Crossing Mountains: Loneliness

Crossing Mountains

Honestly, I had a tough weekend.  This was the loneliest I’ve felt since I got here and I didn’t have very many people to turn to.  Mark doesn’t have internet at the moment, so I haven’t been able to talk to him very much and people here?  Well… I’ll mention that soon.  This lonely weekend got me thinking though.  There is a great group of expats out there on the web and why not reach out to them somehow?  I’m not close with many bloggers, so I feel hesitant to contact anyone.  That’s when I came up with this new project: Crossing Mountains.

At first I was thinking about naming this post: Expat Problems, but then I though, “You know what, that sounds like a ‘complaining post,’ and I definitely don’t want that.”  This bump is something I know will seize and overcome.  I see this more as a hurdle, than a problem.  The next thing I thought about was that maybe, this could turn into a monthly thing; I post about something difficult that as an expat, we have to deal with at times.  I know there are a ton of expats out there who seek advice on how to conquer these hurdles.  I know I’m always looking for a community to help me get through these tough times and that’s what I would like to build here.  This new project is not for me to give advice (personally, I think I’m terrible at that), but to seek advice and to spread this help, support, and encouragement to other expats.  This doesn’t just have to be for expats, because moving to any place away from your home is tough.  This is open to anyone who has ever had to move away from home, be it for college that’s an hour away from home or for a job that’s half way across the world.  We all have those lonely moments, those tough times when we don’t know what to do.

This weekend, I’ve felt exceptionally lonely.  I love living in Japan, I love my job, I love my co-workers and students, but sometimes, it’s can be extremely lonely.  I’m living in a town that has only one other English teacher living here.  There are a ton of other English teachers in the program living in my prefecture though.  I’ve gone to some of the get togethers they have, but I’m having a hard time making a connection with anyone.  I don’t know if it’s because we have different interests or because they’ve all known each other for a long time, but I feel invisible when I’m with them.  Sometimes, I barely say anything because I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about.  I’m also not an outgoing person, so I can get lost in large groups.  Even when I meet people at these get togethers, I still feel like I don’t know anyone.  The furthest we’ve gone is to introduce ourselves.  So right now, at this point in time, I can say that I have three friends.  People that I could text and be like, “Hey!  Want to get dinner?”  That’s about it, but they also have their own lives.  I know it’s going to take time for me to get to know people and become closer with them.

I would also love to have friends in my host country, but it’s extremely hard when you barely know their language.  I would love to be able to talk with them, but I have a lot more studying to do.  Sometimes, the amount that I need to learn is so overwhelming that I feel discouraged to continue.  It feels like what I’m studying isn’t being put to use.  But there are moments when I realize, “Hey, you really are learning a new word everyday.  Every time you try and talk to someone is good practice for you.”  I’m proud of myself every time someone can understand the point I’m trying to make, which gives me that extra boost to keep on going.  Language barrier will definitely have to be an upcoming topic, since it’s a huge one for me and I’m sure for many other people.

I hope that you’ll be able to join in the discussion below, help myself and others feel more comfortable and at home in their new country/place, and meet a friend or two.  I would love for a community of positivity and support to develop and that people will have a blog friend they can turn to when they’re feeling down about being an expat.

Let us know your story.  Have you ever felt so lonely that you didn’t know what to do?  What did you do to overcome it?  Do you have any advice for expats feeling lonely?

If you’ve written a post about feeling lonely or advice on how to combat loneliness, feel free to link it in the comments!  We’ll be more than happy to read posts that will help us combat these obstacles.


Crossing Mountains serves to create a community and discussion between people who have moved from their homes and seek advice on how to cope with everyday and major hurdles they may face.  If you have any suggestions on what topics to discuss, feel free to let me know in the comments or email me. 

26 comments

  1. Amy | Club Narwhal

    Feeling lonely is the worst, feeling lonely in a totally new country without a support system is just plain bad. I recently spent a year living in a teensy town with no friends. I had no idea how isolating a place could be until then and was terribly lonely–especially for good girlfriends to spend time with. When I’m feeling lonely, I try to throw myself into learning a new task or diving head first into a new hobby. It takes my mind off things and makes me feel good because I’m doing something with my time instead of wallowing in a pity party. It doesn’t take the loneliness away but it does help me to feel more connected to my life. It’s a great coping mechanism and is how I learned ukulele in grad school :) Good luck this week!

