• Henriette Johnsen

Making the decision to live abroad

Is it the ultimate dream to live in another country; to experience another country from within, to live alongside another people often practising a different religion, a different set of cultural values and speaking a different language?

How do you raise and support your children to become bilingual and multicultural? What will happen to your relationship with your family? With friends? And to your marriage? Will you suffer from homesickness? And become lonely? Will you all make new friends?

Will you be split between the two homes? And how will your children react to your home country becoming their holiday country? To primarily living in a culture different from the one of their parents?

Will you embrace the adventure? Explore yourselves and your host country? And will you ever be able to repatriate to settle in your home country after such a life changing experience?

The questions are many when the opportunity to move abroad presents. I am a Danish born and bred, UK trained counsellor and psychotherapist; and for me, living abroad turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster beyond anything I could ever have imagined, teaching me lessons about life that I would never have learnt had I stayed at home. In hindsight, I realise that these have enabled me to start living my life in a much more meaningful and authentic way.

Today, many people uproot and for very different reasons; eg., their country is at war, they are faced with unemployment and poor prospects for their children's future, they want to study, they have fallen in love or they are blessed with having an extraordinary experience offered to them via their jobs. Regardless, many people embark on such adventure without knowing the full consequences in advance. And how can they? As with life in general, there is no telling how things pan out; what will be successful and what less so.

Personally, I have never been quite able to articulate what made me long for living life abroad, but I have always known I would. Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing and I have come to realise that me moving abroad was an escape; I simply could not face what needed facing whilst living in Denmark.

When the opportunity arose to live in London, England, I instantly jumped at the chance. It was one of those gut feel decisions, instantly made with the mature, reflective thoughts on why this was such a brilliant idea following afterwards.

However, having made the decision and set everything in motion, I went from thinking it was the best idea ever to the worst nightmare imaginable; being pregnant with my third child probably did not make matters any less emotional and a few weeks after 9/11 I moved to London with my then husband and our two children. Daunting times: hope, dreams and future prosperity in one suitcase; fear and apprehension in another and finally, nappies, clothing and other personal belongings in a third.

Adventure had its hold on me. We went, and over the course of the decade I lived on the outskirts of London, I had the most life changing experience ever. On all levels possible. For me, living abroad was the ultimate dream as well as the ultimate nightmare; nothing had prepared me for what it would be like to have a series of life changing crises in a foreign country. Despite, living abroad is one of the best things I have ever allowed myself to experience and I would do it again, should the opportunity arise.

Welcome to my blog which is a mixture of my personal experiences, my psychotherapeutic view on the process of deciding to relocate, the actual transition, life abroad and finally, repatriation as well as advice and tips on the challenges of being an expat.

For more on therapy, please visit my website www.thegoodexpatlife.com

East Molesey, one of my favorite retreats in London
East Molesey, one of my favorite retreats in London


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