GringosAbroad Ecuador

Dealing With Bad Days Abroad: How 7 Expat Families Cope

Posted in: Expats Everywhere

tracey tullisThe life of an expat can be amazing!

Days can be full of new experiences and adventures.

And then other days can be really difficult.

I recently interviewed some expat families and asked them how they deal with the bad days abroad.

7 Expat Families Explain: How To Deal With Bad Days Abroad

The Hamori Family are Canadians living in Southern France. They have faced difficulties with learning the language and missing their family. Health problems, including a hysterectomy also added to their expat life challenges. Here is what they said:

“We all have different coping mechanisms in place; exercise, Skype time with mom, talking,”… “I kept my eye on the prize and knew this too shall pass. You never know how close you are to success unless you keep at it. Failure was simply not an option.”

The Surlien Family are from Norway and have lived in Beijing and the USA. Their answer give some real insight into how hard expat life challenges can be, the importance of allowing yourself down time, keeping a journal and having expat friends that understand.

“First, it must be ok to feel sad and blue and not be hard on yourself when you just feel like staying in bed… It can be hard to explain it to people what the matter is, especially if they think you are so lucky to live the life you do, so that ‘s where your local expat friends come in. Chances are they have felt something similar.”

“I have found it useful to write all my dark thoughts down… Often the process of getting it out of your head is the start of the healing process.”

“For me it has been crucial to have a reason to leave the house every day, for a work out, a language class, a coffee date with someone that makes you laugh or just shopping for something beautiful.”… ” It’s all about finding the right balance between loving care, encouragement to see the positive in the situation, finding distractions and not letting it spiral too deep. A lot can be healed with a daily purpose, clean food and a healthy body.”

Campbell family

The Campbell family

The Campbell Family moved form Central Scotland to the Southern island in New Zealand. One of their biggest expat life challenges was getting residency. It took three years! During that time they were threatened with deportation and were unable to work which meant that they were living off of their life savings. Keeping a balanced outlook and visiting with family has helped them through the challenges.

“I was always keen not ever to blame moving to New Zealand for anything negative in our lives. I was clear it was up to us to make it work, and we would never know if it could or not if we didn’t just do it!”

“We have all had trips back to the UK and been reassured that we have made the right choice. Our girls are happy to be kiwi kids and being able to compare countries later, meet family and go back to their roots has been important for them.”

“Our families have also been out here visiting and as we are all on holiday at the time, it’s different to when you live near each other all the time and are busy living your life.”

Aimee Chan

Aimee Chan

The Chan Family is from Australia and has lived in Singapore. Dealing with culture shock was a big challenge for this family. This is what made the biggest difference for them…

“What made the biggest difference was when I found myself a job… it was the best experience and changed my life. It was in this workplace that I found independence again, began to interact with Singaporeans on a daily basis and began to understand the contemporary Singaporean culture. Plus it launched my career in the media that has allowed me to create my own website, work with some incredible people, and that allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere and still have time for the kids no matter where we move to.”

Ana Gaby is from Mexico and has lived in Germany, Thailand, Indonesia, Canada, France and Belgium. One of the biggest expat life challenges for this family has been feeling overwhelmed. They have found that being focused and staying positive is very important.

“It is natural to question your move once in a while, particularly soon after you move there and things are not quite right and you don’t have a routine yet. It sounds funny, but when you are overwhelmed, you focus on the small things and over time you can become very negative. The best thing to do is to focus on the positive and think about the things that you can only do in your new home. For us, being able to go scuba diving on the weekend not far from home, being able to travel often and having awesome help at home…  made the bad more bearable.”

The Barnthouse Family are from the USA and have lived in Guam and Italy. Feelings of isolation were a big challenge for this family. Notice what they recommend as a way to deal with it…

“I would highly recommend connecting with as many American and / or English speaking friends as you possibly can. It’s so important to have a support structure and be able to ask for help if you need it… Building a solid group of friends is the key. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and had asked for help long before I actually did.”

tracey tullis

The Tullis family

The Tullis Family are from Canada and are traveling the world. This family has not really experienced bad days thus far. But they realize that bad days will happen…

“We haven’t had any what I would consider bad days yet… Some things have definitely been different than we expected, not bad just different… The bad days will come as they do in life at home or abroad. When they do, we will focus on the lesson in whatever is bringing us down and support one another as best we can.”

happy expat family bookLearning From Expat Life Challenges & Supporting One Another

That’s what it’s really all about!

