There is nothing that can prepare you for the first time you live abroad. It will probably be the most daunting, exciting and brave decision you will ever make, even if you are well travelled.
As a traveller you will step off the plane with a clear idea of the things you want to see and do, before hopping onto the next plane, ferry or train and travelling onto your next destination. Whereas if you are planning to live there, stepping off the plane can feel a lot more uncertain.
Having both lived and travelled abroad, I know first-hand how different they can be.
For starters, living in a country will give you an insight into the culture that a traveller cannot hope to gain. As a resident, you have to adapt to the way of life, learn about local customs, find out what is considered offensive, adapt the way you dress, even get to grips with the local sense of humour.
The culture shocks can sometimes be unexpected!
The culture shocks can sometimes be unexpected. When I lived in Austria, I found one of the hardest things to get used to was the fact that all shops, including supermarkets, were closed on Sundays and on bank holidays (which in summer seemed to be every other week). As first it was annoying and inconvenient, but soon I learnt to adapt. It sounds small, but often it is the small differences that you are the least prepared for.
Getting around can also prove to be a completely different experience for expats. While travellers can avoid peak-time crowds on public transport, don’t have schedules to keep, or can use taxis if they need to; those living there normally have to rely on public transport to get them to work on time, and often have to join stressful rush hour commutes.
A great part of living aboard is that you get into the rhythm of the culture. By this I mean that you get to meet people from all sections of society, not just other travellers or locals who work in the hospitality industry. It also means you start shopping where the locals shop, drink in un-touristy bars, and eat in small quiet cafes that are yet to be discovered by travel guides. To sum up, you start to become a local yourself.
Usually, after the first few weeks of living in a new country you switch from traveller to resident. Practical necessities like renting an apartment, paying bills, joining a gym, buying everyday essentials take over from sightseeing and eating out. You begin to find out how efficient local authorities are, what the local customs are, even when it is the best day to buy fresh fruit and veg.
The Importance of Food
Don’t underestimate the importance of food, as for many expats it becomes both a source of pleasure and frustration. Nothing can help overcome homesickness like eating food that you get back at home (it is a good idea to collect recipes of all your favourite meals before you move). On the other hand, it can be frustrating when you cannot get your favourite foods that you would normally take for granted. Also expect some produce to be more expensive than you are used to, while other things will be cheaper.
For some people not being fluent in a country’s language can put them off from moving there, however don’t let this stop you. There is no easier way to pick up the local tongue than living there, however it is a good idea to learn the basics before setting off and enrol in a language class once there to help you improve.
Although living abroad will provide numerous enriching experiences, it will also throw up unexpected challenges. Few people ever talk about the loneliness and isolation that many feel when living in a foreign country. Again, this shouldn’t put you off making the move, but be prepared for the fact that it won’t be one long holiday. There will be times when you will be missing out on events, for example weddings and birthdays, at home. Additionally, you will have to deal with challenges on your own, without your normal support network of friends and family to help you. What can’t be denied is that it will help you to become more self-reliant and independent.
The reality is that living abroad will provide you with experiences that you will remember for the rest of your life. From eccentric local characters to unusual customs and foods, it will show you a side to a country that you would never experience by just travelling through.
If you are thinking about taking the plunge and moving abroad then my advice would be to forget any preconceptions you have, embrace the culture, learn to adapt, and give it a go.
About the Author
Written by Derin Clark, a writer, editor and blogger who has travelled throughout Europe, Turkey and the USA, as well as having lived in Cyprus and Austria.