Change & Loss in International Schools

Living abroad can be both exhilarating and exhausting, and those who work or study in international schools often find themselves facing a continuous cycle of change and loss. In August there is a flurry of new faces, some incredibly excitable, some massively overwhelmed and others whose sadness drips from them like water, pooling around their feet. Students and staff wonder who are their people – who amongst these newbies will be their friends this year? Maybe they even signed up to be buddies keen to replace the friends they lost last year and are striving for new connections.

Then just as the term starts to settle, talk begins of contract renewals – who is up for renewal this year? Whispers about who is leaving and about who should probably leave, as they clearly hate it but yet are still there, year after year, hanging on for the cash while making themselves and all around them miserable…

By early term two, bang in the midst of newbie homesickness, the rumours start flying about who is going and where. We learn that that one family who has kept us sane for the past few years is moving to Europe to be closer to family or the colleague that keeps the department together is heading off to new adventures and we wonder how we will cope without them.

Come July your home is full of random crap that friends and colleagues are leaving behind that they couldn’t get rid of in the selling frenzy that is April – June. The constant pinging of Whatsapp expat sales groups, provide the soundtrack to the constant reminder that people are moving on. As the leavers panic about selling everything, the sadness sets in for those left behind. The stayers start to try and make new friends with other stayers while their houses get fuller with reminders that the only constant in this life is change. The blender from the science teacher, a random assortment of cups to give to your new buddy, some awful picture that your friend clearly bought while drunk in Bali; houses haunted by the appliances of expats past.

And after the goodbye parties and half-hearted promises to always keep in touch you move onto the summer holidays before the rollercoaster starts again.

Spend too much time in the cycle and it may get to the point where you give up trying to make friends. That the loss of losing so many people you care about makes you reluctant to try again. It’s understandable, yet we all need connection – old hands and newbies alike. Unresolved loss can lead to us feeling depressed and thinking it is better if we just don’t even try anymore.

If this is you, please reach out for some support.

How to maintain your mental health while living abroad

When you move away from your home country, life can seem like a daring adventure. There are new cultures to experience and you learn so much about yourself and how to problem solve. There can be some difficulties such as language barriers and no matter how excited you are, you will probably experience some sort of culture shock and homesickness. 

So how can you maintain your mental health while living abroad? Here are six tips:

1. Keep in touch with family and friends back home. Talking to someone who knows your story can help you feel more connected and less isolated.

2.Talking to others who have been in your shoes can be really helpful. Seek out support from other expats or locals who understand what you’re going through.

3. Build a routine and stick to it as much as possible. Having a sense of predictability can help anchor you during times of change or stress.

4. Get outside and explore your new home – immerse yourself in activities.

5. Don’t forget to take time for yourself- mental health is just as important as physical health! Make sure to schedule in some down time every day or week to do something that brings you joy.

6. Seek out professional help if you are struggling. 

Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel homesickness and nostalgia while living in a new country

Adjusting to living in a foreign country can be tough, especially when you’re far from the people and places you call home. It’s normal to feel a sense of homesickness and nostalgia as you navigate through your new environment. Instead of trying to push away these feelings or put them aside, it’s important to acknowledge them and take time out of each day to check in with yourself regarding how you’re feeling. Taking moments to journal, meditate or practice mindfulness can help create an emotional equilibrium so that you can continue growing, thriving and getting the most out of living abroad.

Make an effort to connect with the local community and create a support system

Living away from home can have its fair share of struggles, but one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to create a new support system in the local community. Taking time to get to know our new surroundings, meet our neighbors and immerse ourselves in the local culture can not only enrich our experience abroad, but also make us feel more at home. Allocating time to attend cultural events or volunteer within the city allows us to forge connections with people with similar interests and build strong relationships that provide emotional support during times of need and loneliness. Making an effort to connect with those around us is an invaluable contribution to our mental health while living abroad.

Find healthy coping mechanisms for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed

Moving abroad is an exciting yet challenging experience, and it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Taking time to care for your mental health while living abroad is essential to make the most of your experience. It’s important to identify what coping mechanisms work best for you, so when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, you have positive solutions available. Some useful strategies include setting aside time each day for yourself, practicing mindful activities such as yoga or meditation, and speaking with friends or family back home. 

Take time for yourself – schedule in some alone time or do things that make you happy 

Taking the time to look after yourself and prioritize your own happiness is essential, so why not plan in some alone time or do something that brings you joy? Making sure you’re doing something for yourself every day helps keep everything in perspective and gives you the emotional space to invest in your own wellbeing. Seeing yourself as someone who deserves a bit of TLC means that you can put aside worries such as feeling overwhelmed or lonely, and trust that looking after yourself comes first.

Seek professional help if you’re struggling to adjust or are experiencing more severe mental health issues

Experiencing unfamiliar cultures, environments, and languages can be overwhelming for anyone. Trying to adjust to these changes while living abroad can become too difficult at times and take a toll on your mental health. Talking through your emotions can provide comfort and also give you meaningful insights into how to tackle whatever difficulties you’re facing. At 7north we provide online and in-person counselling from our base in Phuket – please get in touch with us if you need support. 

In summary, moving to another country can be an exciting, challenging and overwhelming experience, both mentally and emotionally. It is normal to feel homesickness, nostalgia, and culture shock while adjusting to your new home. That’s why it’s important to have self-care strategies at the ready if things become too overwhelming. Take time for yourself, develop coping mechanisms that work for you, connect with the locals, and never be afraid to reach out for professional help if needed.  It takes time to adjust when living abroad but with adequate self-care practices in place these daily struggles can eventually give way to newfound joys found in your new home. 

So, we ask you then: what do you do to maintain your mental wellbeing while living abroad? Leave some ideas in the comments below: