis Line’s trained responders are available 24/7 on +63 2 8893 7603/ +63 917 800 1123/ +63 922 893 8944.
Same, same... but different! BY: Julia Cope In Touch Volunteer
This Tinglish phrase can be used in a variety of situations, for example, to speed up a market deal or to gloss over a situation unworthy of detailed examination. It’s a useful expression that can be applied to many different contexts. It gently moves a situation along, causing no alarm or offense in its deployment.
‘Same, same… but different’ is also one way to describe expats as a group. Expats are a random selection of people brought together at the same place and time, coming to that juncture with a variety of experiences behind them. Some of us are rookies at our first rodeo, others have been on the circuit for many years, ‘seasoned’ by time and experience. The rites of passage for the expat are generally the same, but each person negotiates their way through a unique set of circumstances. Moving from place to place can be like shedding an older layer, only to replace it with new armour for unknown challenges ahead. At each posting, expats search for comrades to journey with them who will accept and understand, who will listen and advise, and who will be someone to share experiences with. Memories are created and meaning can be found in the occasional madness.
Sometimes friendships can be made very fast, when two people ‘click’, and their time and place collision is serendipitous. More often than not, patience is required as well as a lot of ‘putting yourself out there’ before a feeling of security amongst two people is established and the acquaintance becomes a friend. Making friends as an expat is very much an exercise in trial and error. It begins with a willingness to explore whatever is going on in town. This offers many chances to meet like-minded souls. From this starting point, a social life can be built. It’s definitely worth it to invest this time in order to avoid a very particular kind of loneliness best described by the following quotation:
“I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness.” - Anaïs Nin
The situation can be more complex if a person has gone through events and experiences that have been traumatic. Emotions such as grief, anger, resentment and fear are powerful and can have enduring effects on an individual, particularly if they have not received help in processing these. In the pressure cooker atmosphere of expat life transitions, making and keeping friends can be challenging for the traumatised individual. It is sometimes hard to find people who can be trusted with the story of a traumatised person. This can make a person guarded, armoured and defensive; with the only safe option being to connect on superficial levels.
Some of our experiences as adults, and particularly as adult expats, expose us to stress levels much higher than the average person. This can be compounded by living in unstable countries or by family members who require specialist care. The list can be endless. Being an expat is not all G and T’s on the lawn. Taking the Life Changes Stress Test can be a revelation in just how much stress we are exposed to over the course of 6-12 months.
Feelings of isolation can creep into an expat’s closer relationships. Some family members and contacts will not be able to relate to the expat experience and the impact it has over time. An expat learns to withhold certain details, to not share for fear of ‘bragging’ or appearing obnoxious and to remain the same so that others are not embarrassed or offended. The problem is that withholding lived experience from those we love most can add stress, especially if those people have historically been sources of comfort. Partners, despite going through the transition together, can lose touch because they experience events in different ways. Without a genuine interest in understanding or respecting how the other partner is managing, resentment can emerge. Working in foreign countries can be challenging and confusing; not being able to work, for a skilled professional, can be frustrating and dull. A lot of patience, time and care need to be invested so that neither partner feels diminished by a relationship that is set adrift on the high seas. Similarly, children and parents, particularly during the teenage years, can become disconnected as the gap between ‘how it was in my day’ and the here and now, grows. Expat life delivers excitement and adventure, but there are risks associated with our relationships that we should be aware of to avoid becoming isolated from those we love most.
Nobody really knows you unless they know what you’ve lived through, and in the expat circle, that can be a tough expectation to have of people. Instead, the more realistic goal is to seek connection, described as:
“The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” - Brené Brown
For those seeking meaningful friendships and connections in a new place, this can seem an overwhelming task, though not impossible. Whether it’s with people we know and love, or with friends we haven’t met yet, there are a few common elements to creating connections as an expat:
1. Remain true to yourself and your values As the great Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”. There is no need to adopt an alter ego in order to fit in and be the same as whatever crowd you find yourself in at a point in time. Authenticity is attractive and the closer you stay to your true personality, the faster you will find your tribe and true friends. Similarly, keep up those healthy habits, spiritual beliefs, hobbies and interests. Those are your unique and special qualities, and people will want to know about them.