    • Mallory

      That’s such a great idea Amy! Within the first couple weeks here, I joined a taiko group, but unfortunately I’ve only been once so far since travel and work has gotten in the way of me going. Starting next weekend I’m excited I finally get to start going regularly (I need some exercise too haha). I, not only joined because I’ve always been interested in learning taiko, but to also keep me busy over the weekend, since that’s when I’m the most lonely. Hopefully it’ll help! I also want to find another hobby so for all those other times, I can busy myself with that.

      Thank you so much for your comment! It means a lot to me! :)

  2. Bailie @ The Hemborg Wife

    I completely understand what you are saying here, last week when my husband went back to school after having the whole summer together I had one of those moments of pure loneliness and sadness and then we went grocery shopping when he got home and it felt like I was drowning in Swedes. So I took one day to mop and then I made lists which made me feel productive and planned things. I know you said you do not feel connected to the teachers you have met but one thing I have learned living in Sweden is making friendships as an adult is very hard and the only way to do it is to make plans again and again then after awhile you have shared experiences to reflect on and it grows into a friendship. Also I have to remember it took years for my best friends to be my best friends so I should not expect that of people I just met.

    • Mallory

      This definitely puts all those get togethers in a different perspective. I think you’re right. I need to put myself out there a little and continue to hang out with them. I should keep showing my face so they know I’m out there and we’ll all be able to share more experiences together. I need to keep telling myself that making friends is going to take some time and some effort. Thanks so much for this! I will go into the next hangout with a new mindset.

  3. Kristyn @ Milk + Crown

    Mallory, I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this! When I went to Germany a few years ago, I felt the same way. My German was nonexistent at the time, and so I would just sit and listen to those around me converse, but was hardly ever addressed. I definitely felt invisible, and being in a country alone, it can make you feel so helpless and down. It took me awhile before I felt like I had a decent community around me. Keep putting yourself out there though–you are amazing and have so much to offer, and eventually, you will make those connections your heart seeks. I think reaching out to the blogging world will be really helpful for you, too. Hang in there girl, I’ll be thinking about you!

    • Mallory

      Aww, thanks so much Kristyn! This is such a great comment. I really appreciate it! It’s definitely hard not to feel invisible when you can’t communicate with people. I’m just so happy and thankful that a lot of my co-workers make an effort to come and talk to me even though they know our conversation won’t go very far. They try in broken English to talk to me and I try in broken Japanese. Even when they resort back to Japanese, I try my hardest to continue talking to them, because I know that it’ll eventually help me in the future.

      I need to keep telling myself to keep putting myself out there, no matter how hard it is! I know that good things will come out of it eventually and I need to work towards those connections. Japanese friends will take a little longer, but with the other English teachers, I’m bound to find someone with similar interests. I just need to talk to them more.

  4. Mel @ The Nectar Collective

    Mallory…I hear your words all too well. I felt really similarly on the JET program. It is a GREAT program and certainly a good one to do right after college since the job is fairly easy, well paid, yada yada, but before moving to Japan I think I was too focused on THOSE things and never really considered all the stuff you mentioned in this post. When I came to Japan I didn’t know a lick of Japanese, so I completely empathize with your struggle to learn and communicate in Japanese and the small successes you feel when you get it right. It will take a lot of effort, but it WILL get better and when you get to that point, it will be so empowering! I also SOOODJSHUFHSEUES totally understand your sentiments about not connecting to the people in JET and finding it hard to make friends. I wasn’t sure if this was just the “real world” life or if people in the JET program were just not my cup of tea, but I also found it really hard to find people I could connect to and that were really anything like the friends I was used to at UCI. It may take time, but I hope you are able to find some people that become special to you here. I ended JET with one good friend who was so important to me and without her, I think I would have had a much harder time. I’m sure you will make a friend like this too and I truly hope you find someone to make you feel less invisible.

    If you ever want to Skype or chat online, I’m totally available for you! I know this transition is a really hard one, especially at first. Hang in there. It WILL get better and you’re doing an amazing job already. <3

    • Mallory

      Thanks sooo much for your comment, Mel! It totally made me feel better. I’ve talked to my friend here and she was saying the same thing that you and I are saying: that it’s hard to connect with people here. I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling this because it reassures me that I’m not weird or something. I just have to keep reminding myself that it’ll be okay and it’ll take some time for me to find someone that I can connect with. I totally believe that the months will get better and better. I have so much to look forward to and I’m loving my students and co-workers, even with the minimal conversations we exchange. I can’t wait for the day when we can actually hold longer than a two minute conversation (and probably 1 1/2 of those minutes is me saying just anno… *think think think think*).

