First Year Abroad
Thursday marked exactly one year since my move back to Europe. I can't believe how fast time has gone by... so much has happened, yet I feel like I have seen so little from my new hometown Berlin. It's weird to think that it has been this long since I saw my Canadian friends, but at the same time I feel (and know) that I have missed out on a lot too (including one of them becoming one stylish mom). Because the first year living abroad is arguably the hardest one in expat life, I wanted to share some insights & tips on that first year living in a new country.
This is not my first time living abroad - I have lived in Vienna and Vancouver before - but every move makes me feel like a newbie all over again. Because I am. Like with any other move (or change in general), you have to start all over again. New home, new friends, new work life. I have said it before: living abroad can be both exciting and exhausting, but with every expat adventure you learn new life lessons and gain valuable experiences.
If you are thinking about living in a new country, you've got to put your prejudice aside. Yes, it will be awesome (trust me), but you will also be out of your comfort zone for a long time. And the second you think you're pretty much settled in, you might find yourself dealing with some other BS again (often this BS is called 'visas, work permits & other immigration documents' btw).
There is no way you can navigate around all the shitty situations that come with expat life, but today I am sharing with you the 10 key factors for a good experience abroad that will help you get started on the right foot...
1) An open mind / As I mentioned: put your prejudice (and while you're at it: your pride) aside and enter this new life abroad with an open mind and fresh perspective.
2) Princess behaviour / Trust me, this is a tough one if you a) like personal freedom, b) like to have pretty things, c) like to live the good life. Unless you have everything sorted out before even arriving in your new country (wishful thinking), chances are you will have to put your (high) standards aside and settle for a few things just to get everything sorted out asap.
3) Expectations / Understand that you can't rely or focus on your expectations of this new life abroad. Living abroad is kind of like becoming parents for the first time (I assume): you can try to prepare yourself all you want, but you are never fully ready and will have to go with the flow & figure out what works for you. There is no one (right) way to rock this new life.
4) Social life? / In most cases: forget about a social life at first. It takes time to make new friends and it's not just a matter of "going out there & doing it". Sure, it helps if you're actively trying to meet people, but you also have to keep in mind that every culture is different and a lot of people already have their closed group of friends. My tips: meet like-minded people on social (aka Instagram, not Tinder), connect with expats, chat with the people you order your coffee from.
5) Money? / Unless you're a lucky bastard - financial stress is real. The costs of moving and living abroad can be estimated, but you quickly forget to include all the little expenses. It adds up... and so do the number of sleepless nights.
6) Keep exploring... / This is the opportunity to live life as a tourist in your own city before getting sucked into regular daily life. Explore and discover as much as possible!
7) ...BUT / ...don't live the first few months of your new life abroad in 'holiday mode'. Because: point 2 & 5.
8) Hi & Bye / Prepare to disconnect with good friends and discover a stronger bond with acquaintances. Life is funny that way and you can't do much about it. Just keep in mind that this doesn't mean that you won't have a good ol' time when you see each other again!
9) Social media / Use social media to your advantage: apps like Instagram offer a low threshold for connecting with like-minded people. Engage, connect & grab a coffee with them. You'll be surprised how easy it is. In my experience it often felt as if I had met this new friend already many times before. Which says a lot, because I am an (extroverted) introvert.
10) Don't give up! / Very important... do not give up. People say it takes about 2 years to fully settle into a new life abroad. There will be ups & downs and you just gotta roll with it. Nothing great ever happened from hiding in your comfort zone ;-)
In my experience, the hardest part of adjusting in a new country is that you often feel lonely. I am not a person who always needs to be surrounded by a large group of friends (quality above quantity!), but I like to feel part of a community. When you move abroad, you become the outsider for inside jokes and have to miss out on many "remember when..." events. But you will notice that people will be curious about your adventure as well and you have to keep in mind that, despite missing out on things, you are doing something that makes many people envious of you (and your courage). And you know what? If it turns out that moving abroad was a terrible idea, you just move back home. There is no failing in trying!