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The Harsh Realities of Moving Abroad

The harder aspects of your first big move.

moving abroad
Credit: BOOCYS / Shutterstock

With more and more young people moving abroad in their 20s, it’s important we remember it’s not all glittering Instagram reels and TikToks of rustic Italian streets.

Here are several things to keep in mind before you make the jump and move country – not to discourage you, but to prepare you.

You Suddenly Become Nobody

If you’re making the move alone, there’s a moment quite early on where you realize: you are nobody. It’s not a bad thing, in fact, it can be quite liberating. But for a brief moment, before you’ve set up your new life. Not one person in your new city knows you. You lose the security net of being at home, the support network of friends and family.

Don’t let yourself get stuck in that place for too long, or the loneliness comes quite fast. There’s only so long you can replace human interaction with tourist sites and exploring grocery shops. Make an effort with people – make connections with your coworkers or neighbors or whoever it will be – you’ll need human interaction. In many places, there are Expat groups online, that are open to new members and new friends. You need to be more proactive about friendships than you have been for a while. If you haven’t made close friends yet, you find yourself getting attached to anybody who you’ve laid your eyes on more than once – the regulars in the bar you work at, the person who serves you coffee at the cafe, the man running the shop closest to your metro. It’s an odd thing, to feel friendship with someone who is really an acquaintance.

Prepare Yourself For A Long-Distance Relationship

So many people I know who moved abroad did it for love, they fell in love with someone from another country and moved to be with them. I worked at an Irish pub in Stockholm where every staff and regular seemed to have the same story, they fell in love with a Swede and moved for them. One person jokingly referred to everyone in the room as a ‘love refugee’. Everybody moved to close the space in their long-distance relationship, but in closing one space, they opened so many more. Suddenly, everyone’s friendships were long-distance, and every family member was left behind. It’s a different kind of hurt, missing your people. For some friends, you’ll see updates of their lives on social media, rather than hear from them directly. The sad truth is, not all relationships survive the distance.

It’s More Mundane Than You Think

Largely, your routine isn’t that different from at home. You still have to work, you still have to grocery shop, and you still stay in bed and binge-watch Netflix sometimes. Every now and then though, when you’re walking through the streets of your new home, the sun hits just right and everything seems to sparkle- the idea of being away from home seems so right, and it’s magical for a moment. Most of the time though, it’s just the new normal.

The Weather Might Seriously Depress You

I’ll warn you now, if you’re moving from a warm country to somewhere like England, you need to mentally prepare yourself. Even if you don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder, the weather is going to impact you in some way. Moving somewhere that rains a lot might depress you. On the flip side, after a long hot summer in Stockholm, every Irish and British ex-pat in Sweden breathed a sigh of relief on the first day of rain.

Credit: Adisa / Shutterstock

When talking to one ex-pat here, who has lived here for two decades now, the one thing he mentioned was the light:

“It’s beautiful when it’s 2 am in June and the sun is rising, but when it’s December and you leave for work in the dark, and come home in the dark, it can leave you feeling a new kind of sad.”

The Little Wins

Maybe one of the nice things about living abroad, is your smallest feats feel like the biggest victory. if you move somewhere where you’re not fluent in the language, nothing beats the first time you understand what someone is saying. The first time you give directions, the first time you don’t open google maps, even setting up a bank account, can feel so nice. The first time I bumped into someone I knew on the street is a feeling I won’t forget quickly. Not long ago, nobody had known me, now I was someone who could be recognized by someone. All these things are things you take for granted at home, but they feel like they have an infinite amount of possibilities abroad. At times, it feels like every day you have a new ‘little win’.

The Burden of Multiple Homes

You’ll miss home, but then you’ll make a second home. No matter, where you are though, you’ll miss one of them. You’ll always miss your long-distance friends, and your old apartment, no matter where it is. You’ll miss every last detail about each home you have, and carry a little bit of homesickness in every place you go. After a while though, it doesn’t hurt as much as you thought it would.

Moving is amazing. It’s one of the biggest things you’ll do. But be prepared for the negative emotions you’ll have at times, because you will have them, and you won’t want to be caught off guard when you’re this far from your friends and family. Enjoy every minute – but don’t glamourize it. It’s not how it is on social media, just sparkling moment after sparkling moment. But if you’re prepared for the lows as well as the highs, it might be even better.

To read more about moving abroad, check out this article on the pros and cons of moving to Singapore.

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