Confession: the Dark Side of Expat Life

I have a confession to make. I am lying to everyone. Consistently. At least on Facebook.

Today I nearly posted a series of photos to show the madness of the last two weeks. But subconsciously I intended to humblebrag. “Look how amazing life is abroad!” and “Look how happy I am!”

Here’s an approximation of what I almost posted:

“Super busy for the last two weeks! Was in the news here in Thailand, attended my first Thai wedding, scouted out some new corners of the city with a great photography group, and somehow managed not to lose my mind from two 80 hour workweeks.”

Photowalk with Bangkok Photographers

Yes, I was really busy. Yes, we had three large events at work this week, and one led to my photo in one of the larger English-speaking newspapers in Thailand. And yes, one of my lovely staff was married and I attended her wedding. It was my first Thai wedding. Oh, and I also went out on a photowalk and had a girls’ night out with a friend.

And yes, I ended these two weeks feeling happy about my job, the work we had done, and that after a year in Bangkok I finally have a semblance of a social life.


I spent so many hours at work because I slacked off the two weeks prior. It was my birthday. I was struggling with my age and the fact that I am single and not a mother, and had spent months planning an extravagant trip with family to be with people I love as a way to soften the disappointment. People who are usually on the other side of the planet.

Then we had to cancel the trip.

So instead I sulked for four straight days. I felt awful and deeply lonely. I also didn’t get much work done at the office. When I was there I spent a lot of time staring out the window of my office instead. Projects fell behind.

Eventually I traveled out of Bangkok so that I didn’t mope all the way around the clock, but I also didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday. I passive-aggressively refused to celebrate. Instead I unraveled one night and cried to the hotel because I couldn’t sleep. At midnight. I argued with airport security officers and risked goodness-knows-what because the Lombok airport rules state you cannot carryon a tripod. Oh, and I didn’t return any of my family’s birthday phone calls for several days. I told them the internet connection was too weak.

Then a man I am interested in bruised my feelings. Twice.

And I attracted my first troll on social media who took me seriously to task, publicly, for not being a better political activist.

I finally joined a photowalk, but it was only after considerable self-encouragement. Because I have been thrown out of two others in the last 6 months.

My housekeeper argued with me for 20 minutes one morning because she said I hadn’t paid her for one cleaning. But in the past month I had given her three advances for various things she needs (a shirt for her daughter, money for her sick mother, and so on.) Finally, in order not to be even later into the office, I just gave her the money. The interaction left me feeling like I was viewed as an ATM. (The office manager of my building who was acting as a translator started scolding her soundly when I agreed to give her the money, so I’m pretty sure I was taken advantage of here. But sometimes it’s just not worth it.)

Next the city flooded. As a result one of our events became massively stressful and all the customers arrived before my team did. A bomb exploded in the waiting room of a hospital in Bangkok on the anniversary of the military coup and wounded 24.

Finally, a taxi driver recently raped a woman he picked up at the airport. Another group of taxis nearly ran a realtor off the road because they thought she was an Uber driver. And then one of my taxi drivers pulled over to the side of the road and screamed at me for five minutes because I made him use the meter. I’m a little afraid both to take taxis or use Uber now.

Viewed like this, it definitely has not been the most fun few weeks.

There are a lot of reasons why I stick to the positives while on social media. It’s a defense mechanism: I only want to speak about the positive as if that will help ward off the negative. Sometimes it’s blind optimism: overall I truly remember mostly positives. Some of it is that I censor myself for others. I judge what I believe others want to hear. And maybe some of it is competition. When everyone else’s life looks amazing, I can’t help but edit mine to look the same.

But it isn’t all positive. It isn’t always great. And yet, maybe that’s one more reason why I stick to the positives. Because I love living in a foreign culture. And it’s hard when people ask me when I am coming home. They want to know when I will ‘grow out’ of this phase I’m in. When I will have had my fill. And tough times give these people a huge opportunity to say “see? maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s time to come home now.” More often than not, those sentiments either feel like being kicked when I’m down, or they fan self-doubt that can take me weeks to strangle.

So please forgive me for perpetuating this myth that everything is great and that life abroad is wonderful. It’s not.

But neither is it so bad. It’s just… life.



  1. Margaret Dunlap

    May 30, 2017 at 5:39 am

    Kate, I read this and it made me feel so much. I can relate to a lot of what you are going through but I won’t pretend to equal all of your ups and downs. Life abroad is very much a roller coaster. There are highs and very lows. You’ll know when you’ve had enough when it’s just not fun and exciting anymore. But until then enjoy the ride girl! Just know that one of my highs was that evening at that rooftop bar with a waste high railing 40 flights up watching a gorgeous sunset with a fellow wanderer. You are right to focus on the peaks, for they will be what you will treasure in your memories. The valleys will be war stories you tell your friends and family about and you will all laugh together. They will be in awe of your courage and grit. You don’t know this yet, but those are the times you have grown. When it’s all over, you will look back and be proud of yourself for your perseverance and will view everything life throws at you with a new if somewhat jaded perspective. You will be able to tell yourself. “I can handle anything because I survived, no, I kicked living abroad’s ass.”

  2. Jeanie

    August 4, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Oh, this post really hit my emotions!! I’m a British expat living in South Korea (but currently on vacation in Hong Kong). It’s saturday night here and I want to go out, take pictures and post these on IG, showing my friends that I’m “ok” and “living my best life”….but I’m feeling abit rubbish. Not only am I on a budget (less than what I expected when I arrived in HK) but the constant visibility of couples particularly mixed cultured couples have really put a damper on my night. Your truth, honesty and Margaret’s encouragement has slightly lifted my mood. I found this blog when I typed in “single expat living in Asia” and I’m glad I have found it. I am 32 this month so not a twenty something so I do understand some of your sentiments in your other posts. I will stop writing as this “quick” post will become a essay!!! Just wanted to say thank you 😊

    1. curlywan

      August 6, 2018 at 9:53 pm

      Hi Jeanie – I hear you! Sorry to hear you are struggling but if you’re at all like me, it’s all worth it. Hang in there!

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