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I've live abroad for almost six years already and I've heard stuff like "Your life is just fun. Beaches. Party." Well, obviously, I did have some fun. I saw some beaches. And attended some parties. But I also had to work hard during (and often exceeding) working hours like my friends who lived and worked back home. I had to face so many difficulties as well as them and maybe even more along the way. And it was all far from easy. But I learned from them…
So let me share here a few things which are not Instapretty—you won't find them on the IG feed along with the beach pictures—and which you should consider if you decide to go this path as well. I call them the 6L's.
My mum spent my whole childhood trying to explain to me (you know what I mean by "explain") how important it is to learn a foreign language (in my case English). Since I'm not a native speaker, learning English was something I had to work on. Hard.
I know that the choice of a language heavily depends on the location of your desired life/job but with English, you can't go wrong. And the more languages you know, the better. Duh!
Anyway, I was lucky that people in most of the countries I lived in spoke fluent English. Only my life in Bursa, Turkey was a bit more challenging and required to learn the local language as well. And as soon as possible. Otherwise, I would die of hunger. Obviously, I wasn't fluent but some basics stuck with me. "Saol, kanka!" ("Thanks, buddy!")
How to handle ~ Well, the easiest way is to look for countries which speak your language(s) or where it's common to speak it there. With English, you can consider UK, Ireland, US, or Australia (if you get the accent). But almost in the whole South East Asia and South Asia, it is common to speak English too. And people are actually incredibly skilled in it! I often feel weird when my friends from "developing countries" come to "the West" and find out that the people there can't actually speak English.
2. Leaving Family & Friends and the Constant Feeling of Guilt
My current home, the great city of New York, is in the 6th country I have ever lived in, and on the third continent. I met tons of people at every place. But I also had to leave them when I was moving out. Living abroad is a constant feeling of missing out and feeling guilty for not being with your loved ones and family.
And it doesn't really make any difference if you visit "home" often (if you know where is home for you) or how much time you spend there. Because for that time, you leave others, too.
How to handle ~ There is actually not much you can do. I know that my recommendation will sound selfish, but it's your life. If you decided to live abroad, live abroad. Don't feel guilty for your life decisions because, at the end of the day, it's only your life we talk about, and your decision on how you're going to live it.
Most of the time I feel lonely is when I have to miss significant events. Weddings of my close friends. School reunions Family celebrations like Christmas or Easter. Birthday parties of my childhood friends. When I have a bad day. When I'm ill. And especially when I'm going through tough times.
And if you're like me (having a hard time being close to new people), you might soon miss a hug or a comforting "there-there" on a back.
How to handle ~ Build a group around yourself as soon as possible. I know it's hard and it gets harder over time. Starting alone "from the scratch" gets every time 50 times harder than the previous time. It's a legit number. I did it five times already. You can trust me on this one.
There are various ways of how to increase the number of people you meet (who are potential friends). You can join various sport or art groups, attend live events (check out Eventbrite to find what happens in your city) or use apps (like Bumble) to meet people.
The best way for me was to join Facebook groups of people from my country living in a particular city (like "Czechs in New York," CZ in Singapore, etc.). To connect with people of your culture and origin is by far the easiest and safest option.
4. Living in a Luggage and the Cost of It
Six years, six countries, three continents, tons of flats. Packing and unpacking is a routine. I already know what to pack and what to buy at the "new place."
Oh, and the money. It's so expensive to move around, even if you move with no furniture and one luggage only.
There will be always something you'd need to get so you can soon reach the level of the comfort of your past home. It can be a warmer blanket, better pillow, softer bed sheets, set of towels, favorite wok pan, Tupperware. Actually, don't make me start on stuff for cooking. And, of course, when you move away, you have to leave it there. And buy it once again at the new place.
And you'd have to leave there more stuff because it won't fit into your luggage—such as half of your wardrobe, larger presents, decorations, shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, body crèmes, etc. All the things you paid for, you have to leave behind. And buy again.
How to handle ~ When I move to a new country, I always check the living costs at Numbeo which compares prices of basic stuff in two cities. That gives me a better idea of what to expect financially.
Clothes-wise, there are apps where you can rent a whole outfit for a certain amount of time. But I didn't try it, yet. Also, I just love shopping so I usually end up buying new clothes. But when I'm moving away, I usually donate the old stuff to local charities and churches. Food can be donated to homeless people or to organizations which collect food from donators. Check out what's in your neighborhood.
5. Love and Relationships
It's hard to build any sort of relationship if you are constantly on move. If you're really lucky, you find someone who can follow you. But it's rare. Reaaaaally rare.
How to handle ~ I don't know. I'm sorry. I didn't manage that well myself. But if you have miracle suggestion, ping me a message. I'd appreciate it.
6. Lot of Sacrifices, Flexibility, and Adjusting to Local Culture
When you move to a new place, you have to give up almost everything. Your comfort zone, stability, certainty. The only person who will be always there for you is just you. And so now you have to become a fulltime planner, travel agent, luggage packer, real estate agent, interior designer, furniture mover, professional shopper, city guide, adventurous explorer, cook, and culture expert.
You have to adjust to the local culture as soon as possible. And it's not easy. Life in Europe and Asia is completely different. But there are major differences between Europe and the US, too. Here in the States, for instance, you have to be highly sensitive gender-wise and race-wise.
In Singapore, I remember hearing my friends saying, "I'm so lazy to go to a restaurant, let's cook." Wow. Back home we cook all the time. We go out to eat only for special occasions (or when we're lazy to cook).
Back in Turkey, I blew my nose (I was cold, it was winter) in front of my friends and they looked at me like I did the most disgusting thing EVER! On the other hand, I nearly went mentally insane during a dinner with my Asian, loudly slurping friends.
How to handle ~ Patience and an open mind. Try not to get offended and learn as much as you can about the local culture, so you don't offend anyone either. Speaking of which, I'll write soon an article about cultural differences I experienced, with funny and less funny (read: embarrassing) stories.
The purpose of this article was to show the darker side of living abroad and what's behind the fun stories from traveling and fancy pictures from abroad.
But it's worth it.
And it is still greatly compensated by other things. And those I will reveal in my next article.