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Support Group: Life as an Expatriate

by City Savvy Luxembourg

Expatriate life can be exciting but after the novelty is gone, it can be an isolated existence, especially under a grey sky and in a different cultural context than what we are accustomed to.  

While many of us appreciate living in a safe, efficient and well-connected place as the Grand Duchy, we often miss our best friends, who more often than not, have also left ‘home’. We often feel that loss in a deeper way when we miss special events such as birthdays and weddings of loved ones. It is also very hard to grieve a loss when feeling that one has not said goodbye properly and far away from one’s support system. One may argue that this is a first world problem but feeling isolated takes pleasure out of life.  

While many companies encourage employees to learn the local languages and join local clubs and interest groups, many of us cannot do it on a regular basis if we work under tight deadlines and with different time zones.

 It may make sense for a multinational to have one team spread out in many locations but this means that our work buddies are often not around for a cup of coffee or lunch.

This is why I am now organising support groups for expatriates.  I will first facilitate a series of eight weekly meetings from Wednesday 21 February 2017 starting at 7 pm.  I intend to start facilitating another group on Wednesday afternoons from mid-May. Part of each meeting will be devoted to the discussion of psychotherapeutic concepts. A fee will be charged to cover the cost of the rental of the venue which is a lovely café in Luxembourg City.

Groups have the following therapeutic factors:

  • Universality – it is the recognition of shared experiences among group members and it helps to remove the sense of isolation.  It validates experiences and helps the self-esteem of the ones who are struggling to have a voice in this difficult time.  There will be a confidentiality agreement in place so that what happens in the group stays in the group.
  • Altruism – it will also be about helping and supporting others.  As facilitator, I will allow space for one person to comfort another while ensuring that personal boundaries are respected.
  • Articulation– In the Luxembourgish context and/or at work, we often have to show a solid façade even if we are crumbling inside.  Being part of a support group will help articulate these repressed feelings into words and release emotional tension.
  • Development– A group also helps with social skills – it is about learning new ways to talk about feelings, observations and concerns.
  •  Growth– It is also about interpersonal learning i.e. finding out about oneself and others in the group.

Members often report that support groups are helpful for learning factual information from others in the group.  It is not strictly therapeutic but nevertheless very helpful in a new country.

The goal is instillation of hope – encouragement that an enjoyable life in Luxembourg is possible and that there is a community to talk to.

Please email the group facilitator: esmee.chengapen@gmail.com for more information about the support groups.

About Esmée Chengapen: Throughout the past 17 years, Esmée has also moved countries many times for work.  While Esmée  feels that her expatriate existence has been very enriching, she has been through the process of loss, grief and acceptance several times.  Her interest in psychotherapy led her to start a master programme in Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy in London and she is now in her fifth and final year of her studies.  Do something proactive and email  esmee.chengapen@gmail.com and get connected. 

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