      I’ll probably end up talking to you one day soon :) Since we’re pretty much the same person haha! Same school, same country, same program. I think you’d be an awesome person to talk to and, we definitely need to meet up someday!

  5. Melanie Fontaine

    You’re really taking from my heart, Mallory! I love this new project! I think I felt exactly this way when I first came here to Norway – just very lonely. I missed my boyfriend, I missed my comfortable life at home and I didn’t really know how the heck I was going to survive the next year. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I wasn’t really busy. School hadn’t started yet and though I had some introductory events I didn’t really feel right. I hadn’t found my place yet and I wasn’t comfortable being alone anymore.

    I think that latter point is huge: Becoming comfortable being alone. Before my boyfriend and me started dating, I used to be alone/do stuff alone all the time and it didn’t bother me in the least. I didn’t feel like I was social inept or that nobody liked it, I was just comfortable just hanging out with myself. But once I came to Norway, I didn’t have my constant companion anymore and re-adjusting from being in a couple to being alone was very difficult. I’m getting used to it now, though, and that has really helped me adjust. I also really threw myself into my social life – I went out of my way to do stuff with other people, even when it would have been easier to sulk at home or when I didn’t feel like going dancing – in the end, it never felt like a chore, but I always had a marvelous time because I overcame what I thought was shyness, but what was – in reality – just me not wanting to be bothered. Leaving this comfort zone was hard, but worth it and I encourage you to do so as well! Be the first to ask other people from your program to do stuff – like hike up a mountain. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll make an instant connection with the other person, it’s always worth a try.

    Good luck, Mallory! :) Hope you feel better about your situation soon! :)
    xx

    • Mallory

      We’re very similar Melanie! I was also comfortable being alone before I started dating my boyfriend. It’s what I also did, but after we started dating, I loved having a companion always beside me and I was like, “This is way better than doing things by yourself.” I’m also trying to get used to doing a lot of things by myself again.

      I really should throw myself into more social situations with the other teachers. It would definitely be the best way to start meeting more people or getting to know people better. I need to step outside my comfort zone and put myself out there. It’ll help me stop feeling lonely and keep me busy with other activities.

      Thanks so much for your input on your experience, Melanie! It’s really helped! I’m sure my situation will improve, it’ll just take some time :)

      • Melanie Fontaine

        I hope I could help you a bit! Moving abroad really is a roller coaster – and one that I certainly didn’t expect! I suppose that makes the whole thing a bit harder, like you’re getting overtaken by surprise, but I’m glad that I have the blogging community and people like you who can relate and we can all learn to cope together! :)

  6. Erika

    MALLORY!!!!

    Okay, first off, I need to apologize for being MIA! I do this sometimes — where I save my most anticipated and desired things to read for last because I know I’ll come back to them! But now I feel so behind with your blog and all I want to do is give you a hug and also say how proud I am of you for doing something about this lonely feeling you are experiencing!

    I love that you are NOT a victim! And I love that you are using your resources! Man, I could have used something like this the first and second time I went abroad for sure and I think I can even use it now! I may have some friends here in Michigan, but most of my close friends live at least an hour away. And unlike college, it’s not convenient to get together. We have to schedule way far in advance, usually on weekends (where everyone else is competing for time) and it can get lonely even being not-so-far away. Plus, with gas money to drive, I have to pick and choose which events I go to, which is sad because I had been wanting to be so close to my friends for so long, only to realize there are still obstacles and barriers.

    I haven’t made much of an effort to fit in or to make friends at my grad school. I think part of it is because I am always on the fence about it. I know that if I invest emotionally, it will be hard for me to leave. After moving so much, I’ve gotten so tired of saying good-bye to people, so tired of friendships fading or people being disappointed that I can’t give to them the way I would like (or the way they would like) because I’m out exploring the world.

