Aug 5, 2019

How to mourn your old life as an expat in Japan

One thing can be said about being an expat - it changes you. For better or worse, your life isn't going to be the same once you've moved abroad to live. There are plenty of wonderful, exciting things about expat life, but there are also things that are difficult, and with that comes something akin to a sense of mourning for life before you picked up and shifted halfway across the world.

If you're struggling with leaving your old life behind, here are some ways I've worked through my "grief" for the life I had before moving to the land of the rising sun.

How to mourn your old life as an expat in Japan photo

Understand that relationships always change - whether or not you're abroad

Something that saddens me from time to time is the knowledge that many friendships from back home no longer have the strength they once did. After being abroad now for almost seven years, that's probably to be expected - and it's not necessarily something I need to "blame" on expat life. Friendships change, evolve or dissolve courtesy of various life events, and that's okay and normal. Being here in Japan has also seen me create some friendships that I'm ever-grateful for, even if they are ones that are just part of another season of life.

Remember that it's okay to openly talk about what you miss

You know when you're grieving the loss of a person, and you're often told not to bottle it up? I think the same goes for the mourning we feel as expats. Call up a friend or family member and reminisce about old times. Have someone send you a care package of all your favorite snack foods when you've had it up to here with weird potato chip flavors and pocky varieties. Cry. If you're really struggling, perhaps even see a counselor. Letting some of it out can be immensely helpful!

Try and focus on what you've gained, not what you've lost

Expat life has certainly seen me mourn things I've lost. But I also try and work through those feelings by focusing on what I've gained. Being an expat has pushed me so far out of my comfort zone - I feel like a completely different person than I was when we moved here. I'm more resilient. I'm more tolerant. I've tried jobs that I never thought I would have, I've traveled all around Asia with ease courtesy of Japan's convenient location, and my relationship with my husband has strengthened as a result of the challenges we've faced as a team. 

Part of being an expat is the balance between letting go and holding on, but over time I've found peace in understanding that everyone and everything changes, whether they're an expat or not - and that's just a consequence of life's ride.



After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!