18 months ago today I made the move across the pond. I’m already halfway through my visa. I know they say time flies, but does it ever slow down?
In the last year and a half, I’ve learned so much, been to so many new places, and had so many great experiences… Moving abroad was the best decision I’ve ever made.
So, I thought I’d write a little blurb today about what it’s like to live in another country. I’ve had many people ask me advice on moving away, and I always say the same thing – I think you’ll always regret not giving it a shot, but you’ll never regret trying it. It’s better to regret something you did do, than something you didn’t. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone moving abroad and regretting it – but I have heard plenty of people say they wish they’d moved abroad.
And I’m sure there are many, many people out there who have moved away from home, and hated it. Who didn’t stay very long because they missed their home, their families, their friends, the familiarity and comfort of it all. But luckily for me, I’ve moved to a new country and absolutely love it here.
I mean, I’ve said it before – it hasn’t been easy to move away, and loving living abroad doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family and friends every single day I’m away from them; I’m just thoroughly enjoying everything this move has done for me.
Moving away from everything and everyone I know and love has taught me so much; I know it’s cliche to say, but I’ve started to “find myself” and get to know myself so much better here. I’m a lot more of an extrovert than I ever thought, I’m much more independent and fearless than I ever imagined, and I’ve gained confidence and pride in myself I’ve never had.
But I think (ironically) the best thing about moving abroad has been the appreciation for home I’ve gained while being here… Being away from it for so long has changed my outlook so drastically. Absence makes the heart grow fonder; I took a lot of things for granted when I lived in NS. I feel closer to my family now than I ever have, despite being so far away. I don’t look at my small hometown never changing as such a bad thing anymore; I see it as more of a comfort to know it will always be there and be the same as when I left.
But all of that being said, there are some parts of you that will never change. I heard a line years ago: no matter where you run to, you always end up running into yourself. And it’s true – I’m still a pretty sarcastic gal that cares just a little bit too much and has a touch of social anxiety. That’ll never change, no matter which country I end up in.
It’s been a whirlwind year and a half for me. But I wanted to write about moving away, including all the ups and downs and pros and cons… There are so many pros that we all love to talk about. Moving to a new country is so exciting; everything is new, going anywhere is an adventure – at first, even the commute to work is an adventure – and everything is a challenge.
The thing is, people don’t like to tell you the downsides and the struggles of living abroad… Like the homesickness, the mundane visa application process, and the overall discomfort of being away from all things familiar.
So here’s a few things people may not tell you, or just things to think about in regards to moving abroad from this Canadian expat:
It’s expensive to move abroad.
While I’m sure people are well aware that it isn’t super cheap to move overseas, there’s a lot of costs I never thought of before moving here. For instance, my phone wouldn’t work in the UK. I had to either pay to get it unlocked, or get a new phone over here, and since I’d had the phone a few years already, I thought I’d just get a new one when I arrived here. Easier said than done.
So when you want a new phone, you can buy it outright and put minutes, etc on it, or you can go the contract route and pay for it monthly (just like anywhere else). But, if you want to sign up for a contract, you need a permanent address and a bank account. Which, when I first moved, I didn’t have either. To get a bank account set up, I needed a permanent address as well, and a mobile number, and to get my permanent address, I needed a bank account and mobile number. So, needless to say, I was going round and round for my first few days here trying to get one thing set up without the other two.
Fortunately, my employer had set me up with a relocation services team to help me with such things, and they helped get it sorted by getting my employer to write letters and confirm my employment and whatnot to get me set up with a home, bank account, and phone.
But back to my point – I ended up paying for a phone outright in order to have it ASAP. So there’s a few hundred quid gone right there. Then, to move into a new place, you need a security deposit and first month’s rent, plus the letting agency fees. Another big chunk of change. Then you need to buy things for your new home; unless you’ve brought a lot of that stuff with you, which I didn’t – I just had my two suitcases – so there’s more spending. This is all on top of the flight, visa application, healthcare surcharge, HCPC application, etc. etc.
Moral of the story – make sure you have plenty of savings before moving abroad. I’m also quite lucky to have found a job before moving here… I can’t imagine the stress of moving topped up with stress of a job search.
And trying to get used to paying in a different currency was a struggle, too. I still find myself converting my purchases in my head to roughly how many dollars it would be… It’s hard to tell if things are a fair price or not without thinking of it in my home currency.
It takes a lot of patience.
For the first few months, you’ll feel a lot of frustration. It’s difficult to be the ‘new kid’ and not know anyone or understand certain things they say. It’s like being on the outside of an inside joke. And it seems like no matter how long you’re in a new country, you’ll always be a foreigner.
I’ve been here for a year and a half and I am still learning new words and phrases I’ve never heard, and people still don’t understand some of the things I say either. I’ll always have a Canadian accent so I’ll always be different from people here, and probably always be asked if I’m American. Such is life.
