1. At times the culture will lose its charm and become insanely frustrating.
Being an expat is much harder than people think. Everything you know is suddenly turned upside down. You’re expected to adjust not only fast, but really fast.
The first week I got to Italy, I noticed how many weird looks I was getting when I wore a dress. Why? The area I live in doesn’t see a lot of dresses. It’s not normal in their culture for women to wear dresses. Not only was I getting weird stares, but I was also getting weird comments about how “fancy” I was (keep in mind I was in a super casual sun dress).
This was the first time I found myself being frustrated with the culture, and it only took a week for me to get there. I love where I live. I love the people, the language, and the family values; however, my culture is different. That is the frustrating part. Your culture is different from the one that is suddenly in front of your face 24/7 now.
The key to overcoming this frustration is simply accepting that your culture is different and that’s okay. It took me awhile before I felt comfortable in a dress again. I had to continually tell myself that it was okay if I dressed different, because I was different.
2. You’ll learn real quick what your favorite foods from back home are.
Within my first six months abroad, I think I had my mom send me a care package about once every two months. My cravings were bad. I literally dreamed about Samoa Girl Scout Cookies even though I hadn’t had them since I was like 14. And peanut butter? Never liked it until I couldn’t have it. Now I bring back some big jars of Jiffy every time I visit my family in America.
3. You’ll stick out as a foreigner, and that’s okay.
This goes beyond just how you dress. How you pronounce words will make you stand out like a sore thumb, how you eat will make you stick out like a sore thumb… Bottom line is that pretty much everything will make you stick out like a sore thumb.
For me the blonde hair and fair skin in Italy makes it seem like I have a bullseye on my forehead. It takes a while to get used to, but eventually you’ll stop noticing the stares and your behaviors will start synching more with the cultural norms.
4. The bureaucracy doesn’t stop after you get your visa.
I swear some people think I just decided to move to Italy, bought a plane ticket, and left. What really happened was a year of endless phone calls, figuring out who to call, getting incorrect information, scouring the web, filling out paperwork, driving hundreds of miles to various consulates, and devoting every second of my free time to figuring out how I was going to make my dream a reality.
Once you get your visa, it seems the hard part is over. The good news is that probably was the hardest part. The bad news is that it’s never going to stop. You will have paperwork to fill out and immigration offices to visit as long as you live there. Is it still worth it? Totally.
5. You won’t always love the new language.
When you don’t speak the language of your new home fluently, it loses its charm real quick. The language you once saw as so abstract and beautifully confusing becomes just a pain in the ass.
I honestly think that’s a bug reason I travel; so I can get out of a small town with very little English skills and just have a conversation in my mother tongue. You begin yearning your native tongue in such a dire way. It’s a frustration that never dies down. The only thing you can do is continue to make an effort in your language skills and finding the beauty in your new language, even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
6. FaceTime is worth every penny an iPhone costs.
I have a FaceTime session at least every other day with someone from back home. I usually call each of my parent’s a couple times a week and sprinkle in a few others here and there! It really helps having your friends and family feel so close to you.
The reason I recommend FaceTime over Skype is because you can’t make eye contact on Skype. You’re looking at the person, but you never make real eye contact with them, and that is so important to feeling connected. With FaceTime it’s a whole different story, there’s real eye contact! If you’re going to get a new phone anyway, I highly recommend spending the money and getting the iPhone. It is worth every expensive penny they make you pay!
7. Vacations often mean visiting your family.
When I go away to unique destinations, it’s usually for no more than five days. Not that I wouldn’t love to stay longer, but to be realistic with my finances I shouldn’t stay longer.
When I go away for an extended time, it’s most often to visit family. Not only is it cheaper because you have to place to stay, but you get food, too! I spend less when I’m visiting my parents than when I’m home in Italy. This is great because it encourages you to spend much needed time with those you are closest to.
8. You’ll lose touch with a good portion of your friends.
Especially when you get into different time zones, contact becomes hard to maintain. They’ll be busy working, making their families, and just living their lives. And you’ll be doing the same! There needs to be a mutual desire to maintain contact. It often makes it very clear who makes you a priority as well as who you care enough about to make a priority.
I consider this a blessing, because the relationships that benefit you the most will be the ones that stick, because they benefit your buddy, too!
9. You’ll lose a good amount of friends because they won’t support you.
When I first told everyone I was making the move to Italy, I was surprised by the amount of negativity I received. I was too young, hadn’t finished my degree (even though I was going to Italy to do just that), I was stupid for moving across the world to live with a man I had only been dating for eight months… The reasons went on and on.
I was most surprised when these comments came from my girlfriends I’d been friends with since before I was wearing bras. I thought of anyone, these girls would be the ones to say, “Follow your dreams! Do what makes you happy and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be here when you get back!”
Initially it hurt me when instead they expressed their disapproval of my new plan for my life. But guess what? I’m still here, I’m still breathing, and I’m still loving my life! The people that I’m still the closest with are the ones that have supported me throughout it all acknowledging that it’s my life and not theirs. That includes my very best girlfriend who now has two little babies and the sweetest husband in the world! Those are the people that will stay in your life forever.
10. It won’t take long before you start calling your new country “home”.
It really doesn’t take long before you start saying “back home…” or “at home…” when referring to your new country. The first time you say it will take you back a little, but then leave you with a smile as you realize what you just said. You’ve built this new life and it’s finally “home”.
11. You’ll quickly get into a routine that feels comfortable.
Don’t worry! It’s scary saying goodbye to your favorite coffee shop and bidding farewell to your coworkers. But guess what? You’ll have all that in your new home! You’ll find all your “favorites” and you’ll build a new social group to keep you sane. It’ll happen, and you’ll feel so good when you make that happen!
12. You friends in your new home will become your sanity lifeline.
For many expats, they move abroad by themselves and all the sudden have no body. Literally no one. They can’t call a girlfriend and ask if they want to get dinner because they live in a different country.
Then some time passes and you meet some neighbors, meet some coworkers/ fellow students and life gets a little easier. You at least get to see a familiar face every now and again. And then something great happens. Those people turn into friends. Now you actually have someone that you can hang out with. Being an expat can be lonely at first, but then becomes so fulfilling as you form bonds with people you never would have had the chance otherwise.
13. It’s important to put yourself out there even if you really really don’t want to.
Being an anti-social person myself, getting out there is like torture for me. I count every second till I can go home, get my PJs on and catch up on my favorite show with a cup of tea in hand. That’s like my dream Friday night.
The cool thing about being an expat is that it pushes you so far out of your comfort zone not much will faze you after a while. Take the chance to go to a bar in your new town/city by yourself and meets some strangers. I promise you won’t regret it! It’s much easier to be uncomfortable for a few hours than lonely forever.