Force yourself down to the neighbourhood cafe for some people-watching or a chat with the barista. Photo: Pikselstok/Iris
I had a very tough experience relocating to Berlin in 2011 and I can understand how much isolation and the lack of having a concrete place to call home can really bash you down. It is important to see that a relocation isn’t always roses and that some very simple things can help.
Being kind to yourself is the most important thing. There will be people who find the move to a new place easy but even if you do there are some days that are anything but easy. Even the most well-adjusted expats regularly suffer from a feeling of isolation and it is easy to get into a spiral of isolation and loneliness. There are ways you can take control and fight this.
1. Get out of the house every day
When I first moved to Berlin I forced myself to go out everyday somewhere with my son — whether it was a walk in the park, a wander around the local market, a visit to a child-friendly cafe or simply running an errand. Getting out and about is essential for your health and sanity as it serves as distraction from everything that can be overwhelming you and gives you an immediate focus.
2. Join groups
Joining groups gives you a purpose and the chance to meet other people. This is an especially good trick for parents with small kids at home. We joined groups and went to music classes, and made efforts to make friends or at least speak to people. You may not make bosom buddies but you will get to speak to others.
There are loads of MeetUp groups in every city covering a multitude of interests – picking a couple to join gives you the chance to do something you like and also the chance to talk to like-minded people, at least for a few hours.
3. Ask for help
This isn't always easy but it is amazing how many people are happy and willing to help you if you ask. Sharing worries and problems really does make them easier to deal with – I know its a cliche but it is true. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling down and talk to your loved ones back home, they will want to help you even if they too are struggling with your move. Don’t box yourself in with your fears and worries. Let your partner in on how you are feeling, they will probably be feeling some if not all of the same emotions and you can support each other.
Talk to baristas in your local coffee house — sounds weird but these guys are usually friendly and have their finger on the pulse of your neighbourhood.
4. Take one step at a time but stay focussed
Here’s another thing that sounds cliche, but is nevertheless true. You won’t be able to do everything at once especially if you are struggling emotionally. Make a list of the top few things you need to do each day or week. This could include things that seem really trivial, like walking to the local supermarket to see what they sell. Go online and download public transport maps. Locate all the amenities you need in your local area and then spread this research further afield.
5. Do fun stuff
Sometimes when the going gets tough, having fun tends to fall by the wayside. But enjoyment also enriches your life, so do things that give you pleasure even if they may not seem as essential as finding a permanent home or unpacking boxes. Find a local museum to visit for a few hours (with kids or alone), go to a local coffee shop and order a big slice of cake and people watch.
6. Don’t give up!
One last cliche to end the list: ’this too shall pass’. Whilst at the time it feels like a prison sentence if you are struggling with a relocation, I promise you it gets better. It really does.
After a time things seem easier, more familiar and less daunting — you may still not like where you live but maybe you will hate it a little less with each passing day. For some this takes a few months while others might find its a gradual transition that takes years. But all of a sudden you will be looking back on the tough times as a distant memory and you won’t even see when the turning point was but it will come, I promise.
Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at helping expats called Dejlige Days Welcome. Her ebook, Dejlige Days: A Guide to relocation, will be published soon.