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Living Abroad: The Expat Lifecycle

Wanderlust can be a great thing. It drives us to seek new adventures and pushes us out of our comfort zone. All very exciting on paper but actually taking the leap to move to a new country is not a decision that should be made hastily. If you are thinking about moving abroad or have recently made the decision to do so, then you have probably read some blogs or spoken to some friends for a little reassurance. Most will emphasize the importance to travel while you are young and we all have that friend that loves to rehash stories of that summer abroad through rose colored glasses. I am definitely one of those people who encourages anyone to move abroad but it is important to prepare yourself for what comes next after landing in your new home away from home.

What most discussions about moving abroad usually leave out is the emotional cycle of ups and downs that almost all expatriates experience when they arrive to a new country. It even has a name, “The expatriate adjustment life-cycle” or more simply, the “expat life-cycle.” As an expat myself with over 5 years living abroad in Madrid, Spain, I have experienced it myself and have seen it claim many victims along the way. So what exactly is the “expat life-cycle?”

The easiest way to think of it is to divide the experience into 5 phases. Each phase represents what you can expect to experience emotionally and psychologically:

  1. Preparation: This phase is a mix of excitement and anxiety, you emotional state will be elevated the closer your departure becomes. There is a lot to get done before you leave, fortunately you will be fully motivated and ready to move forward.
  2. Honeymoon: Just like your marriage those first few months are going to feel like heaven. Yeah might have a few bumps here or there but not to worry, there is still plenty of money in the bank and the new roommates are a blast. You will still feel like a tourist, opting for convenient travel and nicer accommodation. Everything is new, exciting and exotic. If only this phase could last forever.
  3. Culture Shock: For most people this phase hits between 3-6 months into the experience. The honeymoon phase is over and now reality is starting to set in. People usually burn through their budget a little faster than they were expecting so public transportation it is from here on out. Communication issues can lead to feelings of isolation, discomfort and general unease in the environment. This is the phase where most people decide to throw in the towel and return home. Don’t worry though, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
  4. Adaptation: Now things start getting easier. The ups and downs of the first 6 months will start to diminish, those language classes are starting to pay off and you can actually communicate. You will start feeling confident again and even a feeling of accomplishment that you were able to get through the difficult times.
  5. Repatriation: Or reverse culture shock as it can be for some people. Depending on how long you have been abroad this phase can be easy or very difficult. It is a mixed bag of emotions, happy to return home to friends and family, but also sadness that your journey must come to an end.

Everyone moves abroad for different reasons, work, education, experience, but they key for everyone abroad is to immerse yourself in the culture and the key to that is learning the language. Here in Madrid, that means taking the time to learn Spanish. Jaleo Madrid’s Spanish lessons are designed to help you get through the “culture shock” phase an on to “adaptation” as fast as possible, that is why #spanish4life is what makes sense for most people. Learn more about spanish classes in Madrid here.

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