Perspective on The Expat Dilemma : Loneliness


Question: How do I deal with loneliness while living in Vienna?

Living overseas can be exciting! Being an expatriate can be fun! Seeing new places, trying exotic foods, learning different customs, and sending photos of you standing at famous sites to envious friends back home.... But the life of an expat is not all glamour; you can feel very lonely being away from the support of family and friends.

How does an expat deal with this inevitable loneliness?

Most of us know as expats that we need to be proactive. Vienna is full of activities for us. A simple Google search will find several classes, hobby groups, churches, sports teams, interest groups, professional networks and Facebook groups in Vienna that will help alleviate this feeling of loneliness. If you are feeling lonely, make a commitment to yourself to join a group and attend an event in the next two weeks.

But is loneliness really your problem? Maybe you need to cultivate an enjoyment of solitude.

From the outside, solitude and loneliness look similar. But loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. You feel like something is missing.

Solitude, on the other hand, is the state of being alone without being lonely. Solitude is a state where you provide yourself your own satisfying company. Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner fullness.  Solitude is refreshing, an opportunity to renew and replenish ourselves.

We all need periods of solitude - it is something we can cultivate and develop. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews and restores us for the challenges of life.

If you like yourself, you have no problem with being alone. Solitude is comfortable for you. You say to yourself  things like: “I enjoy my time alone,” and “I love being able to recharge and refuel.”

When you accept yourself completely, you feel happy when you are alone and also when surrounded by other people. But if you often say to yourself things like “I can’t stand being alone” and “I feel sad and depressed when I’m alone” and “I need people around me,” you may need to learn to be comfortable with solitude.

Tips for Loneliness in Vienna

  • Learn to do things you enjoy and do them alone. This  may seem obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t follow through and do the very things they enjoy. Vienna offers a rich variety of things to do to cultivate an enjoyment of solitude. Some ideas are:

  • Go hiking in Wiener Wald, it is especially beautiful in the fall. Avoid the weekends when it can be quite crowded. As you walk along the trails, you can meditate, pray, and reflect on what you want from your life.

  • Visiting Vienna coffee houses offers another way to cultivate solitude. Some of the famous ones are: Café Landtmann, Café Central, Café Schwarzenberg, Café Sacher, Café Prückel, and Kaffee Alt Wien. Bring a good book or spend time journaling while you enjoy a melange and sachertorte.

  • Jogging along Prater Allee is another way to cultivate being comfortable by yourself. Biking or skateboarding on the Donaukanal or feeding the ducks and swans in Stadt Park are other ways to spend time with yourself to become more comfortable with solitude.

It has been said, “We enter this world alone and we leave it alone.” Learn to be comfortable being alone. How many people do you know stay in an unsatisfying relationship or marriage because they are afraid to be alone? Don't be one of them. Learn to be content with solitude and you will be happy in Vienna, your next post, or back in your homeland.

“Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.(Paul Tillich)


About the Author

Helen is an American Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor.  She has a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a Masters Degree in Intercultural Studies. 

Helen is an expat herself having lived in several countries: Holland, Finland, Switzerland, former Czechoslovakia, and Russia.  In addition, she has lived in Austria off and on since 1980.  She has been serving couples, individuals and children in the expat community worldwide for 40 years. She works with individuals with relationship problems, career decisions, anxiety, depression and other issues.

Helen has also helped many expat couples in Vienna turn their marriage around. She shows them how to improve their communication, set boundaries, and resolve conflicts by using videos, personality tests, role plays and other tools to bring about rapid change. Many of her clients have learned to better communicate, and have created  loving, healthy marriages.

Additionally, Helen works with children who are having a hard time at school.  Expat kids especially, may have trouble adjusting to school routines, on top of handling a new culture and possibly language. That's why talking to someone can help. Helen is happy to be there and assist through the difficult times.