I currently live in one of the most beautiful cities of the world – Paris! My husband and I moved here four months back. While family and friends constantly express excitement and envy at the current status of my life, I have to say I have felt immensely lonely here at times.
When I share these feelings of loneliness, it often comes as a surprise to many since they perceive me as an independent woman who has lived before in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, U.S.A, England and that too all alone. I wasn´t married then. However, for me, the loneliness in these experiences did not feel that intense since I had my job, my colleagues and an English speaking environment that was supportive at least at work.
However, coming to Paris was different. I moved here primarily because of my husband´s job. I continue working as a freelancer from home, which has its benefits but also its disadvantages. One ends up staying home, not moving one´s body enough, not meeting new people and sometimes not having enough projects to keep one´s energy channelized. The problem got especially aggravated in my case since I didn´t speak a word of French and didn´t know a single soul here. It felt so hard to pass the days while my husband was at work. It literally felt as though my life was coming to an end. I sat with my thoughts alone the whole day and felt my frustration compounding because I did not have a French work permit for which I have to wait (still!) at least six months.
The last one month, however, I have experienced many positive changes within myself. Something just clicked within me in a kind of “aha” moment. I realized that while the external situation was indeed not the most comfortable, it was my thoughts that were aggravating the problem internally. No amount of advice from the outside can make us do anything, unless we ourselves decide to do what serves us, what´s good for us. Just the simple act of accepting that Paris is now my home and deciding that I have to feel well here for my own sake, felt tremendously empowering. I know of many wonderful people / especially women who might face similar dilemmas when they go abroad and decided to share with you the strategies I used to make me feel better and get back on the happy bridge of my life.
Accept it as a normal Feeling
Whether you are feeling homesick or like me just lonely in a new country, the primary thing to realize here is that it’s a completely normal feeling. We all feel afraid of being judged for what we feel. Everyone around us expects us to be happy as we settle in San Francisco or Paris, not knowing that it is not so easy to integrate! We feel that pressure to be happy and get angry at ourselves for feeling bad. Don´t take this pressure. Be kind to yourself. You are allowed to feel what you feel, even if nobody understands.
Seek support – Talk about it
On some days when I didn´t log on to Skype or pick up the telephone, I realized that the whole day could pass without me having said a word to anybody until my husband returned home in the evening. This is not good! As humans we need to feel connected, we need to feel assured that people who love us are there for us, even if far away. When feeling homesick or lonely, not connecting with people is the worst you can do for yourself. I started to rely on my parents, my sister and a few close friends to feel connected, to speak my language and feel a little bit at home during the days. It also greatly helped to just talk about what I was feeling! Piling up our emotions eats us from the inside. It feels good to release them in the safety of the people who love us. In my case, my husband, in spite of his tiredness after a long day´s work, has been so supportive. If there is no one you feel the comfort of speaking to, you can consider logging on to websites such as www.7cupsoftea.com or www.hopenetwork.in where trained listeners or psychologists will actively hear you out and support you in full confidentiality. I work as a volunteer – trained listener for 7cups of tea and find it quite a satisfying experience to support others in distress. Hope Network is also an amazing platform for seeking support online.
Accept your current reality
When we arrive in a foreign land, we try really hard to maintain our comfort zone by denying the painful experience of change that we are going through. On my part, I refused to learn French, stepped out very little out of the house, continued speaking English to everyone I met and continued cooking lots of Indian food at home. Until one day it struck me, I am living in Paris!!! This cannot go on forever. I have to start learning French and start eating some French food at least and stop living in a fabricated reality. Accept your reality, don´t deny it! In fact, embrace it .
Take baby steps towards integration
Learning a new language, trying to make new friends and in my case also looking for work, in a new country can feel overwhelming when put all together. I decided to break it down in baby steps so that I don´t feel bogged down by all the newness and give up. Baby steps helped me and it’s a great way to start for anyone! Doing small things daily that help us integrate slowly into the new community and culture, can accumulate overtime to give you great results. I decided to start learning French for 30 minutes a day! While structured classes are the best way to do it, I am currently using many free sources available on the internet like – http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primarylanguages/french/ or https://www.duolingo.com/ and I can already say the basic greetings, numbers and colors in French J True integration in a foreign community needs language skills. Escaping acquiring those is not healthy.
Secondly, joining social activities in your neighbourhood like a dance club or gym can be a great way to meet new people belonging to the new culture and a great way to make friends even if in a different language! Dramatic as it may sound, I do believe that everyone understands the language of a big smile and love. Thirdly, devote some time to learning more about the city you live in, discover how the transportation works and go discover the city a bit by yourself. Bit by bit, and without overwhelming us, these baby steps can help us release our fear of the foreign and make us feel more at home in the new land.
Not everyone has the means to pay for a gym or go out discovering the city each day. Not everyone likes to meet new people constantly. However, you can and you should still keep yourself busy. Staying busy at home, especially if you are not working, can help you alleviate the stress that comes from negative looping thoughts. I have started to find so much joy in little things these days. Each time a negative feeling like loneliness starts to rise, I pick up a book to read, write on my blog (www.orientalgoddess-express.blogspot.com), paint my nails, do yoga or just watch a movie online! The idea is not to trap oneself in one´s head and steer away from negative thoughts.
It takes time.
Last but not the least, knowing that it takes time to settle in a foreign country and that it will certainly get better with time, is a very comforting piece of knowledge to acknowledge. Allow yourself the time and patience to cope with the changed environment and believe that it will get better for you. Positive thinking can make a world of difference to our inner state, manifesting itself on the outside.
If you are reading this, I hope it helps you a little bit. Feel free to share your strategies of coping with homesickness or loneliness in a foreign country. Would love to hear from you.