Fellow expats, do you feel like you function at the same level in a foreign country as you do in your home country?

A friend of mine recently reviewed a book on cross-cultural living. While written specifically for missionaries, I think it could apply to any expat or immigrant. Did you know that, according to this authoronly about one out of four missionaries function at a level near to that which was normal in their home culture.*

I’ve been living in Moscow for 5 years, I speak Russian fluently and I work as a journalist in my adopted country, and I still don’t feel that I function as well here as I did back in the U.S. I used to think that it was culture shock; that it was something that would disappear in time as I got used to living here. Now I think that it’s a combination of  things that probably aren’t going to go away.

First, there’s homesickness. I just miss my family, and the kind, laid-back, polite, sweater-loving people with funny accents that populate Minnesota. I miss the Minneapolis skyline, the lakes, the family dinners, the deer in our back yard and being with everyone on Thanksgiving.

Second, I’ve come to realize that living in Russia is really hard for anyone; that it’s hard to function at a high level for native Muscovites. I don’t see very many natives doing much better than I am….

Don’t get me wrong, Moscow has given me so much. I moved here with only two suitcases and two friends, and now I have a whole world here; a family, a home, a career. These are gifts I would never have in my life if I’d stayed put in my home state. But I’m still homesick and miss my MN friends and family all the time.

Economist husband, himself a native Muscovite, has said that he looks at his home city more as just a place to earn money than a real home. To be honest, I have observed some Muscovites here who do function really well, but most of them have an enormous support network of tight-knit friends and family in addition to fantastic, extremely high-paying jobs. Also, they travel frequently.

I hesitated about writing this post, afraid that it would sound too depressing, but then I thought – it’s just true! Part of being a foreigner or an expat means that you probably never stop being homesick!

In other ways, being a foreigner makes me realize how much of my strength I’ve drawn from family, friends, language, social custom and other things. Living in Moscow has drawn out personality qualities I never knew I had….

So, fellow expats, and native Russians, I’m so interested to hear what you think. Is living in Russia inherently difficult? Is being an expat inherently difficult? Do any of you fellow foreigners still struggle with homesickness? Has living in a foreign country helped you grow in ways you never thought possible? What do you think???

P.S. Seven reasons why expat life sucks (for a healthy dose of optimism!) by an expat living in Belgium

*quote found on a friend’s blog.

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7 Responses to Homesick

  1. yolochka says:

    For the record, I do not like sweaters.

  2. Phyllis says:

    I think I’m weird. I function way better here than in the states. It would take a lot to bring me up to functioning level there, too. The last visit really made me realize how intrinsic to survival driving would be… and that it would be very hard for me to learn at this point. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but that was just one practical point that really jumped out at me.

    However, I agree that Moscow is just hard. I need Slavic rural life, not that big city!

    • That’s so interesting, Phyllis. I kind of suspected that you might say something like that. Why is it, do you think, that it’s easier here than in the U.S. for you?

      • Phyllis says:

        I think it’s just partly the way I’m made. 🙂 But, practically, it’s probably also because I have spent my whole adult life here. You pretty much have, too, but I think maybe you’ve gone back and forth a little more? And it hasn’t been as long for you yet. Plus, you’re in MOSCOW; it may truly be harder to put down roots there. Another thing that has really anchored me is having children here. There are so many little things about raising children that I just haven’t experienced in the states. I’m perfectly comfortable with them here.

  3. Lppageguitar says:

    I have to say firstly that I found a lot of comfort reading your post. I’ve been in Moscow for a little over 2 months, I followed my girlfriend here and am very happy I did so.
    However…(haha yes here it comes)

    I have to say that I am outright dissapointed with Moscow and Moscovites. I read all of these posts about culture shock, and the fact that you just need to adjust, and that their way of showing things is different, yada yada yada. I dont accept that. For me, its an excuse for a Rude, Cold, unfriendly, stressed, angry, backstabbing, bribing, culture.

    I’ve been to about 7 job interviews (my current employers are bastards) and only one has been honest and worth working with. All the rest blatantly tried to rip me off.

    Never in my life would I dream of raising a family in this place.

    I hope this gets better with time or We’re getting married and moving back to Boston.

    • I’m so sorry Russia has been so hard. I feel your pain! And actually, I completely agree with you. Some people (especially in Moscow) are just downright rude, angry and totally looking to rip off whoever they can. At the same time, I think it’s harder for us foreigners to tell the difference between the real jerks and the people who seem like unfriendly but are really just reserved. The first year, in my opinion is hardest, but I have many, many Russian friends who have lived here most of their lives and are getting fed up enough to leave (2 have left in the last 3 months!). So, I think you absolutely have a point, but I also think that culture shock goes in waves.
      Re: your job – what kind of job are you looking for? Maybe I could connect you with someone in whatever field you’re looking for??

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