Making The Most of Your Life Abroad
I can't believe that it has been over four years since we moved to England. We weren't planning on staying longer than a year or two when we arrived, but now we can't imagine leaving. We were lucky to have our move overseas padded by the welcoming community at Oxford (we had 210 other students + partners moving to a new place at the same time we did) and my blogger friendships to fill the void of daily interactions of our friends back home.
I can't say our transition into life here was perfect, but I can say that I've learned a lot about being an expat since we first arrived. The other day, my friend Amber & I were talking about things we wish people would have told us... and what we wish we could tell other people starting their time in a new country. So, I guess the natural things is to share it here.
First, don't put perimeters on your time overseas. What new expats don't know is, when you reach out to someone who is rooted in the community you're new to, and you tell them you're only staying "for a year or so," it's a deal breaker. While it may be a big year or you- that's a really short time period for them. They aren't going to want to invest in a friendship with such a close end in sight. Honestly, it's heart-breaking and exhausting to always start & stop relationships, and those who have lived overseas for any decent amount of time will know this. Expats eventually became jaded to newcomers, until they show signs that they want to stick around. Once you show you're there to stay, they'll be very loyal and accepting.
This carries over professionally, too. If you are interviewing for any job of substance, no company will want to invest in hiring you if they know you'll be looking to leave so soon. I'm not saying lie about how long you'll be there... I'm just saying: Be open to staying longer. Instead of staying for "a year or eighteen months," maybe keep the mind frame of "being committed for the year, but open to extending our time here." Keeping a mindset of settling in your head makes your time so much more enjoyable, and will make your relationships so much deeper.
Reach out to people who are new to the area, too. I know this is hard to find, but with social media as it is- it's getting so much easier. Connect with people that are hungry for friendships, too.
Also, stop converting the prices in your head to your home currency. It's a bad game, and until you think in local currency- truly- you'll always feel like a foreigner. You're living in a new country with new currency. Embrace it and think in those terms.
Finally, you have to stop comparing your "old" life with your "new" life. Life here isn't the same. It may be worse in some regards and it may be better. The constant dialogue about square footage, schooling, methods of transport, items you can't get, and the like all have been said before. You'll realize that it doesn't change anything to play the mental game, and it makes you always feel like you are choosing sides. The bottom line is, there are things that are better about each place, and things that are worse. You've just got to embrace where you are for the time being. Own it. Make it a great adventure.
Living abroad is something that I am so passionate about. We do it as a family, and I do it as a career. I find so much value in getting out of your comfort zone and doing something different. When you open yourself up to life in a new place, you become a more humble person in many ways... and you become more confident at the same time. It's an amazing shift that gives you growth in an irreplaceable way. I hope that all of you can experience it at some point in your life. It's that good.
*image original to Aspiring Kennedy by Noah Darnell