“Expat Burnout” and when it might be time to go home


I’ve been living abroad for seven years now. Make that seven years and five months, but hey – who’s counting? At this point, I am. For the most part, I love living outside America. I’m a bit of a wanderer by nature (I blame my Aquarius start sign as well as my nomadic upbringing for this), but at some point there comes a time when even the most adventuresome of us want to put down roots somewhere. After the better part of a decade here in Germany, I think I’ve reached that point.

All expat experiences are challenging. Moving to a new country with a different language, a different climate, different way of doing life, is not easy. My experience was also a bit more challenging than most – in addition to raising three kids alone here in Berlin for the most of our time here, I also went though one of the nastiest divorces ever, which included a child kidnapping case (google my full name and you’ll see ALL the details of this misadventure, thanks to the US government and their sharing of public records).

That life-draining and life-altering experience is I believe what made me go from crazy-in-love with Berlin and never wanting to leave, to the point where I am now. Which is some days is get-me-out-of-here-ASAP! Of course there are still good days – days when I don’t want to leave my life here in Europe, in all it’s cappuccino-fueled and wine-soaked Old World beauty. Those days though are few and far between. Most days I’m griping about how little personal space there is, how rude Germans can be (yes, the Germans I used to love!), and how I just can’t be bothered with the difficult German language or endless bureaucracy any longer.

Apparently I am not alone in feeling this way. A quick Google search last night showed me that things like “expat burnout” and “expat depression” are real things that people face at times when living abroad. Especially when they have been abroad for a long time and are kind of done with their life abroad.¬†Of the several interesting articles I found written on the topic, my favorite – and the most applicable to my experience – is one posted on a website called Expat Info Desk. They give four signs it’s time to leave your life abroad, and what do you know – I can relate to all four. It’s as if I wrote the article myself – or rather, a neutral, honest bystander saw my life from the outside and wrote about where I am.

In short, as much as I love so many things about living abroad – I love the culture one is exposed do, I love the different languages you hear at any given time, I love love love the wonderful foods and desserts and travel and clear water of the Med that you don’t have in the US. But you know what? There are things that I love about and miss where I come from. For example – there is space enough for everyone so you don’t get mauled while waiting in line at the bakery or supermarket, because people generally know how to stand in lines and wait their turns; the bureaucracy isn’t time-sucking and mind-numbing as here. There is a also general sense of responsibility and caring for others in America that I’ve not found here in Europe.

Beyond the lovely parts of life in Europe and the easier living that can be found stateside, another and even more important factor is people. Since we’ve been abroad, I’ve missed two funerals, three weddings, and countless other celebrations and birthdays. This is not to make myself sound pitiful, as I had a reason for moving here and I take full ownership of that decision and I do not regret it. But at some point you realize that once you’ve reached the goals you set out to reach, you no longer have a reason for being where you are. Continuing to miss the lives of those closest to you and yours is not something you are willing to sacrifice any longer, which means it might just be time to start packing bags. Or at least starting on a game plan for the near future.

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