No matter how much advice you get before living abroad, it will be advice from the experiences of others. They are unlikely to cover every aspect of the experience you will have. Whilst the guidance from others can be useful, keep in mind that your experience is your own. A big part of it is making mistakes, learning from them and finding your own ways to manage. The following tips are some things that helped me during the times I have moved abroad, and I think they can apply to a wide range of experiences. Let me tell you 3 things I wish I knew before living abroad – I hope they come in handy!
1. Think About What You Want Out Of Your Experience Living Abroad
Take a moment to think about your intentions when living abroad. Reflect on why you want to move and keep these intentions in mind. It can be easy to get swept up in the first few weeks of a new move. They can be intense and tiring. Sometimes, making decisions about how to best spend your time and energy can be difficult. Having your intentions outlined in your mind or on paper makes it easier to make these decisions. It will help you live your daily life in a way that is conscious of what you want out of the experience. So, before you move, jot down a few ideas about your intentions and what you hope to gain out of the experience.
On the other hand, if you are moving away with the sole intention of ‘seeing what happens’, that is fine too! But even so, you might have some expectations or hopes about what you might want to happen. It is worth recognising these in your head, if not writing them down. This means that you will be conscious of what you are hoping for, and you can make decisions that will contribute positively to these hopes and expectations. It will also help you better understand your reactions if things don’t immediately go to plan.
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2. Let Go of Pressure and Feel Your Feelings!
You want to have a good time and enjoy your new home. But, it is unrealistic to think you will be having the best time a) straight away and b) all the time. There often exists some pressure (both from internal and external sources) that can make you feel inadequate if not everything goes to plan.
The experience of living abroad is a massive learning curve where mistakes are essential as you learn and find your feet. Some days you will be sad, homesick, overwhelmed, lonely, stressed, anxious, or all of the above. If you feel pressured for your time abroad to be perfect, it can be easy to be angry or worried about these feelings. They do not fit in with the standard you have set for yourself.
The best thing to do is to allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. Let the feeling run its course without trying to change it. Do things that you know are good for you, without expecting them to fix the problem or make you feel better right away, or at all. These things could include regular exercise, yoga or meditation, sleeping, getting outside, eating well, and doing activities you enjoy. Trust that they will provide a good and long-term impact, and contribute to you feeling better, even if you don’t feel like they have an immediate impact, or if you don’t feel 100% better right away.
It’s good to build these things into your daily routine when you can; since your life abroad will be challenging. It’s useful to use these regular stress relievers and self-care activities to keep you topped up and feeling good.
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3. It Takes A Long Time To Feel Like You Have Your Life Sorted
So many things can be new when you are living abroad: language, culture, climate, home, job, friends, hobbies, food, currency, public transport etc. When so many aspects of your life become a new learning curve, you can’t expect yourself to live with as much ease and effortlessness as before. Small daily tasks like going to the supermarket, taking the metro, or meeting someone for coffee will take more energy and effort than before.
What you prioritise will depend on what you think will be most important to you in those first few weeks. Prioritise things that will help you feel settled and in control. Once you feel comfortable in those aspects, you can turn your focus to other areas of your life, like learning the language of the new place or including exercise in your routine. Remember that everything is new, so you shouldn’t expect to have it all sorted straight away.
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Meet New Friends
It can also be useful to compartmentalise your life slightly. Allow yourself to prioritise some areas before others in order not to overwhelm yourself and to relieve yourself of the pressure of having it all sorted straight away. Maybe, for example, you are a very social person and having lots of people around you during this time is important to you. If you are, then prioritise meeting people in your first few weeks. SPEAK language groups are a brilliant way to meet new people and make new friends. You can meet locals who can help you get to know your new home. You can also meet other newcomers who are looking to make friends too!