Managing expectations while living abroad

Living abroad, say in the Netherlands or elsewhere, can sometimes be so lonely. Colleagues do their thing, work, have their family, friends, and typical ways of doing things, like going out for lunch without asking you. Maybe they did, but only a few times and there was no real connection. At the same time, your family and friends are continuing their lives at home, celebrating birthdays, name days or certain traditions that are so fun to be a part of. Let’s face it, you don’t have to live abroad to feel lonely sometimes.

Being thrown upon yourself

My husband and I lived for a few years in France, so we were together, but by times it was lonely. The kind of loneliness you feel in your bones or stomach. In those times you are thrown back upon yourself. Trying to stand with two feet on new ground, or with one leg in the land you came from. Trying to find balance again in yourself and in your new surroundings. When I think about it, I feel it again. Then it can really take a while before you see the beautiful thing around you, e.g. the freedom of choice, the people, the specific food, the museums or the beach. The beautiful and the loneliness can be intertwined.


On top of that, you may have your private and business expectations and maybe even expectations from your parents and family. Who want you to succeed, to find security, stability and safety. Perhaps they have done a lot for you to make this possible.

In addition, you try to find out which doctor you can best go to. Which child care center is best in your area? Which gym, in addition to sports, provides some sociability and maybe some contacts? Where can you get good groceries at a reasonable price?

How to keep those plates spinning?

The differences in norms and values in the country you have now ended up in and where you are from can be so vastly different. You may have done cultural awareness training, but now what? You may know that the Dutch can give very direct feedback, but it can hurt a lot. How do you deal with the shock and your hurt?

How to meet expectations, how to make a home for yourself and your family, how to become part of one team that may be so busy with deadlines or is actually not much more than a loose collection of team or project members? How to tell your senior manager that you have too much on your plate right now? You want so badly to contribute, to prove yourself, because you know what you yourself are capable of. You are busy meeting other people’s expectations to make them happy, but where are you? What about your values? What is it that you want the most in your life? What makes you really happy?

Meet listening ears

The whole situation may be overwhelming and cause you to feel displaced, unsettled or anxious. It makes such a difference to be able to talk to a great listener who believes in you. By telling your story to listening ears and a listening heart, who are not giving advice or therapy, you set your thinking in motion and find solutions to your challenges. All you need is time to think and process. Your feelings and thoughts are validated. You are not alone. I’m here and I’d like to listen to you.

Invitation to all of you – What’s on your mind?

To all of you, please ask your colleague(s) for lunch or a cup of coffee today and next week. Yes, keep doing that. You could make his or her day by doing this. Ask them, what made you smile today? What is on your mind today? What else? What did you enjoy most this past weekend? What is happening in your life right now? In relation to what you just said, what is the real challenge for you? What would be your first step forward? How can I help you? You can ask these questions to your colleague(s) abroad on the phone or to colleagues with the same cultural background as you.

How can you be an excellent listener?

Remember that a good listener clears his own mind like wiping out a white board. I know you have an opinion and many thoughts. I know you want to help and can give advice, but erase it. You are helping this person by letting them talk and think. I mean letting them think deeply. It’s the most respectful thing you can do. Resist the urge to interrupt. Make gentle eye contact. Neutral friendly face. Be attentively present. Be interested. Don’t nod or make a sound or smile; they might see it as confirmation of what they just said. It will distract their thought process and they will become preoccupied with what you are thinking. This is about them. Don’t steer, just ask open-ended questions starting with ‘how’ and ‘what’. You can do this. Just keep practicing.

It is enriching

I guarantee you, if you are open to it, you will learn many things and you will look at things differently. It will enrich you. If you want to practice these skills with me, let me know. These are important leadership skills, and everyone is a leader because everyone, including you, leads by example. Someone is watching you and learning from you right now.

Grateful for our time in France

My husband and I were fortunate to meet like-minded warm people who opened their homes, minds and hearts to us and became good friends. We opened our hearts for them. Without them it would not have become such a wonderful experience. Even now, in The Netherlands, we are still grateful that we met them and have them in our lives. I wish the same for you.

Business Anthropologist and Coach in Independent Thinking

As a coach in Listening and Independent Thinking and a corporate anthropologist specializing in different cultures, I love to listen to you and help you think deeply. If you like, you can download the free document ‘Exercise to clear your mind‘ before listening to anyone else. You can also sign up for the ‘Diep Luisteren & Nadenken’ (‘Deep Listening & Thinking’) newsletter on LinkedIn.

I wish you all meaningful moments.