The Emotionally Resilient Expat

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The Over-thinking Expat (AKA Kimberly) was born in raised in Atlanta, Georgia and has spent most of her adult life living in Ireland, the US, and her current host country, the United Arab Emirates. She considers herself a professional nomad, which means her work changes to accommodate her passion for living and traveling abroad.  She’s managed a yoga studio, worked in rural Irish pubs, taught ESOL and currently teaches English to young children in an Abu Dhabi public school. When she’s not teaching, you can probably find her accompanied by her laptop, a writing notebook and a caffeinated beverage.
Here she talks to LEW about how resilient she’s become whilst living abroad, and any difficulties she’s faced.

Sometimes there is nothing more comforting than hearing the front door click behind me as the stresses of the day disappear in the quiet of my apartment.

However, since I live alone most of the time, in moments of anxiety and loneliness my home can feel empty, and the peaceful quiet is replaced by my thoughts and worries echoing off the walls. All expats need a place to go when home is not the refuge it should be.  For me, it’s a local coffee shop where I can always count on a warm welcome, as little or as much company as I desire, and free wifi. My biggest secret to survival here was finding my second sanctuary. One should always have at least two shelters when living abroad:home, and escape from home. 

One of the benefits of traveling or living abroad is the freedom it grants you. 

There is no opportunity for personal development that could ever compare to leaving behind every influence that shaped you, everyone that knows you, and every box you’ve been put in.
When you move abroad, it is the ultimate chance to start over, to experiment, to be that amazing exciting person you never felt you could be at home. The roles created for you by family, friends and colleagues are erased, and your ability to reinvent yourself is bound only by your desires and imagination.
The problem is that sometimes we need these boundaries, these boxes, to keep ourselves grounded.  When everything you know is oceans away, it’s easy to get lost, and once you get lost, you’re surrounded by strangers who may not be able to guide you back.

At times, I struggle with choices I’ve made and I question myself frequently. Building a strong community of trustworthy friends has been paramount, but is not an easy or fast undertaking.

Finding new friends that somehow know you who truly are and can help keep you on the right track is essential. Don’t try to be too independent when living abroad, or limit yourself by rejecting friendships with other expats.  Seek out friends of all cultures, share with them, listen when they share, and build quality relationships.

Appendix: The Over-thinking Expat: An American living in the United Arab Emirates writes about her experiences and observations as an expatriate, a traveler, and a human.

You can follow Kimberly’s travels, experiences, and observations on her blog, The Over-thinking Expat  and join her Facebook page, and follow her Tweets at @OverthinkinExpt.

I loved this piece!  Thanks for sharing, Kimberly and do follow her blog, it has some truly insightful articles about life in Abu Dhabi.


  1. Kimberly, I can totally relate to that feeling of freedom when moving away from my hometown. I dreamed of it for so long, and when it was finally a reality the sense of relief was palpable … and I “just” moved from Maryland to California.

    As a US expat in Serbia, so many things are SOOO different, that I did hold onto my American mentality (much to my detriment) for a very long time. For me, writing has been my “home away from home,” as escaping to a coffee shop infused with second hand smoke is about as unappealing as it gets for me 🙂

    Great to “meet” you through LEW … Laura

  2. Excellent and accurate post on living abroad. I’ve been living inFrance for 22 years, but 3 and a half of them I lived in Cairo. I loved every minute of it. I can’t help recognize how much my horizons have broadened and how much I’ve been enriched by everything I’ve seen. Low and behold home my ubringing has gotten stronger as I4ve grown older. That’s not all bad, it’s helping me seek out a new job when otherwise if I embraced the French way, I’d stay in the same dead in job and do what’s safe. In the end, as expats we have to know how to pick up only the good things we learn through our travels and learn to leave the bad behind us.

  3. Great that Kimberly’s post has struck a cord. Yes, as expats we learn to ride the rough with the smooth and take everything as an experience.
    I think we’ll be hearing more from Kimberly and her adventures in the future :0)

  4. @Laura and @didi, I think the most enriching part of expat life is the opportunity to blend our culture of birth with our host cultures. I completely agree with your point that we should take this opportunity to see what parts of each help us to grow and what holds us back! @suzanna–i want to be that person too 🙂 @Evelyn, yes I can relate. Here in the UAE, English is the 2nd most important language of commerce and communication behind Arabic. Sometimes I take great comfort in speaking English with native speakers rather than two or more of us struggling to make our accents understood! Thanks to all for reading and commenting, and I hope to hear more from you on my blog 🙂

  5. Interesting post. As a novice ex-pat (I’ve lived in France for just over a year), I like the concept of having two refuge places. Sometimes home does feel a bit lonely. I also concur that you should make friends of both the locals and other ex-pats…some days it’s just a relief to speak English!

  6. @Sonia-I’m glad my post was able to help you clarify what I know to be a powerful yearning. It’s interesting to me to know that at 55 you feel the same. I’ve often wondered if a part of me is searching for home, or if “home” is the travel, the challenge and the change. I’d love to answer your questions and hope I can help. Would you mind sending your e-mail to me through Twitter or the links from my blog site? Don’t want to post here for fear of spam bots 🙂

  7. Great that Kimberly’s post has inspired so many positive comments.
    Am also happy to answer any TEFL related questions Sonia, will email you.
    Also take a flick through my past blog posts – I have a couple of posts about TEFL.

  8. Kimberly,

    I really enjoyed your post, and what struck me more than anything else is when you wrote, “When you move abroad, it is the ultimate chance to start over, to experiment, to be that amazing exciting person you never felt you could be at home. The roles created for you by family, friends and colleagues are erased, and your ability to reinvent yourself is bound only by your desires and imagination.
    Here’s my situation; I’m much older than you, 55, and spent half my life in Africa and Europe, then moved to California, married, have 3 sons and we moved to Belize. I have been back 7 years now, and have a yearning for another expat adventure. It’s like an addiction and when I saw the words you mentioned about escaping the roles created by family and becoming the exciting person you want to become. I have not been able to explain why I wanted to do Peace Corps work, or teach English abroad, but your post clearly explained it to me. So my question is where would you recommend I teach English? UAE? China? Cambodia? Japan? And is it possible to teach for 6 months only? I would probably be alone, as I don’t think my husband would want to join me, so 6 months at a time, might be the limit. I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well as Bex, or anyone else. BTW, I’m also fluent in French as I lived in Paris for 14 years.

  9. bex,

    Thanks for the response and sorry I’m late in replying. As you know I’m visiting my dad in Paris and he and his wife think I spend way too much time on the computer. The Maldives does sound fascinating though. How did you know that’s my kind of place? I shall look up TEFL on your blog. Thanks.


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