Being an expat is lonely.
Every Halloween, I don an eccentric costume and attend a friend’s party or bar hop. I’ve been a sushi, an Incredible character, a dryer machine, and other random objects that entice chuckles from strangers. This year in Singapore, I grabbed lunch with a couple of friends and spent my Halloween night lying on the couch drinking a bottle of white wine by myself.
In an ideal world, I’d be home in San Francisco with my close friends, celebrating the holiday and dressing up. People here don’t celebrate it nor did my friends want to participate in the bar festivities. I decided that I’d spend my night at home being by myself and enjoy my own company.
Social media really does skew what reality looks like, and I’m a byproduct of it.
Being an expat is exciting — everything is new and shiny to the eye. We’re constantly exploring, learning, and building. But in the pursuit of great things, I found myself feeling alone here. I made many new friends in Asia, but none that I could disclose my deepest secrets or feel comfortable showing a vulnerable side of me that only a few could see. In a moment of frustration and needing to spill my guts, I realized I had no one to turn to because everyone back home in San Francisco was sleeping; it was 3 am PST there. I turned to journaling instead.
With covid19 thrown in the mix, there’s now the heavy decision making of staying overseas or going home. There are many factors at play now — what made Singapore enticing to live in is now gone; known as the city state launchpad and exploratory center of Southeast Asia, many (including me) find themselves unable to travel and confused. With covid19 accelerating new happenings back at home, there is a calling to be closer to loved ones. Weddings, new births, sickness, and loneliness — all driving factors of what makes us pine for home.
One of my good friends is currently facing this dilemma.
Going back home means stability. It may mean settling down, getting back a Bay Area salary, and being closer to family. Staying in Asia means exploring, discovering, and living a little longer in the unknown. Already ingrained in our minds, most would follow the responsible route — there is opportunity cost and so much emotion in the mix. You don’t want to make the wrong decision because life is short.
Loneliness comes from back home too.
This heavily correlates to one thing: the inability to relate to people you’re close to and unshared experiences. When expats go overseas there and search for a new life, a new identity, and a new adventure. Everything is exciting — but these experienced are unshared by people back home.
The biggest realization was when my friend said, “You’re out there living your best life. The rest of us are also moving on with our lives, not traveling to different countries, but creating stability back at home. There’s no right or wrong, but you need to realize we can’t relate — people at home are getting mortgages, planning for weddings, and having children. You’re half way across the world in a different time zone and living a completely different life than us.”
You spend so much time building a new community when you’re overseas that there is a strong tendency to lose connection with people back home. Then when you head back, you spent another chunk of time building back up the community you’ve neglected.
But optimists will say, that’s the beauty of it — you have communities all around the world where you travel. People you’ve connected with. People you’ve experienced life together. That is the frank truth of humanity, the push and pull of relationships, and how relationships flower, and some die.
I’ve come to find my own personal solution to combating loneliness here, which comes in twofold.
- Learn how to be alone, and appreciate being alone. This was incredibly important. I used to be the kind of person who would schedule plans weeks in advance so that I would not “be alone” with my thoughts. But I found that I am happiest when I am creating and working on myself — it gave me the headspace and happiness I needed to be okay being alone. I took the time to do many things alone; it was traveling, eating, and reading alone.
- Be intentional with the people you love, and check up on them to show you care. I try to call my sister and parents every other day to check up on them. I also schedule chats with my close friends back at home, and make an effort to reach out. Sometimes, I feel like they’re just a stone’s throw away because we communicate so much. Instead of spreading myself thin with many people, I’ve honed into the people I really care about.
Emily is a US expat currently living in Singapore to learn about the tech communities growing in Asia. She has worked 4+ years in dev relations, community management, and event marketing within the tech and travel industry. Her time at OmniSci, Google and Booking.com gave her cross-functional expertise. In her free time, she is the host for the Asian Female Lead podcast and documents her life journey in digital at The Fang Girl. You can watch her YouTube vlogs.