You hear so much about the benefits of living abroad. Personal growth, new language, new cultures, the traveling, the people… BUT living abroad is definitely not all sunshine and rainbows.
For most people who live in a foreign country, many aspects of the local culture seem strange at best. This might appear exciting at first. The initial reason for moving abroad is after all often the wish to explore foreign cultures.
However, after living in a foreign country for a while, little things that you initially considered charming may begin to annoy you and as times goes by the exhilaration of the early days fades. There are some really tough obstacles that require time and effort to overcome. Moments where you feel an overwhelming amount of emotion that completely takes you by surprise.
It can be good in some cases, but it can also be really bad in others. And so for once instead of rambling on and on about all the benefits of expat life, I am going to address the complete opposite. I am going to tell you the hardest thing about living abroad.
You won’t always feel like yourself
This is the hardest one for me to realize. I am proud of my positive happy self, but there are times when I do not feel like that. Especially in the beginning when the language gets in the way, which still is a problem when you can’t speak fluently, it is hard to portray your true personality. You become a little quieter, since speaking a foreign language around locals is intimidating.
When you add on all these extra emotions and the lack of comfort you have in this new environment, even you might not recognize the “real you” at times. Am I all of a sudden shy and unfriendly!? Where did this negativity come from !? Who am I !? This is all part of the journey of self discovering and growth and instead of resisting the feeling you need to embrace it. When you are embracing the feeling, you are embracing life as it is. You face reality in stead of fighting it. Don’t denide or resist it but let the feelings be a part of you. In a good way! BUT… sometimes it isn’t easy.
I will give you an example:
I am in the locker room at my local gym, where there is a lively conversation among the Italian girls. They all speak to each other, except me… I am silent as always. Suddenly one of the girls speak to me and after a while she looks at me expecting some kind of a response and instead I just look at her with sadness in my eyes thinking: “I am sorry. I did not understand what you were saying. Usually I would say something funny and usually I am not so quiet. I am not like this. This is not who I am”.
In continuation of this the second most hardest thing about living abroad is that:
You feel like the outsider
… because you are! Even after 5 years of staying in this beautiful county, I can still get that feeling. And that can be defeating sometimes. You are the stranger who people know nothing about. You are the one living in a country with a culture that is different than your own. You are not part of the majority anymore.
It is a different position to be in, which takes time to adjust to. And the trick, in my opinion, is to let it go and then you will feel more like a celebrity than an outsider 🙂
But of course sometimes the feeling is not always easy to cope with like when:
I pick up the kids at school and all the parents are standing outside waiting for the kids to come out. They are standing in small groups speaking to each other, and I am the only one not speaking to anyone, because I can not speak the language, and I can not understand what they are talking about. I am smiling to some of them while thinking that they have no idea how much a little smile back means to me. They have no idea how lonely it feels often not being part of the group. Not being part of the majority.
I am sitting in a basement at a birthday party looking at my kid enjoying himself with his classmates. After quite a while I get bored wondering where all the parents went, so after one hour alone in the basement just me with all the kids I finally decide to go upstairs, where I see all the parents sitting around a table drinking wine, laughing…
Moving abroad is not always a journey. It certainly has both its positive and negative aspects, but living abroad will change you and your life in the absolute best way.
“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.”
– David Sedaris.