It seems a bit depressing to write my first article for this exciting new magazine about “expat blues”. But it is January; most of us will have had a great time with family over Christmas and New Year, and then get back to Luxembourg possibly feeling a bit deflated, maybe even rather miserable, at the thought of a long grey winter in our adopted “home” city.
I lost several kilos simply because I was not used to the physical exertion of looking after the kids, cleaning and running the house seven days a week, having had a wonderful nanny who took over three days a week in London. On a fairly regular basis, my husband would come home from work to a weepy and irritable wife, yelling at the children for some small misdemeanor.
Find the gaps
In my work as a family doctor here, I frequently see people who are struggling for one reason or another. I think that we regularly underestimate what a major undertaking moving to a new country is. Whether we are moving from within Europe or from the other side of the world, we are moving away from our vital support networks, to a country where suddenly language may become a big issue.
In many cases, a woman will also have given up her own job in order to follow her husband or partner. After a few months of language classes, coffee mornings, women’s clubs and playgroups, she may have to accept the harsh truth that she is not going to get a job here without being fluent in German and French, and needs to get used to her new life because that is the one she is stuck with.
As women, we tend to put everyone else before ourselves. Our children need our support and help as they settle in to new schools, and our husbands or partners with new jobs need a listening ear at the end of the day. But it is vitally important that we look after ourselves as well. After the first couple of months of “honeymoon”, we need to stand back and look at where the gaps are. Am I getting some regular exercise? Am I meeting people and making friends? Have I found myself a decent hairdresser? Have I equipped myself for the Luxembourg winter with a warm coat and some decent boots? Have I found out where to do my shopping and how to get hold of those things that make me feel more at home?
I am obviously focusing on the downside here. It goes without saying that there are wonderful things about living in Luxembourg, which is why many of us end up staying so long, if not forever. But even when you can see all the positives, there are days when we yearn for the familiar: The grocery store which stocks everything that you want, the paperwork which can be done in your own language, the chinwag with your best mate.
When you have one of those days, remember that we have all been there. A few things took me through those first six months, which still add enormously to my life in Luxembourg. One of those is the forest. Luxembourg is blessed with stunningly beautiful woodland, and I joined an exercise class that took me out in all weathers and at all times of year. The support and sociability of that exercise class combined with the endorphin rush which followed, was and remains a joy. Not to mention watching the Bambäsch march through the seasons from the bright greens of new leaves in spring, to the crunch of snow under your feet in the winter. So get outside and experience the forest.
People were another lifesaver. Had we moved to Manchester, for example, from our cosy set-up in Putney, we would never have met so many interesting people so quickly. People are incredibly welcoming in Luxembourg, as many of us can remember what it is like when you first arrive. The ladies clubs are a great way to make friends initially, as are playgroups, language classes and even hanging out in the playground, just starting a conversation with someone who is speaking your language.
Everyone has tips to offer about beating the expat blues, and most of us will find our way in the end. Remember though that you are not alone and if you are really down and struggling, there are many professionals who can help you, so please do not suffer in silence.
By Susie Tunstall-Pedoe, January 2013
.lu on Clew will give you info on and links to feelgood places and potential lifesavers.
And food can help too!