So often I was thinking that I wish I’d known certain things before moving abroad. So often I wished I’d known about expat blogs beforehand. If you or anyone in your environment is planning to move abroad, please do share with them this blog and other resources I’m recommending so that they have an easier start into this adventure.
So what is it that I wish I’d known before moving to the UK?
Spoiler alert: Read all the points please! There is a lot of positives to living abroad, especially if you feel like it’s the kind of life you’d like to try living:)
Takes so long to adjust
First thing that came to my mind was that I wish I’d known that it takes so long to adjust even if you have a background knowledge and language skills of the country you are moving to.
I guess this attitude may be slightly different when you’re moving to the country that you know barely anything about, don’t speak the language. I think then you have a bit more awareness that it will be hard and it will take longer, even just given the language and limited ability to communicate with the locals. With me however it was a slightly different story.
I was fluent in the language (at least so I thought having completed the whole high school IB programme in English, working in English and easily talking to international friends), and having learnt English at school for so long I was also familiar with the literature, basic culture information etc. Now, what’s important to realise here and that I didn’t account for at the beginning is that eg. knowing that English people are generally polite is different from adjusting your behaviour to these norms. You don’t necessarily do that when you’re just a tourist, but when you really want to start fitting in the new culture, it turns out to sometimes be difficult to pick up the moments where you definitely do sound foreign. Although, at a certain point people will start pointing it out to you, you will blush and feel a bit stupid, but then realise that this is exactly what you need to work on. My examples? “Oh, that was so direct!”, “You always say things as they are, haha <weird look>”, “Is everything ok? This conversation [in Polish] sounded aggressive!” (which was just a problem solving on the spot and therefore a fast paced brainstorming phone conversation with my Polish colleague, including laughs and jokes, by the way).
I know from some of my friends who have moved over from the US, and it was also their first time living abroad, that it has been equally challenging for them at first. Partly because of arriving here with a mindset that ‘It can’t be THAT different, it’s the same language, similar tv shows etc., they’ve got some weird slang and accent, I know, but seriously, how different can it be?’. Well, it turns out it can. Because the culture shock is not only about the language and do’s and don’ts of the country, it’s about the little things that are so abnormal and so different from what you were used to.
So much patience and humour…
Another thing I wish I’d known before moving abroad is that it will require so much patience from me. I have never been a particularly patient person and even after just those two years of being in the UK I feel like my resilience has increased already.
When you think about your first months, or even years, in the new country, what things made you feel angry, what things made you feel a bit stupid and awkward? For me these were situations like:
– not understanding the jokes (sometimes simply the English words/slang, and sometimes just the overall humour behind it),
– simply not getting people’s behaviours,
– locals making remarks about my behaviour that was natural for me but weird for them,
– not understanding what people say to me, due to the words they used or accents I was not familiar with,
– lifestyle in London, where there’s so many people, the congestions is huge, air is different and the commute takes so long
I guess that if you have ever been moving abroad, you experienced difficulties in similar areas.
I wish I’d known these areas before I moved abroad as I would have probably spared myself the confidence drop and would have come into that situation with a slightly different mindset.
So many compromises
One of the things that so many expat bloggers write about is that there turned out to be so many compromises and tough decisions they had to make while being abroad. Obviously you do know that if you’re moving thousands of miles away from your home you won’t be able to pop in to see your relatives every weekend, but I think what at least I didn’t take into consideration is all the special situations that I will miss – weddings, babies being born, family and friends needing support, funerals…
Only when I moved abroad for the first time I realised how many of those are actually happening every now and then and that while being abroad I am missing out on many. I think while living abroad you need to reassess your situation and priorities occasionally. It might be that today it’s fine and you can be present with your close ones in other ways and visit them whenever you can, but maybe in a couple of months your priorities will change, for example your parents will get older and need you to help them more often. And that will be the time when you might need to reassess whether you will be able to deal with these difficulties remotely or would rather be closer.
It’s good to be aware of this happening, it’s inevitable part of the expat life, whether just short-term assignments abroad or moving abroad permanently to work or study. Think about what is within your control and use all the possible ways to stay in touch with your friends and family and show them your presence even if you’re not physically there with them.
Steep learning curve and a great adventure
And last but not least – among all the above challenges, difficulties, tough moment, so much positive can happen! Moving abroad for me was the best journey so far, a journey of self-discovery and self-development.
Whether you are a student considering going abroad to study or a professional thinking about taking on an assignment abroad – do it! At least try. In today’s world international experience is very important and even if you decide to just complete the studies and go back home or do the assignment and come back, you will come back wiser, stronger and richer in experiences and connections. You might discover what really matters to you in life, you might meet brilliant people, you might push yourself out of your comfort zone, you might learn new things that will be useful in the future.
It is a challenging experience and it is different from travelling around the world without settling in and just travelling for adventures. Remember that in case you really don’t like the experience and decide that it is not something for you, there is always a way back and new doors opening in life. So if you are already considering going abroad, it probably means you want to try this – why not just do it then? 🙂
If you go abroad, prepared not only for technical challenges, but also for psychological ones, you will be in a great starting point. Learning mindset will help you adjust more painlessly and enjoy the best out of your abroad experience, whether you’re going for work or for university.
To those of you who have moved abroad already, what you wish you’d known before moving to where you are now? What advice would you have to your colleagues who are considering such an adventure?