    I’m also having a hard time staying still and also seeing the beauty in where I am. There are things I could discover right here in my backyard. The more I learn about Michigan, the more I see that I could treat it the same way I treated my time in France — I was just being stubborn. I miss that, too… pushing myself to do a lot because I didn’t have forever there. Trying new restaurants, striking up new conversations, visiting stuff in the region and beyond. Those things don’t exist only abroad — they can happen right here, too.

    So, I am right here with you. Maybe I’m not in a foreign country, but it feels like it. And I’ve gotta get out of my comfort zone and branch out, too. And find a supportive community — online and offline.

    And as for the language thing, here’s what I’d say: don’t wait until you think things are less awkward. Find a way to communicate with natives now. Even if it’s embarrassing, even if it’s awkward, even if you feel dumb or stupid. Look beyond words and find connections. One of my best friends in Austria was my little host sister who didn’t speak English. We barely used words, but we became good friends and we’re still in touch (and now she’s 20, which blows my mind!) But anyway, most of communication is non-verbal. Invite people out to do things, even if it feels weird, even if you are scared of rejection. Most people love being invited places, even if they don’t go. Just think about what you would like and become the friend you would like to have. Feeling lonely and wish someone would invite you somewhere? Invite someone else. Wish someone would suggest a trip or something to do? Do that yourself and invite others along. It’s definitely out of your comfort zone, but you have a carte blanche, being in a different country. Plus, you’re the foreign girl, so it’s okay — you’re going to be a little weird to them no matter what, so might as well use it to your advantage!

    Well, once again this comment is longer than the post probably, haha. And I’m really procrastinating my homework right now. But thank you for creating this Mallory and sharing your thoughts. I’m so proud of you! :)

    • Mallory

      Thanks for the best comment ever :) You had me smiling at the end, being the “weird foreign girl” haha! It’s true! I’m sure I’ve so many mistakes already. The vice principle at one of my schools is extremely friendly even though he barely knows any English, but he still tries to ask me questions in English (but ends up resorting to Japanese) and hand gestures galore. When people talk to me in English, I try to respond back in Japanese, because I know it’ll help me and I know that they’ll appreciate me trying to speak their language. I wrote a note to a few teachers because I had to leave early and couldn’t meet with them to talk about our next lesson and they were really impressed that I wrote some Kanji haha. Little do they know I only wrote the ones that I’ve studied before! I’m trying my hardest to communicate with one of my co-workers everyday. At one of my schools that I haven’t been to yet, I know there are two teachers my age and they’re both English teachers, so I’m crossing my fingers that I will be able to talk to them and maybe ask one of them to be my conversation partner (They’re both guys so I’m hoping that they don’t look like they just stepped out of a drama, or I’m totally not going to be able to talk to them… Sorry Mark haha! But yay! They can kind of speak English so there is less of a chance of a miscommunication that I’ve had with other people). I’m going to this school for the first time on Tuesday, so I get to meet even more people.

      I need to get on asking people to hangout. I’ve been meaning to, but something always comes up. Okay, that’s a super lame excuse, but yeah, I need to start asking people even just to grab dinner after work someday.

      I think moving anywhere can be hard, even if it’s just an hour away from home. It’s a new environment, new people, new everything. And like you said, gas costs money, so that hour trip back home can be expensive sometimes. Even when you can speak the same language as people, it’s hard to put yourself out there. Definitely go out and explore! I think being in the US, can be just as great as some European dream getaway. There are so many great and beautiful places to explore in our own backyards. I wish you all the best with finding your place in your new city! I know you’ll be fine with whatever you choose to do :)

      And don’t apologize for not reading my posts, it’s totally okay! I know we all get caught up in other things. Right now, I’m sooooo behind on so many posts I want to read. I’ll probably do that after I comment on this post. Thanks so much again, Erika! You’re the best!

  7. Alex Fahey

    Mallory, You really inspired me this week and I decided to put this into my own blog post. Thanks for your words and expressing how you truly feel. I feel lonely all the time here and I have my husband by my side, but I believe that as the months go by it will get better! I think it’s great that we are kinda on the same timeline of our journey (I just hit my 1 month mark here!) Here is the post I wrote that was inspired by this post and your one month reflection post- http://alexfahey.blogspot.kr/2013/09/reflections-month-one.html

    • Mallory

      I read your post and loved it! I’m beyond happy that I inspired you to write your post. I appreciate it sooo much. I’ve never had someone say that to me :) Congrats on your one month in Korea! Also, if you every feel lonely and want to chat, I’m always here!

