How to feel at home as an expat – stop being a victim and take responsibility

expat learning to live in a foreign country

I remember my first weekend in Berlin ten years ago, when I walked the streets of Schönhausser Allee and cried on the phone while talking to my boyfriend. I had moved here from Warsaw, and he wasn’t in town.

I was devastated, I had left my well-paid job, my great friends and a cozy apartment, which I just finished renovating. I had left it all to follow my heart and live with the man I had fallen in love with.

I was sitting on the terrace in his huge apartment feeling terribly lonely and wondering what on earth I had done.

Jumping into the unknown

I had no job, no friends (not true – one gay friend whom I’m very thankful for!) and not much money on my bank account.

I had moved away from a city where people constantly communicated with me wherever I went. Now I lived in a house where the neighbours did not even greet me in the staircase, and I was suddenly missing all my crazy neighbours in Warsaw who told me everything about their diseases and family problems.

Most of all I missed my own aliveness.

I was nearly 35 and I felt like 20!

It was not easy to get a job as a photographer, and I decided to try out something new. As everyone else I had to start from zero, and I ended up as a Photo editor intern at a German photo agency.

One day the boss came to me and asked me to buy donuts for the whole team.

Imagine, there I was, a successful, former photographer at one of the world’s biggest news agencies, buying colorful donuts to the employees!

I started to dislike the unfriendly Germans in the office, who did not have a sense of humor and who were not interested in talking to me. I felt lonely and unwelcome.

I started to blame the world for my unhappiness.

I knew I had lost something really important.

I had lost my enthusiasm.

I had lost my confidence.

My most important learning

My most important learning from my time as an intern was:

As long as I did not really believe in my own talents, I would keep on attracting people who would confirm that to me.

Time to take responsibility

It was time for me to rediscover myself and to look at how I could start feeling more alive again. It was time to start taking responsibility.

The way we perceive the external world is very much dependent on us and our thoughts, feelings and actions.

I will share a list of things I did during my last ten years, which helped me to shift from how I felt about the world and myself. It’s not always in your hands, but there is a lot you can do yourself to feel less lonely and start feeling at home in a foreign country.


Tips how to feel more at home in a foreign country

Learn the language. I took a lot of German language courses, which made me feel more confident to speak to people in the streets and I felt more empowered dealing with bureaucracy. My German is far away from perfect, but my relationship with people changed when I could communicate in their language.

Treat yourself with love. I started to be kinder to myself, acknowledging all the great things I had accomplished instead of focusing on the negatives in my life. Usually we expect from others, what we are not giving ourselves. When you are not providing something for yourself, you will search for it in others – and you will get especially triggered when you don’t get it from them.

Stop seeing people who are bad for you. When I started to become aware of how I felt after meet ups with some people, either feeling drained or having a stomach ache, I decided to be more selective. Meeting up with people with similar values and with those who brought out the best in me, I felt less lonely. Finding like-minded friends has had a major impact on how I feel about myself and where I live.

Do things that make you feel good. Being new in a city it’s easy to say YES to anyone and anything because you don’t want to feel lonely. You might end up feeling drained and not doing what’s good for you. I used to say yes far too often. I used to go to events “to get to know knew people” no matter the circumstances. Today I take more conscious decisions and I go to events that really interest me, and most of the time, I see people I’m genuinely interested in.

Be friendly. After complaining a while about grumpy Berliners, I started to greet people more often and small talk to everyone from the sales person at the grocery store to people at the park. When you start being yourself the same way as you want to see others, you attract more friendliness in your life.

Make a list of what gives you strength. At one point I started to write down activities in the city that gave me strength, and then I started to do more of that. During days when you feel lonely and bad about yourself, check your list and you’ll be reminded what it is that give you strength and what you need to do to feel better about yourself.

Be careful what you think about. The more I was negative, the more negativity I attracted in my life. Whatever we pay attention to – grows. How we feel has a lot to do with what we are thinking about. If we think a lot of negative thoughts, our world looks more negative.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help. When I felt really lonely and bad about myself during my first time abroad, I kept it to myself. I did not want anyone to know that I questioned if I had taken the right decision or not. Looking back I now wish I had gone to a therapist or a coach earlier. Remember, asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a strength to show your emotions and most important, it’s a strength taking responsibility  for changing a situation which is not working for you.

Journaling. The prompts in my guided journal Time To Thrive help you identify what’s draining you so that you have more time for doing what lights you up! Do you want to test it out for yourself and see if it helps you find your own way for feeling at home as an expat? Then grab a free copy of my guided journal! 



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I’m Katarina

Welcome to my blog, where I share real-life stories and offer valuable and practical tips for how to achieve fulfillment without burning out.


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