Just like hitting the Travel Funk, as an expat, I’ve come to learn, you hit the Expat Funk, too. Know what I’m talking about?
It’s that shitty feeling when you wake up in the morning and you can’t be asked to go about your daily routine. When the things you once found charming, like the slow-paced walking though the early morning market on the way to work, dodging motorbikes, staring at the moat and looking at the lights twinkle in the murky waters … when they all lose their charm. When the wide-eyed awesome you first felt dissolves and turns into … meh.
If you’re an expat living in one place for a long time and you haven’t felt that, congratulations.
After nearly 11 months, I hit the Expat Funk back in March. Sure, there was some personal stuff going on, but suddenly, the city I had come to love — Chiang Mai — started to get under my skin. I wasn’t looking at it with happy any longer, I was looking at it as the place I lived and worked. There was no beauty to my day (other than when I got to be with elephants), it was just wash-rinse-repeat. I stepped into an ugly routine.
Then, my friend died, then I started to get anxiety … but along the way something else started to happen, too.
My friends and I started making little day trips, whether it was just a few miles down the road to the huge Tesco-Lotus, or a motorbike adventure to a lake, or, most recently, a trip to a national park and a boat ride … I started to get out. To expand my horizons. To get out of the funk.
How did I do it?
Form a group
Living as an expat, particularly in a transient place like Chiang Mai, means friends come and go. It is a revolving door of “hellos,” Deep and Meaningfulls, followed by the often teary-eyed “see-you-soons.” I was lucky enough to immerse myself with a group of amazing people who are either locals or have planted their roots here (at least for longer than a month). Even as they came and went — and trust me when the last group of close friends left, it was terribly hard — there were always more wonderful people who came into my life.
Seriously. Get. Out. Of. Town. Just a day swimming in a lake surrounded by lush tropical mountains can do wonders for the soul. It certainly did for me. Even just getting out of my neighborhood and heading to the hip Nimmanhaemin neighborhood helps put things in perspective a bit. It would remind me that there is more to my life than just the little corner I encompass.
Remind yourself why you are an expat
For me, I am an expat because I am doing something I love. I help out at Save Elephant Foundation, and being able to work with one of the most inspirational women in the world, along with elephants, can make my day. I’m also an expat because I love living abroad. For some people, their home country just isn’t for them. I know this is true for me. So, even on the shittiest of shit days, I think about what my life would be like where I used to be, and am so grateful to be where I am and have the people in my life I have.
Take time to breathe
Not every day is perfect. Not every night is perfect. Some days just suck and you want comfort. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Then, get the hell over it.
Appreciate the little things
For me, nothing reminds me more of where I am and where I am most definitely not is the moat which surrounds the Old City of Chiang Mai. I mean, it is a moat. In the town I call “home.” Just the bursts of life which come from the moat encasing the city is enough to snap me back into a world where living as an expat means anything is entirely possible.