      I think the months will get better and better too. I’m loving it here and this is just something that will come and go with some hard work. I just have to keep telling myself to keep putting myself out there and I’ll be able to find people that I can connect with. It’ll just take some time to find those people.

      • Alex Fahey

        Thanks Mallory! I hope that we can continue this friendship and support in one another. Everything will get better! Even friendships we made back in our home countries weren’t made in a month, so we just have to be patient and show that we want to be part of things. Have a great week!

  8. Amy @ the tide that left

    I’ve moved countries 5 times in less than four years, so have experienced this a lot. It can be hard to make new friends when you’re an adult. It’s not like we can go and knock on someone’s door and ask if they want to come out and play, like we used to do when we were kids. We do need to be just as proactive though. I’ve joined many expat forums over the years, and have really put myself out there when it comes to letting people know I want to make friends. The majority of the time, other expats are also looking for new friends so although it feels a bit forced to begin with, if you go with it, you’ll have success. Getting involved in as much as you can is also important. I had a friend who moved to my home town a few years ago and we used to joke that he’d go to opening of an envelope because every time someone said ‘We’re doing so-and-so, you should come’ he would. He didn’t just nod and say it sounded good, he actually went. He has a trillion friends in his new home now and it’s because of that.

    In terms of combating loneliness, making sure you keep in touch with people at home is very helpful, even if sometimes it can be a little bitter sweet. I Skype my family a lot, but I also write proper letters (usually emails) to my friends so that I have a constant stream of communication. I’ve also set up a book club with some friends from home – we meet on Skype but it’s just as fun.

    This is such a great post, and a great way to be proactive in seeking a solution to your problem. I discovered you through a tweet from FoundLove_Blog and need to have a good old read through your posts to see what you’re up to. If it helps at all, I can act as living proof that it does all get better with time.

    • Mallory

      5 countries in less than four years?! That’s crazy! You’re definitely someone I need to look to during these kinds of situations. I’m so glad that I get to travel with one of those three friends this weekend and she invited her two friends, so baby steps towards meeting more people!

      Thank you so much for your insight, Amy! I’m definitely going to have to talk to you more and check out your blog to see what you’re up to and just chat about being an expat. It’s great to know that there are people out there who have overcome such obstacles and are living great lives.

      • Amy @ the tide that left

        Pretty good baby steps, if you ask me! Have a great time getting to know new people this weekend.

        Absolutely get in touch. I’m in Twitter @thetidethatleft, or you can always pop by the blog. I don’t profess to know it all about expat life, but I am slowly learning how to make it work. It must be particularly hard being away from your man. I hope it’s not for long. x

  9. Rachel Wright

    Oh I feel you on this one. I’ve lived abroad twice now & I wish I had some wonderful advice to share. I schedule bi-weekly Skype sessions with friends from home to help combat the loneliness. It seems to help but I still have “those days”. I think its natural.

    Thank you for joining the blog hop today. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Mallory

      Hi Amy! Oh my gosh, you have no idea how excited to hear this! I’m so happy that this post has inspired you to write a post, because one of the things that I wanted to come from this was for people to be inspired to help others through comments or posts :) I can’t wait to read it!

  10. Charlotte

    I used to be on JET and so everything you said – I’ve been through it too. I was the only ALT in my town and I had to wait for the weekends to meet with the few people nearby (an hour by car). I just didn’t connect well with the other JETs around me…we had a lot of jock type American guys (I’m a British girl who’s not used to these kinds of people) so I was so lonely. Even now, in Germany, my closest friends are people who I wonder if I’d be friends with if I was back home. We have such different hobbies and ways of thinking that I’m always frustrated by them. I do write a lot of posts about being an expat but here’s one that might touch the most on what you’re feeling now – http://sherbetandsparkles.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/5-things-no-one-tells-you-about-living-abroad/

    • Mallory

      It’s been tough and with work now, I’m really tired to do a lot of things. I’m hoping that I’ll get used to it all soon. I’m trying to put myself out there (probably not as much as I should, I passed up a dinner today), but it’s been pretty tough connecting with the people that have been on the program for more than a year. I found it easier to connect with the first years, but a lot of them live far far away from me.

      I just read your post and I’ll comment on it! It was a great post :)

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