It’s also frustrating trying to learn the new ways of this new world – I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to walking into a restaurant, not knowing whether to just go pick a table myself or wait to be seated. Trying to understand public transportation in a new city, or how to use a boiler and radiators instead of a wood/oil furnace, or even something as simple as how to use a gas stove/oven can be pretty frustrating when you’ve already got a lot of other moving stress on your plate.
But, after a bit of an adjustment period and a lot of patience for such things, you’ll feel a sense of achievement. There really isn’t any way to accurately describe how good it feels to move abroad on your own. It’s one of those things you have to just see/do for yourself.
Once you’re outside your comfort zone, you’re forced to adapt to the new ways of doing things, new culture and social norms, and end up growing from that. It makes you a bit more open-minded and respectful, and ultimately gives you a wider worldview.
It’s just such a rewarding experience to know you’ve accomplished such a big thing on your own – you’re smarter, stronger, and braver than you think and this proves it. Yes, figuring out a gas hob is pretty exciting when you move to a new country on your own. It’s the little things!
You will get a culture shock, no matter where you go.
I have a whole post about how different the language is here alone, and I moved to an English speaking country! But the culture shock tends to hit when you’re doing basic tasks… like going to the grocery store and all you want is your favourite bag of Miss Vickie’s chips, but can’t get them. Or when you’re going through a complicated intersection or roundabout, or extremely narrow, winding road, sitting in the driver’s seat on the right hand side of the car, just wishing you were back on the nice wide roads in Canada on the other side of the car and road.
But with this culture shock comes an expansion of knowledge. It’s amazing how much you can learn from someone from a different country, just by one conversation with them. I learned so much about communism and life in Eastern Europe by talking to people from Poland and Lithuania about our childhoods. It makes you really, really appreciate growing up in Canada.
I think the best way to get through the culture shock is to simply immerse yourself in it. Try those new, weird foods like black pudding; drive those new roads in different vehicles – it’ll make you a better driver anyway; and talk to strangers – you’ll learn new phrases and expand your vocabulary. I doubt I’d have ever heard “spend a penny” or “codswallop” if I’d never moved to England.
It’s not as easy as it looks.
If you watch movies, they romanticize the idea of living overseas, with people just frolicking about and having no worries in the world. Or even if you look at my Facebook or Instagram, it may appear as though I was just constantly traveling and exploring new places… Which I was a lot of the time, but having no worries was not how my first while in the UK was spent. My first few months here were some of the toughest. There was a lot of stuff going on at home that I wanted to be there for, and I hated that I was missing so much.
I missed my niece’s first birthday, I spent Canada Day not in Canada for the first time ever, and Nova Scotia summers are my favourite time of year; full of all my favourite activities in Canada like kayaking, hiking, beach days, trips to the cottage, BBQs, floating down the river, campfires… I felt like I was missing out on so many good times with my friends and family. Last summer was full of FOMO.
But I was also not there for the people closest to me going through some of the toughest times in their lives, and that was even harder for me. My best friend lost her dad, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer, and it seemed all of the people I love the most were going through some sort of tragedy that I could not help with. Anyone who knows me knows I care about my family and friends more than anything, and I really struggle with being helpless. I was looking at flights home constantly that first summer here, and came pretty close to booking multiple times.
But the thing you realize is, tragedy will happen to people whether you’re there or not. And they’ll get through it with or without you there with them. You can still talk to them, and do just about everything you’d do if you were right there with them. But all I could think of at the time was how badly I wanted to just be with them, and hug them. And let me tell you, when we finally did get to have that hug when I came home at Christmas, it was the absolute best feeling in the world.
You’ll feel lonely and homesick at some point, it’s inevitable.
There really is no getting around this – you will long for home and those you love, no matter how much fun you’re having or how many new people you meet or where you go. But this isn’t a bad thing; you’re lucky to have something to miss, and it’ll make you appreciate them so much more – we tend to take people for granted when we see them all the time.
It was a strange thing to me, to have people you don’t expect to keep in touch seem more interested and chat more often than people you did expect to talk to frequently. But I suppose, you find out who your real friends are.
It’s hard to leave the people you’ve known for years and years; the ones that know all of your secrets and you’re completely comfortable with, to go to a new place not knowing a single person. Which means you will be lonely, and it will suck. The best thing to do is just keep yourself busy – don’t isolate yourself, get out and go for a walk in the park or just anything that isn’t sitting at your place alone. I also kept booking trips, and had a lot of video chats with people from home to keep my mind off it.
There’s been times when all I’ve wanted is someone to come over unannounced like they do at home, but those kinds of relationships take time. Another thing that requires patience.
But it’s such a fantastic feeling when it does happen. The best moments in a new country are the little ones; when you get invited out with new friends, are sitting laughing with these new people in your life, becoming a part of a new community of people… Moving abroad isn’t just about moving to a new place, it’s about the people you meet and the memories you make along the way.
So, yes. It’s a big leap to make a move to a new place on your own and it doesn’t go without some struggles. But it’s worth the risk and besides, what fun would a roller coaster be if there were no ups and downs?