If you’ve had friends that have lived abroad for any length of time then you’ll no doubt have heard all the stories of their adventures, or at least seen the millions of pictures they have uploaded online. It’s an envious lifestyle looking at it from the outside, one week it’s Rome the next is Paris and the one after they are in Dublin. There’s a certain amount of jealousy as you dream of following in their footsteps to move abroad at some point in your life.
Living abroad for all intents and purposes is one of the greatest experience you can have in your life and I’m the first to say get out there and do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a scary experience. While I loved the adventure and recommend everyone do it there were a few things that put the fear of god into me before I left.
Now everybody’s different so your mileage may differ but there were 5 things I feared about living abroad. They were Money, Friends, Accommodation, Safety and being Home Sick.
When I first landed abroad I spent hours and hours calculating the costs of things until I started earning the same currency as I was spending. While looking for a job you are dependant on your savings to cover the daily expenses and as everyday passes without an income the closer you become to running out and having to call the family for help or give up and go home.
In the UK I was paid monthly which was such a foreign experience for me. Having to budget a month at a time while wanting to travel, party and generally have a good time was always a balancing act. Would I have enough left to make it till my next pay check?
There were a few months where I found myself dipping into my backup savings in Australia to make ends meet so I was glad to have a little nest egg put away for the months where I overextend myself. As much as I hated it money determined what I could and couldn’t do and while it never impacted me too much there were times that I missed out on doing something as I came up short.
How much you enjoy your time living abroad depends a lot on making good friends. This was perhaps my biggest fear about moving to the other side of the world knowing I was a rather shy and quiet guy to begin with. My time spent backpacking solo around Europe really helped with that but once I landed in London I knew nobody.
Luckily I started my time in London in a hostel full of great people. Had I found myself in a more hostile environment I don’t know how well I’d have coped. Especially since I spent the first few months of my time living in a hostel while struggling to find a place to rent.
My friends shaped my entire experience living abroad and had I not made such good life long friends I don’t think I’d have survived living in London or enjoyed in anywhere near as much.
Before arriving abroad I had no idea where was good to live and that really bothered me. I didn’t want to end up in a horrible part of town and have it impact on my time abroad. I’d worry that I would have to flat share with 10 other people and just hate the experience.
I got off to a really difficult start spending a good 3-4 months living in a hostel unable to find a place to live. I’d attended many appointments getting interviewed by potential roommates and being denied. I returned home after 3 months for my brothers wedding and I remember being on the tube after flying back to London thinking I don’t want to be here, I was missing home and the thought of going back to the hostel where I had to share a room with 5 others was too much.
Luckily in that first week back I finally found a great place to rent and stayed there till my visa expired. Finding a place to live in London nearly broke my spirit and sent me home defeated but I’m glad I never gave up.
Safety of myself and of my belongings was never far from my mind in the early days. I’d read all the stories of people’s belongings getting stolen in hostels and of thieves and pickpockets working over tourists. Travelling with an expensive computer, camera and the most important item of all my passport meant I was super paranoid.
I never really feared for my safety as I always felt safe in London but for my belongings, you bet I did. It didn’t help when I left my bag in a bar with my passport in it at one point nor when people’s computers were getting stolen from the hostel I was living in either.
It all came down to common sense in the end and I never had anything stolen from me. I locked my valuables up in lockers where possible and carried my passport with me at all times until I had my own place to live.
I’d never lived more than 4 hours away from my home town and being the shy/quiet guy living on the other side of the world I didn’t know how I’d handle it. I was either going to love the excitement of it all or miss home terribly. I’d never really missed home but I knew it was never far away as well so never had to miss it.
In the beginning everything was new and exciting so I hardly thought of home, there was just too much to see and do. I’d made some friends and thing were going well.
It wasn’t until the troubles I had with finding a place to live started getting to me that I found myself thinking of home more and more. Then I’d have a tight month money wise and think was this all worth it?
In the end the good times far outweighed the bad and while I missed home now and then I’d never trade the experiences for anything.
What I take from looking back at all my time living abroad is that I really have to think to remember the fears I had (well maybe the lost passport one I don’t). Where as the fun I had, the memories I created and the life long friends I made seem like they only happened yesterday such is how vivid of an impression they left on me.
And for me that’s what makes it worth all the effort and why I think everybody should spend some time living abroad. It will be as scary as hell but when it’s all said and done you’ll only remember the good times.
Yup. These are normal fears for anybody who’s settling down abroad, but the good part is the way you learn to deal with them and over come them. Great job on your part! Cheers!
Very true Renuka, the way we learn to deal with new challenges and overcome them is something we’ll benefit from for the rest of our lives.
True story! It’s terrifying, but you are definitely right, the pros outweigh the cons. And I think the fears help you make friends, you meet so many other travelers and expats with this common ground, the fears, the money concerns, looking for somewhere to live, that you end up becoming quite close and approach it all as a big expat family 🙂
Hi Amanda, its true you do make a LOT of friends especially as you tend to end up all starting from a hostel or similar so everybody goes through the motions together. And the friends I made while abroad will stay with me for a lifetime.
This almost exactly mirrors my experience moving from Dubai to London! Coupled with the fact that I chose a career which seemed to be just me and a load of Brits. Albeit very nice Brits but noone really understands your situation or how foreign everything is unless they’ve made the same move/jump. It’s true though,once you’ve returned home it’s the people and the friendships that stay with you. Great post. Maitha x
Hey Maitha, so very true on the friendships mate (need to organise a catch up with you next time I’m coming through Dubai). And yes unless somebody has made the leap to move abroad they’ll never quite understand the experience. Sure moving across country or to the next big city over is difficult but its got nothing on trading countries where everything is different.
So true! Everything you say is just spot on! Particularly about accommodation and friends! It makes such a difference with who and where you live!
Thanks for the comment Eleanor. Good friends definitely make an experience and I am so grateful for the ones I’ve made while living abroad. Everything I’d done and seen just wouldn’t have been the same without them around.
Totally with you on this Chris! With the homesickness, I really felt like I was missing out on special events back home sometimes too, like weddings.
I still get that pang sometimes, but then I remind myself what I’m enjoying in the moment and it dulls the pain somewhat 🙂
Great that you overcame these fears and had such a successful adventure!
All “the norm” in terms of fears for sure! I remember them all so clearly. Money was a big thing for me, setting up in a new country is an expensive thing to do, specially when starting a new monthly paid/salary at the same time as needing to afford bond and months rent when you ahve only just come back from traveling.
It’s certainly a scary thing, but very character building
Kudos to you for overcoming your fears and living abroad! I had a glimpse of it going on exchange to Sweden during university and it was a life changing experience.
Now I’m a huge advocate for living abroad. It really broadens your perspectives and changes your outlook on life.
Hi Will, living abroad and just general travel should be compulsory for all school leavers if you ask me. Best way to grow and learn about the world at the same time.
I want to go back on the road… 🙂
Don’t we all Marie, don’t we all
I found this article very insightful, and completely true about the struggles faced when living abroad. I moved to Australia from South Africa a year and a half ago, and I can honestly say that all of these fears mirror my own. I think that the ‘friends’ aspect was the hardest for me in the beginning; even though I was living in student accommodation, I found it hard to relate to some of the people and I found that they were often not very friendly or inclusive. I missed home and I also worried about money – having to pay my way through university in a country where the exchange rate is ten to one to my home country’s currency. One of my biggest fears, however, was that something bad would happen to one of my loved ones back in South Africa while I was away. I think that this fear is common amongst travellers, as well as the knowledge that you will miss out on important moments in your family’s lives. I do think that moving abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made, however, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is considering it.