Just to say up front, this isn’t an advice-filled article by someone claiming to be an expert on how to deal with loneliness as an expat, but more a discussion of it that some people might relate to. Loneliness certainly isn’t unique to expats, or even to people who’ve left their original hometown, but it can be quite a large issue for those living abroad.
The topic was spurred by reading an interesting survey that discussed the challenges that expats living in the US face, and loneliness comes in second, right behind cost-of-living issues, at around 26% of respondents. One reason this seems at least a little surprising is that the US is known as the land of immigrants for a very good reason. The vast majority of people living there have grandparents or great grandparents who were born in other countries, from literally around the world.
Expat partners have a worse time of it
One explanation that the article put forth is that many people who move to the US (or anywhere else, for that matter) do so for a specific job. If they bring a partner then that person is almost certain to have a tougher time finding friends they can relate to. The one with the job usually has a group of co-workers, some or many of whom may also be from their home country, but the partner without a job likely has no one except for their partner.
When thinking about the expat communities in the United States in particular, I’d imagine that the people who come in large numbers for blue-collar jobs (most from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America) probably have thriving communities from back home, but those who move from, say, Belgium or Indonesia, might have a tougher time of it. If they have moved to New York City or Washington DC or Los Angeles they might have some support nearby, but almost anywhere else and they might feel quite isolated.
The importance of a social circle
Having lived in many different places around the world, some for short times and others for longer, I now know how important it is to have some sort of social circle for overall happiness. It’s easy to daydream about moving to a remote island in the South Pacific, but if you don’t find a potential group of friends there then it’s not going to feel like paradise for long.
A while back I wrote about finding the expat community anywhere, and I think those tips might be of help to some people, but obviously not to everyone.
The article that inspired this seems to recommend trying to establish a social circle locally, even if they aren’t from the same part of the world you are. This sounds like good advice, though it might be challenging. Social isolation does seem to be the sort of thing that can compound on itself and just feel worse and worse, so trying to take concrete steps before things get too bad is the way to go.