2. Be Brave Most long-time expats will admit that, although the nuts and bolts of moving around can become easier to manage, maintaining the energy and enthusiasm for meeting new people and engaging in the rounds of ‘speed-friending’ at coffee mornings and cocktail events can be difficult. As a starting point, look for the other scared and bewildered people in the room because there is a fair chance that there’s some common ground there and a safe place to launch your mission.
3. Take small steps in opening up and sharing with the world Despite an intense urge to vent to a complete stranger about your current crisis, adopt a more mindful approach to sharing your thoughts. Some people are very open and understanding with the frustrations of this life, but not all situations are safe for you to do that. Protect your privacy and find alternatives to an open, social event where you can air any grievances. The reality is that as an expat we move in wide circles, and it's better to err on the side of caution until you are really sure that the listener will respect your views and maintain confidentiality. View the expat community as a small village, whatever the size of the city.
4. Trust your intuition If you feel a good connection with a person, then make the bold move (see point 2) of seeking another opportunity to meet. If you feel comfortable then there’s a good chance that they are also feeling the same energy and it’s worth pursuing. Try not to be discouraged if it takes time to arrange or if plans fall through. Usually, it is through no fault of your own.
5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable when the time is right The most meaningful relationships start when people feel safe enough to share what’s important to them. When it feels right for you, open up and share part of your story. This creates a safe space for the other person to do the same at their pace and can help develop friendships that last beyond a 2-3 year posting. See points 3 and 4 before you make your decision on where to start. Assess the reaction of the listener for indicators of their comfort with this information. Some friendships start on a superficial level and remain there for good reasons, and those relationships are to be respected as such. In the end, you really only need a few truly reliable friends to feel the benefit.
6. Take your trauma to the professionals If you are living with unresolved issues and feel that these are impacting your mental health and relationships with others, there is help available to you. Contact In Touch Community Services to arrange a session with a counsellor with expertise that fit your experience. If you or someone you know requires immediate assistance; you can contact the Crisis Line.
7. Find safe places to share and learn with others In those crucial early days, it can be hard to find out the things that everyone else seems to know already. Rather than exploding publicly in frustration, online or at a cashier, seek out quality sources of information. There are helpful online communities that routinely provide answers to general questions but be wary of exposing yourself or your family to too wide an audience. Be especially cautious about asking for too much from office staff where you or your partner is employed as you may become the unwitting focus of ‘tsismis’. If you take things slowly, you will find sources who are impartial, experienced and trustworthy for handling the issues you have. In time, you may choose to become a wise and reliable source for others and to help those who are struggling. If you have faced difficulties yourself, healing can be found in bringing others comfort and peace of mind. No matter the forum that we choose to share and learn in, we all have a role to play in keeping our interactions respectful and courteous.
Glancing across a room (or a Zoom gallery) of expats, it would seem that we are all generally the same. We laugh and joke, complain occasionally and get excited about learning new details and ‘secrets’ about our home-for-now. We are, in fact, very different people. Each of us brings our own history of wins, losses, trials and triumphs everywhere we go -- the unseen expat baggage. It’s part of us and it informs our decisions and interactions with others. By being patient, kind and supportive friends, we can share this wealth of experience with those around us to add value to our learning and lighten the load that we carry to the next place.
In light of the current COVID19 situation, In Touch will be operating in flexible working arrangement as we strive to provide continuing support and care for your mental and emotional well-being in these times of crisis. For everyone's safety, we highly encourage counseling via telephone or web/online video conferencing to limit the risk of exposure. Face-to-face counseling will be managed on a case-to-case basis with your assigned counselor.
You may use our online booking form via the button below or get in touch with us by calling the appropriate contact numbers.