Living abroad: 7 realities to know before you go
Living abroad can be one of life’s most thrilling adventures, and something everyone should consider if possible. Whether you spend a semester abroad or go full pelt and become an expat for a while, there are so many ways you can call somewhere else home for a while.
However, living abroad comes with its own set of hurdles. These seven points will give you a heads up for what you might face when settling into life in a new country.
1. It will be different to what you expected
The picture you’ve built up in your mind of the new place you’re living in will almost certainly not be the reality you’ll find there. It may have some overlaps, but there will always be little pieces that you didn’t anticipate from living abroad. This applies even to places you’ve visited a few times before – stopping by is completely different to living and making a home there.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be worse than you expected, of course. There may well be wonderful parts of life there you only notice once you’re living there – and that’s pretty magical.
2. You need to push yourself
You can’t move to a new country and wait for new friends to fall into your lap. You must create a new social circle for yourself, and that means putting yourself out there in situations you may not have been in back home before. That means joining expat meet-ups, chatting to someone after a fitness class, or plucking up the courage to talk to strangers in coffee shops or bars.
This can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re the shy type, but there are ways around that. Think of the kind of friends you want to make and what they would do in their spare time. Join a book club if you want to meet other readers, or a Couchsurfing meet-up if you want to connect with other travellers. You’re allowed to be selective and choose whatever kind of friendships you want.
3. You don’t have to know the language (but try)
If you’re reading this article, we’re presuming you have a fairly good grasp of English – and that makes you lucky. Fortunately for us, English is the most international language on the planet, and you can get by almost anywhere with it – which means you can move to whatever country in the world and you’d be alright.
That said, the locals may not take kindly to you not making the effort. Integration is important when it comes to living abroad, so try to pick up the basics of a language before you leave home, and take classes once you arrive. Even if you don’t get things right all the time (and you won’t!), that’s okay. People love someone who tries.
4. There are others in your position
You’re not the only one living abroad. In fact, you’re probably not the only who’s recently moved from another country to the exact city you’re staying in. Depending on where you are, there’s every chance there’s someone within a five mile radius of you who’s foreign and shares the highs and lows of living abroad.
Find them. These are the people that what to make friends just as much as you do. Furthermore, you’re both in the same boat in the sense that you’re new in town, but you’ll probably both be keen to explore too. Discover your new home together.
5. It takes time to settle in
Don’t punish yourself for not feeling at home right away. It takes time to settle in to your new surroundings and a new way of life, and it’s normal to take weeks or months to feel confident. As long as you’re doing your best to get in with the local culture and meet people, that’s everything you can be doing to carve a place for yourself.
If you’re finding it difficult, cut yourself some slack – it would be a miracle if you felt at home right away. Do lots of little things that make you happy, like going to find a new coffee shop or taking regular strolls through the park. Focus on the things you can control, like making your new room or apartment as homely as possible, so that you have a space to call your own.
6. You will feel lonely
Fact. You probably won’t feel it all the time, but there will be times when you feel lonely, and that’s normal too. These little pangs of loneliness can be pretty soul-crushing, when all you want is your best friend around to laugh at your jokes or family to eat your Sunday dinner with.
The key is to not let the loneliness overwhelm you. Try to keep yourself busy and distracted, and think positively about the place you’re living in and the huge potential for people you’ll meet there. Make meeting new people a priority and you’ll find the loneliness will slowly die down.
7. It’s a challenge, but a good one
For many people, living abroad has been one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. It can be challenging and difficult almost every day, and problems and insecurities come up about yourself that you never knew existed – but that’s the beauty of it.
Even in the darkest moments of living abroad, remind yourself that this is a positive challenge, one that you’re fortunate to experience. Having that mindset in itself can be a hard task, but remember that even if it doesn’t go quite to plan and you go home sooner than expected, in the long run you won’t regret having given it a shot. Living abroad is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, and not everyone gets the privilege of even entertaining the idea of it. No matter how it all turns out, consider it a beautiful, unique experience.
Would you consider living abroad?
Where in the world would you go?