What are the hardest things about living abroad? Ever since I’ve started living as an expat I hear these types of questions. Most of the people thinking of moving to another country want to know the answer to it so they can mentally prepare themselves as best as they can. I’m sure that there are also other expats around the world who are having a bit of a hard time living abroad and are not really sure how to deal with the situation. Well, if you’re one of them, this blog post will definitely help you.
Living in a foreign country is not always positive and awesome. As an expat you will have to face a lot of challenges. Moving abroad is an important step in life and like everything, it’s also one big learning curve. Depending on your situation and your personality it can take a while to get settled into your new environment. When I moved to Germany this year it was quite hard for me because the culture here is very different from what I was used to in the U.S. and Slovenia but you have to remember that everything gets easier with time. Here is the overview of the challenges that you can face as an expat and almost all of them are based on my personal experience:
Dealing with being the “new foreign person”
Homesickness - living away from your friends and family
Struggle with the language barrier
Experiencing a cultural shock
Building a life from scratch
1.Dealing with being the “new foreign person”
Dealing with being the “new foreign person” is one of the first challenges that you will have to face after moving abroad and also one of the reasons why moving to another country is hard. First of all, I have to mention that this depends on where you are moving to. There are a lot of countries where foreigners are very well accepted and expats won’t have to deal with different stereotypes. This especially applies to big cities where locals are used to people migrating there every day. When I moved to Chicago, I didn’t really feel like I was being treated differently just because I was a foreigner. People there were very open-minded and kind from the very first day. Unfortunately, that was not the case when I moved to Heidenheim (Germany) 3 months ago. German culture is different from others and people here are more reserved when it comes to meeting new people and accepting foreigners. However, if I moved to a bigger city like Munich or Berlin, the situation would probably be different. Heidenheim is a small town and here I got the feeling that locals don’t know how to react when they meet someone who is not from Germany. A lot of the times I feel like I’m unaccepted and I can tell when people start to stare when I’m talking in Slovenian with my partner. I guess, I just have to stay patient and try to understand where all of this is coming from.
2.Homesickness - living away from your friends and family
Getting homesick while living abroad is very common and you need to know that is completely normal. Home represents a safe space for us and when we relocate to another country, we are “forced” to leave our comfort zone. Leaving your comfort zone is one of the best things you can do for yourself because that way you will learn a lot about yourself.
Living away from your friends and family can be very hard and a lot of the time you will get the feeling like you’re missing out, especially if an important life events like birthdays or weddings are happening in your home country, however, there is also a bright side to it. Whenever you will visit them, you will try your best to make the most out of it and you will treasure every moment.
There is also a possibility that you will lose some friends. Even if you think that you have a really good relationship with someone, there is a chance they don’t really care about the fact that you’re leaving and they don’t want to do the long-distance thing and eventually they will become distant. This is just the reality of it, but I promise, even if you lose some of your friends, you will definitely meet amazing new people in your new country and these relationships can be even stronger.
3. Struggle with the language barrier
One of the difficult things about living in a foreign country is definitely the struggle with the language barrier. If you’re already fluent in the language before you move then you don’t have to consider this as a challenge and you’re very lucky. I’m not one of those people when it comes to German and right now I’m in the process of learning it so I can fit in better. When you’re living in Germany as an expat you will quickly learn that speaking German on a fluent level will make your life so much easier, because a lot of the people, especially in smaller cities don’t know how to speak English.
I would recommend you to use Babbel app in order to learn a new language. It’s so fun and I really enjoy it. You can also join an online class at https://www.lingoda.com/en/. You can choose between different topics and also different teachers.
4. Feeling lonely
As an expat you can feel lonely at the times, especially at the beginning, when you don’t have the support system (family and friends) right there by your side. If you’re more of an extrovert, then you will probably start socializing as soon as you settle in, but if you’re more of an introvert, you will probably need some time to adjust and start meeting new people.
Either way, it’s essential to form a relationship when you’re living abroad because your new friends will become your second family and will help you get through when you feel lonely.
You can start socializing by joining a club (book club, cooking class, yoga class…) or attend different events. Try to look for people who share the same interests and don’t be afraid to try new things! For example, I started blogging because I really wanted to share my expat journey with others. If I stayed in my home country, I don’t think this idea of blogging would pop up in my mind.
5. Building a life from scratch
One of the biggest challenges you will have to face as an expat is building a life from scratch. From meeting people to starting a job, finding an apartment, and adjusting to the culture, everything is new and unknown. This can be scary but also very exciting at the same time. You will have to learn a lot of the things and stand for yourself but eventually, you will become more confident and self-aware. Think of this as the start of a complete new chapter in your life or a blank piece of paper. You have the chance to explore who you really are and what you can achieve in your life. You can be anything and there is nothing holding you back.
6.Experiencing a cultural shock
Cultural shock can often appear when you move abroad, especially if you relocate to a country where you have never been before. Every country has its own differences when it comes to culture, language, way of doing business, and so on. That’s why it is important to respect the local culture and immerse into it as soon as possible. When I moved to Chicago, I didn’t really have any issue and I didn’t experience any cultural shock because I’ve been to the U.S. before and I already knew some things about their way of life. However, when I moved to Germany and started working here, it was quite hard. The biggest issue for me was the language, also the work environment is something completely different than I was used to and like I mentioned before I sometimes get a feeling like I’m a stranger just because I’m a foreigner, but I have to say that despite all of these challenges I really like the life that I’m living here. I’m learning German, I try to network as much as I can and I’ve accepted the fact that they are different from other cultures and if I’m being honest, there's nothing wrong about it. The sooner you can adapt to your new environment and try to look at things in a different perspective, the better your everyday life will be.
So, is living abroad hard?
Now that I mentioned all of the difficult things about living in a foreign country, I can also answer the main one, is living abroad hard? It’s not easy to answer with just a yes or a no. I think 80% of the time, living abroad is really amazing and overall I wouldn’t change my life right now for anything, but there are times when it gets really difficult and that’s when you will learn the most. If you’re not an expat yet, I think it’s very important that you really prepare yourself before moving. Try to learn as much as possible about the culture and the environment. Start learning the language before moving and connect with other expats. They will help you and guide you through the process and provide valuable insights.
If you want to know what things you can gain from living abroad, then you should check one of my previous posts.
Also, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I'm always happy to help. :)