Are you an expat? Or have you always dreamed of living abroad?
As a teen I always had itchy feet and loved the idea of living abroad. The idea of it was so adventurous! So different! New opportunities! Different things to do! Different people to meet! Being an expat seemed, well, glamorous!
I always liked the idea of exploring new places. But I also love home and community. Living in a new place, rather than travelling around was the perfect solution for me.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m now an expat living in California. It definitely does sound very glamorous and I love our life here. I have had lots of new opportunities. I have met new people and done exciting things. It has even, at times, felt a touch glamorous! But there are also definitely some challenges to living abroad.
Now, this is not going to be one of those moany posts. (Hopefully!) I love my life and am so grateful for the many opportunities that I have had. I would not change a thing that I have done! I’m also a positive person by nature. Some might say overly optimistic… So writing about the downsides of anything feels like I’m being a doom merchant. Not the effect I was going for!
But sometimes I do think that many people think living abroad is one of those perfect scenarios to aim for in life. Where the streets are paved with gold and everyone is happily skipping in the sunshine. Well, I admittedly do sometimes skip in the sunshine and life is good… (Told you I’d find this hard to write!) But the reality is not always as perfect and glamorous as some people might think.
Here are some of the challenges of living abroad…
You have to build a network from scratch
Moving to any new place is a scary thing. But moving abroad is like a whole new ball game. When we first moved to the US, I literally did not know a single person in our new city, except for my husband. I didn’t have a job and so had no easy way to meet people. I had to build a new network from scratch. When I look back five years, it makes me feel proud of how much I have achieved. Being an expat shows so clearly how all of your decisions affect your life. You feel like a child exploring everything for the first time. Literally every decision that you make, every person that you speak to can change the type of life you have. You just have to put yourself out there.
Everything is new
New can be good, but can also be scary. It can be difficult moving to a place where suddenly everything is new and different – especially if a different language is spoken to your own. Even things as simple as going for a drive can suddenly feel like a challenge when there are different rules of the road to follow. You have to figure everything out all over again and all at once. This is exciting, but also a challenge. Sometimes you will inevitably end up comparing things to your home country. What is easier, what is harder. But eventually it all becomes the norm to you.
You sometimes feel as though you don’t belong
Even when you have made lots of friends and know a place inside out, you sometimes have this feeling that you just don’t belong. Or don’t fit in. Now this usually passes very quickly. What I wasn’t expecting is to feel that I didn’t belong back in my home country either. Now I know if we move back to the UK this would change. But in the time that you are living broad as an expat you can sometimes feel, for want of a better word an ‘inbetweener’.
You’ll miss family and friends more than you think
I knew I’d miss my family and friends when we were living abroad. But I was excited about the opportunity and didn’t worry about it too much. I knew people would come and visit. I knew we’d go back and visit. There was always Skype.
But after 5 years I feel like I’ve hardly seen my family in the last few years at all. I’ve barely seen friends from home. I’m so glad we have Skype, and I can’t imagine what it would be like without it now. But it’s still not quite the same.
Now if you are just moving a short distance away, or if you have lots of time and money to take trips back home then this might not be an issue for you. But we are a 10 hour flight away from home. We have 2 kids. We are living on one salary. The Hubster can’t take too much time off. We just haven’t got back home as much as we thought we would. Sometimes it’s really hard and you just miss people. Living abroad can be an emotional challenge.
You’ll miss out on weddings, birthdays, funerals…
Even if you can get back home often, you inevitably can’t get back for every single thing. Every event is another trip and so you end up having to pick what is most important. You do end up missing out on weddings, birthdays, special events, even funerals – especially if you have emigrated a really long way.
People will not likely be able to come and visit you for every special event in your life either. Both of our children were born in America and I am so happy that they have the privilege of being dual citizens. However at the time of each of their births, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad inside that I would not have family visiting at the hospital. (Although many people tell me having less visitors is a blessing in disguise and at least I did get plenty of rest!)
You might not do everything you said you would
When you move to a new country you are full of enthusiasm for all of the different exciting things you will do and places you will visit. Some of them you will do. But some of them you won’t. It’s amazing to have new opportunities and new challenges in a new country. But for most of us finances and time are limited and you might not end up doing everything you said you would. And that’s okay. You will do a lot!
Living abroad is an incredible experience and I am amazingly lucky to have had the chance to have done it. There are so many exciting things about being an living abroad, but it’s important to know there are many challenges too. Sometimes it can feel like a roller coaster ride. Luckily the positives do outweigh the negatives, so I will blog about them soon!
What do you think? Do you live abroad? What challenges do you face?