When HiFX contacted me recently about their new Expat Tips Campaign, I was happy to jump on board and be a part of it. Expats around the world are sharing their tips on starting a life in another country. It’s an excellent resource for anyone planning to take the leap.
Writing The Expat Diaries series helps me crystallize what I’m learning through my expat journey. In some ways it completely lives up to (and exceeds) my expectations of what living abroad would be like. At other times, it’s completely different than what I’d imagined (but often in extremely wonderful ways).
Today I’m sharing the seven things I wish I’d known about living abroad, in hopes that it will help some future expats prepare for their own journeys.
This isn’t a fresh start.
There’s a certain appeal in becoming an expat in order to give ourselves a fresh start. I imagined that moving abroad would give me the opportunity to shed parts of myself that no longer served me as easily as I stepped off of the airplane. But even though you’re only allowed to squeeze 20 kilos into your luggage, you still lug all of that old emotional baggage across the ocean with you. I was disappointed when I saw myself repeating old patterns that I knew weren’t healthy. But I’m still the same person with the same history and habits; of course that doesn’t dissolve just because I’ve moved somewhere new. And even problems that I thought I’d left on the other side of the world managed to follow me over until I addressed them head on.
But it’s the perfect time for conscious, personal growth.
So you can’t wake up in a new country as a whole new person, but why would you want to? You’re awesome! It’s still the perfect time for evaluating your life and making conscious changes. You’ve just done a big, brave thing so you’ve already proven to yourself how capable you are.
Plus there’s something to be said for being far away from everyone you know. It releases you from their expectations. Have you always dressed a bit plain but dream of swishy skirts and red lips? Go for it. No one will know those haven’t been your wardrobe staples for years. Has pizza always been a major food group in your life but you’re toying with the idea of a raw food diet? Give it a go. You’ll be far away from prying eyes and questions about why you’re making such a bold move.
It takes a while not to feel like a tourist.
When I imagined moving to England, I imagined what it would be like to live here, all settled in with a job and a cute flat and a group of friends to hang out with on weekends. What I didn’t picture was being perpetually lost or not knowing how to cross the street (my instincts are still wrong!) or being bewildered by the configuration of the grocery aisles. It just took time for life here to feel normal. It took me nearly six months and for some it takes longer. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It gets easier.
And even when you settle in, you’re still going to feel like a foreigner sometimes.
But that’s okay – you are a foreigner! I love being the ‘token Canadian’ because it’s helped me learn so much about who I am by noticing the differences with British culture. And it can be enlightening to learn about new ways to do things or look at the world, because then you get to pick and choose: do you want to stick with what you grew up with or try on something new?
You’ll find out who your true friends are.
It made me heartsick thinking of leaving all of my friends behind and worrying that we’d drift apart. It’s true that the distance and time difference make it difficult to stay in touch, but the ones that really matter make the effort. Even if we don’t talk every week, or even every month, when we do, we always pick up where we left off. And when I’ve been able to hang out with one of my friends from home, it’s like no time has passed.
The Internet is a great place to meet people.
I can’t think of any meaningful relationships that I have in Canada that were formed because of the Internet. But here, almost all of my close friendships formed through an online connection. Blogging friends who became friends in “the real world.” Women I met via Twitter. A book club that formed because of a blogger we all love and quickly shaped into a truly phenomenal girl gang. We connect over the Internet because of shared interests and beliefs and when we move these relationships offline, it’s easy to form fast connections because we’ve already shared so much with one another. If you’re considering moving abroad and don’t have a blog or active Twitter account, I highly recommend creating one or both. It’s surprising how willing people are to offer advice or even meet up for coffee with someone who’s new in town, so it’s a good idea to start building those connections now.
It’s going to be wonderful.
In my greatest moments of self-doubt, I worried about everything that could go wrong when I moved and these things were almost always nagging at the back of my mind. But none of them came to pass and moving here has been, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If I could go back and do things over, I’d go easier on myself and enjoy the process a little more. There’s a whole world of adventure waiting on the other side.
I know there’s still so much more to learn from this expat journey of mine and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.