Despite the challenges these families stick with it. If you haven’t lived abroad you might wonder why they just don’t give up.

It’s because the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

To learn more about the challenges expats face check out our book, The Happy Expat Family: How to Overcome the 8 Challenges Your Family Will Face Living Abroad. In the book you can read the full length interviews from the families above, and many more.

If you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with your friends.

What about you? Please share how you deal with your expat life challenges by commenting on this post.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

5 comments… add one
  • Chante' Mar 25, 2015, 9:20 am

    I needed to read this post today. We recently moved to Cuenca, Ecuador 8 months ago and although I love it there are days I say “What are we doing here?!!” those are the days when the systems for getting things done seem incredibly slow or I am frustrated because I just want something that is not available here. Taking a long walk helps a lot…it is so beautiful here along the rivers. Sitting in my favorite café and eating a piece of homemade apple pie also helps and the bonus is no guilt because of all the walking!

  • Stewart Feb 12, 2015, 7:03 am

    Dear Bryan and Dena,

    Saludos. I have been seeking for some time a place where you find many expats and tourists in Ecuador not too far from Quito. Looks like I finally found it. It is the town of Banos off Panamericana Sur (highway 30) passing Ambato about 35km heading towards the Amazon. It’s a small town of about 3 or 4,000 locals. It’s in a valley surrounded by high mountains you can climb or bike up or fly off doing “Canopy”. It’s really amazing. There are several restaurants and hotels owned by europeans. We stayed at a placed called “La Casa Amarilla” (Swiss owner). Nice and small with a spectacular view of the town below.

    I recommend visiting Banos to connect with expats again when you have those dark days.

    Almost forgot, on a clear day you could see the volcano, Tunguraua doing it’s thing from another mountain top where you can swing from a tree house while your friend takes a pic and it looks like you’re flying over the volcano!

    Best regards,


  • Nick Fenger Feb 2, 2015, 12:10 pm

    What you read about a country is all hype saying the people are nice and the country is beautiful. It must be nice as people do not want to read controversial things. Fortunately I had lived in England, then France, and Germany before coming to Ecuador so I knew not to believe the hype except in special places. I spoke those languages and I knew how to learn another one. But people speak very quickly and do not slow down when you are learning Spanish so I asked them to do so and they still did not slow down. So I subscribed to the local paper where I can read at my speed and look up any word I need to. I decided to live a long time in a local hostel where people came from Ecuador and many other countries and it was a good decision as I could use my other languages as well as learn Spanish. I got a job in Ecuador and being forced to speak Spanish every day is a wonderful challenge that has paid dividends in language and friends. Now I can travel to any Spanish country, get the local newspaper and feel at home. Portugal is next.

  • Matt Owens Rees Jan 31, 2015, 4:50 am

    . Most of the comments seemed to refer to culture shock in the early years before you get to integrating. MaryAnn has a good point. After you’ve settled in a place, for example #Thailand, you find what you’ve read about the country is very different from reality. I chat with Thais and have written some pointers for integrating based on our discussions.

  • MaryAnn Jan 27, 2015, 10:40 am

    I liked this article about “bad days”. I retired to Mexico 2 years ago and ignorantly thought I wouldn’t have any problems because I had done my research… Real life is far different from blogs, books and articles by other expats. Every experience is different, every city in Mexico differs in culture and lifestyle from others. I settled in Chapala, near Guadalajara. I love it here but faced a lot of culture shock upon arrival. First my high school Spanish did not serve me at all! Electricity, good roads, favorite shampoos, detergents, foods, clothing, etc., which we take for granted in the US were non-existent or very scarce. I found that having a great sense of humor, flexibility and being able to roll with and accept with grace the cultural differences, was key to happiness.

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