Moving abroad has been an incredible journey that has taught me more about life, love and fear than any education or self-help book ever could.
To build a new existence far away from everything you know and believe in is the most powerful feeling in the world.
*People who have moved abroad will nod their heads in agreement at this point*.
They will tell you that traveling has broadened their horizons, made them more open-minded and has shown them what truly matters in life, opening up their scope to new possibilities in the world around them that they never thought they could achieve before.
What they won’t tell you is it’s also the loneliest, most alienating and most guilt-ridden thing they have ever done, often making them revert to their 5 year old selves, pining for a hug from their mum.
In expat land, fairy tales don’t exist. Every day is a constant struggle; FOMO back home is totally real.
Here are five things that are bound to happen to you if you decide to leave your home behind in search of greener pastures:
- Your loved ones will be devastated.
No matter how you try to sugar-coat it, moving abroad is essentially a selfish choice.
It’s great that you’re living your dream and are choosing the life (you think) you want, but really, you’re not making anyone happy but yourself.
If you’re blessed with amazing family and friends, they will do anything to hide their true feelings from you.
They don’t want to burden you with their doubts, fears and “what on earth are you doing?!” thoughts. They will tell you, “If you’re happy, we’re happy, too!”
My parents did (and still do) an impressive job. By the time I left for the UK, I was convinced my upcoming adventure was as exciting to them as it was to me.
I was so busy with me, me and me, that I was completely and utterly oblivious to their pain. That day at the airport, I saw a sadness in my parents’ eyes that I had never seen before.
When, after our final goodbyes, I turned around one more time, through their smiles they looked fragile, lost and 10 years older.
My adventure was their misery, even if they were never prepared to tell that to me. I am forever thankful for the pain that they have gone through on account of me and that they have always supported my decisions; it doesn’t make it any easier though.
- You’ll feel guilty all the time.
A little over two months after I moved to the UK, my grandfather passed away.
I tried to be there for my family and to go through the actual grieving process here by myself but I feel guilty about not going home every single day. I wished I could have gone to say goodbye, I tell myself all the time that he would have been proud of me for staying, but it still hurts none the less.
I have been unfortunate to lose some other people in my life while I have been over here, plus a cancer diagnosis of my uncle – it feels like it never ends – especially in the last month or so.
I keep being told that there is nothing that I can do from back home for them anyway, so I should just stick it out here. I mean, I do understand this, but sometimes there is nothing more that I want to do than go home.
I’m not there for the lows, and but I’m also not there for the highs. Over the past months, I’ve missed most of my friends’ engagement parties, birthdays, new job celebrations, baby showers (babies being born) and upcoming weddings.
These were events I always thought I could do without, until I was introduced to the short, but oh-so-painful silence that followed almost all of my “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it” announcements.
When you move to the other side of the globe, time and financial constraints will inevitably determine the social choices you make.
Attending a friend’s wedding may prevent you from being there for your dad’s birthday or your friend’s graduation. How do you choose? How do you justify the choices you make? You can’t just come back home for everything.
Even though I know it’s my life and I get to decide how I live it, my moving abroad has made me feel like a horrible (grand) daughter and friend many a time.
- You’ll feel really, really lonely.
I’ve always been fortunate to be surrounded with many wonderful people. When moving to another country, I never had a problem meeting people to hang out and explore my new town with.
However, even though I was never really alone, I experienced a deep sense of loneliness I’d never known before.
My first Christmas abroad was probably the lowest point. I tried everything that I possibly could do to keep myself busy, volunteering at a homeless shelter, seeing friends as much as I could, but it was the hardest time I have ever experienced so far living abroad.
I was overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness, but I knew I was mainly invited out of pity.
Watching everyone with the people that love they shared made me feel like an intruder, like someone who didn’t belong.
It takes time to build meaningful relationships, so when moving abroad, you will inevitably spend a lot of time with people who are fun and exciting, but with whom you don’t share any memories or stories yet.
It’s like being back in University, or starting a new high school all over again, but this time, you’re on your own in a country far, far away from your loved ones – all the people who you’ve known for years you’d be able to turn to.
- You won’t fit in anymore.
Moving abroad has changed me in so many more ways than I ever imagined it would. I’ve discovered loves, passions and fears I never knew I had, and have abandoned old convictions and beliefs that just didn’t feel right anymore.
It’s a good change I’ve embraced fully, but it has also — very slowly and very subtly — alienated me from the people and place I used to call home.
When moving abroad, such an important and large chunk of your life and development is happening elsewhere, that fully identifying with what used to be becomes nearly impossible.
Instead, you find a new home in your new country that partially fills the void. However, since you lack roots and history in your new home, you will never, despite your best efforts, fit in 100 percent.
It’s why almost all globetrotters I’ve met struggle with existential questions like, where do I belong? Where is home? Where do I want to grow old?
Unable to answer those questions, they often move again — and again, and again, and again. They are searching for that feeling of home they were once so eager to leave behind.
- You’ll lose dear friends.
Friends you never thought you’d lose because you met in kindergarten, bonded during high-school or went on adventures at home together, will soon grow apart.
For all the reasons mentioned above, moving abroad will change and sacrifice dear friendships. Of course, some will stick, but overall, most won’t.
It’s no one’s fault and it’s everyone’s fault.
You forget about their birthdays because you’re too busy hanging out with your new friends, they forget about yours because you aren’t around to plan the party anymore.
You could try harder to squeeze more visits in. But, they could return the favour, and, for once, come your way as well (financial constraints are often the biggest problem here). It’s a balancing act and (as I am sure my friends back home can agree) it is hard work.
Choosing different paths ends friendships, just like it ends most relationships. It’s inevitable, and its life, but that doesn’t make it easy. By losing friends, you lose a part of yourself and your history.
So has it been worth it? Do I regret taking the leap and choosing an international lifestyle? Yes and no, absolutely.
With great sacrifice comes great reward, this last year has been filled with amazing memories and I am on track to start making more of them in 2016. That’s not to say it hasn’t been the hardest thing I have ever done, but I think that I am doing the best that I can to keep on keeping on, even if sometimes it feels like I’m barely staying afloat.
Video chats with mum and nonna do make it easier.
…and I do get to travel to some amazing places.
…and call a place like this my new home.
Taking the opportunities that I have to keep in touch with my loved ones from home helps me through the hard days, along with my friends who I have made here. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, but moving abroad and this adventure will be with me for the rest of my life; the good days and bad ones; I am thankful because even the hard things about moving away make me a better person each day.
Honesty is so important too. While people who globe trot like I do tend to have the nicest filled Facebook walls and Instagram feeds, I can assure you, it is not all sunshine and lollipops.
Being able to make the best of what you’ve got, thinking positively and living for the moment, although probably three of the biggest clichés I have ever written, are the quintessential truths of trying to survive abroad.