I’ve been mentioning it here and there, but let me quickly fill you up on my pre-2020 life.
I was 17 when I moved out to study in another country. Luckily, it wasn’t that far – I still could easily travel back and forth a couple of times a year – but it was a huge change nevertheless.
Now I’m back home again; partially because of COVID-19, partially because it was the time for a new change in my life. Something in me wanted to check how weird it’d be to live here again, with my cats, friends, and family instead of two housemates and landlady.
Short answer: it’s weird.
Complicated answer: everything’s changed. But most of all I.
And that’s what I want to talk about today. No, not me (though this post will include a lot more of my own experience than usual) but things I learned from living abroad.
Maybe, you were thinking about moving yourself? Before COVID kicked in obviously. I assume now you need to wait a bit longer.
Or maybe, it’s one of your goals for the future? Maybe, you, or your friends, or your family members want to work or study abroad? There are plenty of reasons for changing one’s place of living.
I’m here not to guide or stop you in any way – the decision is yours and yours only.
I only want to share what I, as a socially anxious introvert, experienced. Which things I didn’t think about when planning on living abroad on my own. What situations I found myself in. What lessons I’ve learned – the ones that would never occur to me in the warm safety of my home or familiar comfort of my city.
And there was a lot.
Language Barrier is Real
So, this one is for all of you who want to move to a place where your native language isn’t common: Study well.
That’s a bit obvious, but honestly, pay attention to whatever lessons of the local language you’re taking. People you’ll get to know, will have to talk to, or even store assistants can and will be patient about your mistakes – but it’s extremely stressful anyway.
Learn common phrases, listen to people on the streets, if some of your new acquaintances offer help – take it.
At the same time, there’s nothing shameful in asking for a bit of help on your own. You aren’t native, your skills are limited – it’s totally normal for you to make mistakes or ask for explanations.
I wish I realized it sooner, but my social anxiety was too loud to properly think about it.
Also, about that.
Social Anxiety is a B*tch
I mean, we all know that, but darn, out there it’s like your personal pokemon is getting an upgrade. In a bad way.
Before I moved I didn’t even realize I have anxiety, signing it off as shyness or nerves. But when you find yourself surrounded by strangers 24/7, oof, that’s when it comes full force.
One of the first things you should consider when moving abroad is that your mental health will get worse. Even if you don’t have any particular issues, the amount of stress that comes with every life-changing decision will undoubtedly take a toll on your mind.
And if you do have issues to worry about: prepare yourself for the attack, because you are going to be bombarded with awkward, nerve-wracking, palm-sweating situations.
Plan your shield beforehand. Put more focus on self-care, check your medications, grab a journal for writing everything down. Be ready.
With that said, I’d like to add – don’t let it discourage you. Like I mentioned, every life-changing decision comes with a proper amount of stress and anxiety. But that doesn’t mean you should be afraid of changes. Quite opposite actually.
Being in new places, seeing new things, hearing words you’ve never heard before, starting a new life? It’s as stressful as it is exciting and mind-opening.
Just keep in mind both good and bad sides that come with everything new and unexperienced.
Relationships Online are Different
And I don’t mean dating (though it counts as well). I mean your friends and family, everything and everyone you’re leaving behind.
Your relationships change a lot unless you work on keeping them stable.
The farther you are from your social network, the more your connections stretch out. Some of them might even snap without any of the sides noticing – and that’s okay. You might lose some of your friends – but you will also gain new ones.
And you know what? Some links get lost – but the others grow stronger.
It’s almost impossible to catch up with each other’s lives through texting because there’s just so much going on on both sides. But frequency doesn’t mean quality.
My best friends – the ones that remained, the ones that weren’t bothered by the fact that we talk a dozen times a year, the ones that cared about our friendship – mean to me so much more than all of those that got lost.
Allow your relationships to grow (or weaken) with time.
Even your family will become more distant.
Remember to check up on them though! Maybe schedule daily or weekly facetime sessions to keep each other updated. It’s especially important during the first few months.
Familiar support is crucial right after moving abroad. It reminds you that you are not really lost and not really alone. That there’s someone who supports and cares about you.
But your new life will kick in soon and, eventually, you’ll get used to everything.
You Get to Meet New People – and They Will Be Asking Questions
Throwback to point number 2 – but I’m not talking about your feelings now.
This whole post is about things I didn’t know, and oh boy, how could I figure out just how many conversations will be born from my obvious accent. Curious people are everywhere.
I went abroad to study – and groupmates, professors, administration workers, everyone asked how it’s going in the new place. Why I decided to come. How I learned the language. What’s the difference between countries. Everyone.
Your simple presence and the way you speak don’t bring you as much attention at home as it gets abroad. And, because excessive attention equals anxiety for me, I’m writing this as a separate point.
Eventually, you’ll get used to the questions, but if you are not a fan of small talks with strangers – prepare yourself.
Living Alone and Away is Freeing
For those of you who already have their homes and families, it may look funny – because it’s a regular part of your life. But for me moving out of my family home was huge. I would probably still be living in the same apartment I spent most of my life in if not for the decision to study abroad.
So this point is for those who aren’t sure about that whole “responsibilities”, “paying rent”, “taking care of the house” thing. Of course, if you even think about it. I wasn’t expecting it at all.
I planned to live in a dorm, pay for my room, go to classes, buy food, and maybe occasionally cook it – that should’ve been enough.
Well, life played a joke, and after the first semester, I had to move out in a hurry. There was a problem with drainage right above our room, so my roommates and I had to find a place to live in a matter of days (yes, in a foreign country). But it played out perfectly, and we found a lovely house (with an even lovelier landlady) that became our home for the next 5 years.
Now all three of us had our own rooms, we had our own bathroom, our own kitchen – the whole second floor was ours! And that turned out to mean much more than I originally imagined.
I’d had my own room before. I’d had a kitchen and a bathroom in our apartment back home. But it was never my own space, something I have to take care of, something I am responsible for. It was “ours”, belonged to me and my family.
But being responsible, taking care of my own life and living space allowed me to grow.
Not having anyone to lean on when it came to paying, working, doing chores, taking care of documentation (and there’s a lot of papers when you study abroad) was a push that taught me how to stand on my own. How to ask for directions, how to call strangers multiple times a day, how to prepare documents, how to travel alone, how to cook what I like. How to take care of myself.
It wasn’t easy, but it was crucial for me and my path in life.
You Will Change
If you are planning to spend at least a year abroad, it’s inevitable.
All these new experiences will sharpen – or soften – your edges, or maybe even your core.
In the span of these 5 years so much happened, from meeting my first partner to my first major depressive episode, from two graduations to the total change of plans and priorities.
I couldn’t possibly know it all back then, when I first stepped into the new, still unknown city. Just like you don’t know what’s waiting for you out there.
You don’t stay the same, just as the world around you, just as the people you meet, just as the places you visit.
Changes may be both scary and exciting, but they happen nevertheless. Don’t dwell on it for too long. Don’t try to understand how exactly you’ll change. First, you need to decide.
You have to understand your intentions (or future wishes). You have to know that it’s not easy and that many, many things you can’t plan now – because you don’t even know they’ll come your way. Listen to yourself, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and see if you’re ready for one of the biggest challenges of your life.
As a final touch, here’s something I’ve been thinking about while writing this post: Would I go for it again?
Without a doubt.
Actually, I’ll be looking for a way to move again, as soon as the pandemic is over – or at least eased enough.
Living abroad opens up a whole world of experiences. It even makes traveling easier. It brightens up your life in a way you would never be able to find at home.
But be wise. And be careful.
New doesn’t mean good or bad. It means something you have never experienced before.