What does it feel like to be an expat?

October 17, 2022 in Ex-pat


Integrating ikigai into expat life

Living as an expat has so many advantages. We get to travel to new places and live as the locals do, something vacations can only touch upon. We can explore cultures with nuance and depth while learning languages, expanding our perspectives and opening our minds. As expats, our daily life is an adventure. Things that were commonplace back home now offer a new twist of excitement. There is beauty and pleasure in the mundane.


Curiosity drives so much of what we do in the expat space—exploring our new home, heading off on weekends to see what’s around us, delving into the nooks and crannies, trying different foods, playing with language, engaging in new activities and ways of doing...to name a few. At Vibrant Ikigai, we have noted how we often have seen more of other places than the areas around where we grew up. Sometimes when you are in the comfort of your town, you don’t always have a curious, wandering heart.

expat growth

CHANGE & GROWTH: “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” – Niequist

With these expat adventures, we experience an immense amount of change, growth, and freedom. Change and growth come from getting out of our comfort zone, trying new things, tackling challenges, learning from these situations, and getting to know ourselves better. As expats, we have the opportunity to be immersed in new things with such frequency and with such force that changing and growing are implicit in living abroad. 

FREEDOM:  ability to act or change without constraint

As we move about in our new life we are free from the confines of our past. We get to choose how we show up, which foot we put forward, and who we are in our new homes. This freedom to be ourselves and express ourselves in whatever way we chose is also a foundation of the expat life. We are not restricted by the expectations of our family and friends, or the roles we held in these relationships. It is up to us. We can more easily decide and that can be extremely liberating. 

However, we are without our cultural bearings and social structures that give us our indications of self. (Did we even know who we were before this?) We don’t have the roles and relationships in place that pushed us on in life, perhaps even unconsciously. Suddenly, we are standing alone. With the wide ocean in front of us and no map in site, we can pick any navigational course we like…terrifying and exciting all at the same time.

It is easy to think that the life of an expat is romantic, exotic, and filled with pleasures. I, after all, am now on my third French expatriation. For us Americans, this may seem like a dream come true. Eating baguette and croissant daily, listening to the romantic French language, oh and the cheese, did I mention the cheese? And indeed these are beautiful aspects of French life. 


However, the challenges we face as expats are particular and life isn’t always comfy and rosy even if the cheese is really good. Daily, we must navigate a culture different from our own, which means we live life out of our comfort zone. This is often coupled with a difference in language, which means if you relied on using charming language to carry you through uncomfortable situations, you are out of luck. We have to dig deep in our well of resources to show up in situations that may have been quite easy and enjoyable in the past, and are now challenging and often incredibly humbling.

ibasho for expat

IBASHO: the Japanese word for ‘a place of belonging’


And perhaps the most glaring of all challenges we as expats face is that we are without our family and our friends in our new land - we are without our ibasho. When you are feeling lonely and blue you can’t call your old friend to come over for a wine and a chat on your sofa. When the kids are driving you mad you can’t call mom to take them out from under you for an hour or two so you can regroup. The expat business can be a very lonely business.

As I write this blog post, I am in the fourth week of my most recent expatriation in Annecy, France, and my seventh international move in 15 years. You would think I am well seasoned at this point, but an international move is an international move, and getting out of your comfort zone is getting out of your comfort zone. It’s hard. It might be easier for me this time than it was six moves ago, but the challenges are still there.

So what do I do? I reach for my tools of ikigai to help me. I remind myself of the steps I need to take to help edge me along. I bring my awareness and attention to my small daily actions that help guide me into feeling more settled. I concentrate on the aspects of ikigai that I know I need to work on now that I am out in the ocean again. I have been going through our coaching workbooks and using our coaching journal prompts to help me find my course. 

One of the beauties of this philosophy? It is the gift that keeps on giving.


expat and ikigai

As coaches of the ikigai philosophy, we find that ikigai and the ikigai methodology we use is particularly helpful for the unsettled expat, something every one of us expats has been or will be again.

Do you want to learn about these powerful tools that have been so impactful for showing up confidently in expat life? Are you an expat struggling to find your footing in your new place? We will give you the tools you need to thrive ! 

Check out our recent interview on the Ikigai Tribe podcast where we talk more deeply about getting out of your comfort zone and integrating ikigai in the context of expat life.

We are two of only a few ikigai coaches who are trained and certified in the unique and powerful ikigai coaching framework and methodology approved by Japan’s leading ikigai authority, Clinical Psychologist Professor Akihiro Hasegawa, and developed by Nick Kemp of Ikigai Tribe. 


Our clients are often:  expats, trailing spouses, those looking to change careers & moms.


We use the ikigai philosophy to help women who are at a turning point in their lives; who want to gain greater clarity of their life path and life goals; who want to live with more vibrancy and purpose; who want more joy in their daily living... 


Click here to learn about our services and how we can help you.

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Karly and Chloé are certified NLP and Ikigai coaches. Vibrant Ikigai offers bilingual workshops and 1:1 coaching services to help expat women thrive in their lives abroad.

Contact us today to set up your free discovery call!