People. Funny creatures… So many systems in our bodies working together to keep us going. So many interpersonal networks to help us grow and experience the world. So much time spent on watching motivational speeches, inventing things to make our lives easier.
Yet even though we hear all of the below from many other people who have been through a similar experience, we often choose to ignore them.
We’d rather say “Maybe it does happen to others, but I’m sure it won’t happen to me, no way!” if they tell you it’s not going to be that easy.
Nothing wrong with expecting and hoping for the positives, absolutely not! But if you are ignoring the potential challenges, this might make the abroad experience more difficult for you. As they say – hope for the best, be prepared for the worst!
I think there are four main things that we tend to discard when thinking about moving abroad. Only later on we realise that “They were right”. Although these points might seem rather negative, I want you to read the whole thing. I took the positive spin on those and really hope they will help you be more present in your abroad experience and take ownership of what is going on.
You will miss friends and family back home
That is just true. If you had some people you were close with in your previous location, there will be a time when you start missing them. It might not be immediately after moving when you are still in the honeymoon phase, excited by the location and the long list of to-dos.
Although it’s not the best feeling ever to feel lonely, it made me realise something important. I got to know who and what I am missing the most. You know, things like: do I miss the idea of going out somewhere on a Friday night or the actual people who I was going out with? Giving it a bit of thought can help you come up with an action plan for improving your well being abroad.
If you are missing the idea of having someone to go out with, there are plenty of things you can do and meet-ups you can join to cater for that need. If these are those actual individuals, your friends, that you are missing – then you will need to make the effort to keep in touch with them remotely in one way or another.
At the pre-move planning stage you can already speak to the people closest to you and come up with some kind of routine of staying in touch, to make sure you will be connecting regularly during this intense life-changing move abroad.
Things might not go as planned and you will be surprised
I would even say that you will be surprised in the least expected moments and by least expected things. I was mostly surprised not so much by things or behaviours around me, but mostly by my reaction to them. I didn’t expect some of my reactions to be so strong, emotional and sometimes condescending (see next point).
The truth is that there is such a high probability of something not going according to the plan that it’s just safer to assume that it is going to happen. Delayed shipping, extra customs charge, additional paperwork, apartment not being entirely ready for your arrival… If you have a mindset of “Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst”, you will likely be less stressed during the whole moving process.
You will experience emotional swings
That is a big one. Sometimes you might be lucky enough not to go through that phase, especially if you are moving for a shorter period of time or a fixed-term. However, if you are moving somewhere indefinitely there is a high chance you will get the opportunity to experience this new emotional you.
This is a great opportunity to learn about yourself and what is dearest to your heart, what values you hold.
There will be a time where you will feel sad, happy, sad, angry, excited and happy all over again. Sometimes without any particular visible reason. Instead of punishing yourself for this emotional swing, allow yourself to experience it. It might not be the easiest moment for you personally, but also for your relationships with friends back home and new ones you have made abroad already.
Because it affects people around you, by experiencing it I don’t mean just raving and letting go all the time. What I encourage you to do from the very beginning of your expat journey is to keep track of your emotions and your thinking patterns. There might not be any particular visible reason for you to get angry, but deep down if you think about it, a certain behaviour might simply be in contradiction to the values you hold.
For example, I used to get really annoyed by the small talk at the beginning of every call or meeting I had with the British colleagues. For me, efficiency was key. The fact that we were scheduling a meeting for 30 minutes, out of which 5-10 minutes was the chit-chat talk, was just unacceptable. And although I technically knew that this is what you do here, that I should probably think about adjusting etc, it just did not f e e l right.
Staying present and trying to understand the emotions I was living through, helped me relatively quickly move out of that mega-emotional stage. I still have those moments even until now, but not as intense as they were in the first 3 months of living abroad for the first time.
You will change and learn a lot
Change is never easy but it often is a good experience. As an expat or immigrant, you will have the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself and what you value. You will have the chance to see yourself in a completely new context and check how you react to change. You will verify your relationships with people. This is an invaluable experience that could never happen if you stayed back home in the familiar environment.
Everyone says you will learn and change, but when you arrive, it might seem to you like it’s just some crazy roller coaster – you miss people, have to put a lot of effort to build a life from scratch and deal with all the difficulties that were not present before. And well, I guess there is a lot of truth in this.
BUT – if you keep a journal with your thoughts and experiences and give yourself the chance to live through at least 6 months before giving up, you will see how long of a journey you have been through. You will have gathered some amazing experiences, found out more about who you are and likely also got some knowledge and possibly also new skills. It can even be just by “living through” the tough times.
Why not try then? 😉
I have no doubts that living abroad is not for everyone. Unfortunately, life sometimes is funny enough to put us in a situation where even if living abroad is not something we considered, we do it anyway for other reasons. If that happens, it’s useful to be prepared and simply try to get the best out of the experience.
Have you listened to the advice that other expats were sharing with you? What advice was particularly useful for you?