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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

Making the decision to live abroad

Is it the ultimate dream to live in another country; to experience it 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 your 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?

When the opportunity to move abroad presents, the questions are many. 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 was never quite able to articulate what made me long for living life abroad, but I always knew that 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 felt decisions, instantly made - with the mature, reflective thoughts on why this was such a brilliant idea following afterwards.

However, having made the decision, 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 all this, 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.

My top five tips for making the decision to move abroad:

  • Allow yourself to dream

  • Accept that it's okay - and normal - to emotionally fluctuate in making the decision

  • Do your research

  • Be curious to your own as well as your partner's/family's emotional process

  • Be mindful that reactions of your friends and family are based on love and possibly worry

If you are interested in having these tips elaborated alongside receiving many, many more tips on preparing yourself for expat life and how to support with your mental health during the other phases of expat life, you may be interested in purchasing my comprehensive guide on taking care of your mental health as an expat. You can find the guide here

For now, 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 - all with the focus of supporting mental health and emotional well-being amongst expats, individually, couples and families.

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


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