Ah, I remember being a new expat who had just moved to Calabria. The world was new and exciting, and I was eager to experience it all.
[Cue twittering birds and singing.]
Then reality set in.
I was in a country that, while on the surface, had a culture similar to what I knew, still managed to surprise me with its differences. And while I spoke Italian (or so I thought), I was struggling to be understood...and to understand.
If you're on the cusp of moving to Calabria (or anywhere else in the world), I want to prepare you as best I can for some of the unexpected emotions that are sure to arise.
This is probably the first emotion that hit for me. As excited as I was to get out and meet people and experience Italy, I needed a nap after about 20 minutes of intense Italian conversation. Or going to the market. Or driving.
I always think back to when my son Max was a baby. I'd take him to the grocery store, full of visual stimulants, and by the time we got home, he was exhausted from trying to parse out all the colors and objects his baby eyes tried to process. I felt the same in my new home.
The Remedy: The best way to counter overwhelm is to remove yourself from the situation and go take a nap. Cocoon yourself in the familiar (English shows on Netflix, for example). And in the first days, try to limit your exposure to your new world. Yes, it's exciting. But it'll still be there tomorrow.
Frustration stems from old expectations you have that don't align with where you now live abroad. We're all guilty of carrying our expectations in our suitcases. We are raised to expect things to be done a certain way, and when they aren't, we get annoyed.
Take my Calabrian driving school, for example. My teacher, who is lovely and effective in most ways, will take phone calls in the middle of class. Or leave to talk to someone. Or take a smoke break.
In the U.S., this would not fly. I would get indignant, tell him off, and go find another school. But the reality here is...everyone's like this. It's my own expectations I have to manage, and yes, that means being saintly patient and just dealing with the constant distractions.
The Remedy: Here's a mantra I tell myself over and over: Italy will not change for me. I have to change for Italy. So remember that. You can get as frustrated as you want, but it will change NOTHING.
Once the initial patina of excitement wears off, you may feel lonely. Your friends will be sleeping back home when you feel like chatting. People won't get your jokes. It will be a strain to try to keep up with an actual adult conversation in the local language.
Or...it may be difficult for you to make friends. In cultures like here in Calabria, people have had the same friends most of their lives, so they're not exactly shopping for new ones. They may say, "sure, let's go get a coffee," but they don't really mean it.
So you may end up sad and alone on your couch in a strange country more often than you'd like. You may wonder if you made the right decision. Stay true, baby. It will get better.
The Remedy: My advice here is: give it time. You won't always feel this way. The people you meet are paying attention to you, trying to suss out if you're going to leave after a few hard months, or if you're going to stick it out and make it worth their time to get to know you.
Even if you've never experienced a day of depression in your life, accept the fact that you may experience it as an expat. When I happened to Google "expat depression," I was shocked to see that it was actually a thing.
When you inevitably go through the stages of culture shock as a new expat, you may find yourself in a slump you can't get out of some days. It may feel like too much to leave your house because out there, it's a strange and scary world!
The Remedy: Again, embrace your cocoon. It sounds silly, but having a day of reading in English and only texting my friends back home got me through some tough days. And then the next ones were easier.
Take it from me: one day all these icky emotions will vanish, or at least rear their ugly heads less frequently.
You will wake up one day and you will be excited for what the day holds. You won't dread making phone calls because it's tough to understand people you can't see. You will know which vendor at the market will throw in extra potatoes because you're cute. You will be excited to hang out with your new friends.
You will, in fact, simply feel like this is your regular life. Not your expat life. And when you get to this point, pat yourself on the back. You've come farther than most.