In short, yes, it absolutely can be. I go through waves where I feel extremely lonely and times where I don't seem to notice as much. But...I think it's important as an expat to be patient with yourself and allow those feelings to come and go. You are alone in a country that is not fully yours. Even though in Israel, I am a citizen. As a Jewish person, this country is actually mine. But...I didn't grow up here. I didn't go to the army. I havent had those experiences that my Israeli counterparts have gone through; and gone through together.
I actually found my 'loneliness' to manifest itself very differently in Japan, Taiwan and Israel.
In Japan, I didnt really feel lonely because I only lived there for 7 months. I also had an extremely strong core group of friends as well as a boyfriend with me for the entirety of my expat life. I missed my family, for sure. But, honestly, I was having too much fun to really notice or feel lonely. I was also at a different point in my life then where my expat life didnt include a job or having to worry about making money/having real responsibilities. My experience in Japan was more of a break from 'real' life and I knew I would have to return to life in America and leave expat life behind...at least for a while.
In Taiwan, I was living and working for one year. This experience was different for me because I didnt really have Taiwanese friends my own age, but I had two host families that 100% took me in as one of them. I didn't quite realize at the time just how valuable that was to stopping loneliness. There's something fundamentally different about friends vs. 'family'. Having a strong parental figure is completely different than having a good friend. Both are important but I can say for myself, having a family makes all the difference in the world. I was constantly invited to do things in Taiwan, from barbecues to birthday parties to hikes to overnight camping trips. To be a part of a family creates this very real sense of belonging, which is critical to success as an expat living abroad.
In Israel, I have actually felt the most loneliness out of anytime I've lived away from home. It's a bit strange because of all of the places I have lived, Israel is where I 'fit in' the most. But...it's extremely difficult to actually fully assimilate here in Israel. All of my friends are foreign and I'm not totally sure (2.5 years after moving here) how to really be friends with Israelis. They have all grown up together. They went into the army together. Their parents are friends with each other. I went to a wedding here and not only were all of the couple's friends there, but also all of the friends' families. This is a bit of a foreign concept to me, coming from America, where people often move and lose touch in our giant country. Here in Israel, friendships stick for the long term and involve the whole family. Which is great...but coming in at 25 years old...it's really hard to break through. Especially when I struggle with Hebrew. I also don't have anything resembling a family structure here. I have no adult figures in my life to stand in as 'parents' and invite me to things and help me experience this country. Actually, when my boyfriend and I broke up after 1.5 years together, what was actually hardest was also losing his family. Although they werent like a host family, and I wasn't especially close with them, they were there. They were who I had Shabbat dinner with every Friday. They were who I spent my holidays with. And now, all of a sudden, I found myself very alone. Like I said, friends are not the same as family.
So...what can I (and you!) do about it? I have some tips to help ease the loneliness, but please know that doesnt mean it will completely go away. I absolutely still deal with loneliness on quite a regular basis and I have lived in three different countries for a total of around 4 years at this point. But...it is absolutely possible to deal with, overcome it, and live a happy successful life abroad!
Long term aids for combatting loneliness while living abroad:
1. Keep a blog or a journal. Write about everything. When I'm feeling particularly down, I go back and read my posts that I wrote when I wasn't feeling sad. Posts when I was enthralled with Israel and everything in my life was shiny and new and filled with magic. Reading your own thoughts from happier and less lonely times, is actually pretty inspiring. I think it's the biggest kick in the pants to get back to that good place; knowing you were once there!
2. Learn the local language. This is ironic advice coming from me because it is a constant struggle for me. I am objectively bad at learning language. I am a heavily visual learner, so I can read and write okay but when it comes to actually having a conversation, I can't seem to get past the absolute basics. Of all the learning styles, auditory is by far my least successful. Welp...language is almost entirely auditory so.....not great. But, not knowing the language has definitely contributed to my loneliness and feelings of isolation. So working towards language acquisition is definitely key.
3. If you can find a way to connect with a host family, do it. In every single country I've ever been to, there are resources for expats. Even if it's just a Facebook group. Ask the admin of the Facebook group if this is a program that exists or if they can help you to find a family. (I'm currently at this point in my journey here in Israel, where I plan to do just this. I feel like it's something that's really missing in my life. And instead of continuing to drown in this feeling, it's time to get proactive about the solution.) Once you have a host family, take full advantage! If they invite you to something, say yes!
Shorter term aids for combatting loneliness while living abroad:
1. Find an activity that is yours. Find something totally different and new and go do it alone. Have time that's just for you and your development and enjoyment. I found myself doing three things here in Israel: working, going to Hebrew school, and working out. These are all fine (and necessary) but none of them were particularly fun or very personal to me. So...I decided to take up archery. I looked up an archery teacher closest to Tel Aviv, sent him a message and started lessons two weeks later. And honestly, it's been a G-d send. Having time to myself to improve on something that I chose, is really enjoyable. (And I have met more local Israelis this way than anything else I have tried!)
2. Write a bucket list. (This is a mix between a long and short term solution). Write all of the things you want to do in this country down on a piece of paper and plan trips to cross things off. Hang the list on the fridge and literally cross things out as you go (and don't forget to blog/journal about your experiences!). It's so satisfying to cross things off a list and feel accomplished on your own. (See my very own bucket list for Israel!)
3. If youre brave, find a local Facebook group, and say you are looking for friends! I see people do it all the time here in Israel and get a lot of really good responses. You are never going to be the only expat in a country. You are also never going to be the only lonely person in a country. So many people want friends and are unsure how to find them. So if you want to be the ringleader, write the post!! If you don't feel like being so bold, find a post like this written by someone else and either comment on it or DM them privately.
4. Find a speaking partner!! This will not only help you with language acquisition (long term solution #2) but give you a built in friend. Also, having even just one local person to ask questions to and learn from can be invaluable. To find a speaking partner, I first suggest using Facebook groups again. Or, go to a local language school and ask them for advice on how to find one (they may even have a program!)
5. Either get a pet or volunteer at a local shelter. Animals are proven to make us happier and coming home to a fuzzy creature instead of an empty house can definitely help us to feel less lonely. I am so so thankful to have my bunny, Fig, during times of sadness here in Israel!
6. Visit home! Don't feel ashamed or like youre not making it as an expat if you decide you need to go home and be with your support system. We can only be strong by ourselves for so long. If you need to go home for a short time, or a longer time, just to be with family and re-asses, then do that. If you are able to go home, take the chance!
You can see that my lists above are a mixture of feeling more comfortable with yourself while being alone and actually not being alone anymore. Strengthening the good parts of you so you don't mind that you are alone and working to make sure you are not always alone. Both are difficult and both take time. My short term aids are not instant. There is no instant gratification here. And even with all of these in place, you will still feel lonely from time to time. But having the tools to deal with it will make a world of difference!
If you happen to be in Israel and need a friend, shoot me a message! I'm always happy to meet!! (: