Eight years ago, I was planning my first big trip -packing, reading, getting everything ready. Almost a decade and four expatriations later, I remember the questions I used to ask myself, and the few things I wish I had known before moving abroad...
Funny enough, when you move to another country, your first concern is often material. You’re wondering what to pack when you will actually be able to find pretty much everything you need wherever you’re going -except stupid things sometimes, such as tampons in certain regions of Indonesia or sponges in Vietnam. Anyway. Here are a few things I’ve realised over the years, which I think are important to know before leaving. If you’re planning to move abroad right now, I hope this article can be helpful. Enjoy the journey!
10 things I wish I had known before moving abroad
1. The sparkle doesn’t last forever
Enjoy your first year as a newbie in town. There’s nothing as precious as your first moments in a foreign country. Everything is yet to be discovered, every little insignificant detail of your life is exciting -even when it’s about paying your bills or taking a cab. Embrace it. Take photos of all the things that will soon be part of your routine. After five + wonderful years in Hong Kong, the one thing I am more grateful about our move in Ho Chi Minh City is that special feeling -that sparkle. It’s temporary, I know it won’t last, and that’s what makes it so magical.
2. Never say never
Such as « I will never run in a heat like this. » You might find yourself running a half marathon the very next summer. Wherever you’re moving to, some stuff will probably seem crazy for you. It’s called the culture shock. You might find the street food dreadful and think you will NEVER eat that. And end up loving it and eating it every day. Or think you will never ride a motorbike with your two kids on it… You see where I’m going. So just avoid the word never. Or crazy. So you won’t feel ridiculous when you change your mind. Because you will.
3. Don’t forget why you left
Chances are that you will get homesick at some point. It’s natural. I can be because of a music you hear in a bar, a special moment in the year such as Christmas… Then you might start thinking everything was beautiful and perfect back home and see only the bad in your adoptive city. Don’t forget there is NO perfect place. Actually there is, and it’s in your mind -it’s your job to create it wherever you are. Remember why you left, and why you chose to move here.
4. Don’t only stay in the surface
It’s easy to stay in an expat bubble without even realising it. If you want to experience the real local experience and leave with no regrets, dig a little bit deeper. Melt into the culture. Explore further in the country. Live like if you would leave this country the very next day. Do your best to make the most of your time there.
5. It is ok to feel lonely sometimes
Your friends in your new adoptive city are probably wonderful but they might not know you that well yet. With all your travels, it might be tough to build strong relationships. You feel lonely even though you meet new people every day. Don’t feel guilty about it. You’re not alone. And actually, if you’re honest with your new friends and talk about it, you’ll realise you’re all in the same boat. Friendships take time. And don’t expect to build the same kind it took you twenty years to build back home.
6. Stop planning for a minute and live in the moment
Living abroad can get so overwhelming, it’s hard to find a balance sometimes. We spent the first five years of our expatriations traveling as much as we could -and I will NEVER regret it, it was the best thing I ever spent money on. But once we started to slow things down a little -which was, to be honest, only when we didn’t’ have a choice as I was pregnant-, we’ve discovered the pleasure to involve ourselves in our neighbourhood, being able to see our friends more than once a month, and having a local routine. It’s refreshing to simply live in the moment instead of constantly planning the next adventure.
7. It’s ok to hang out with people from your own country
We had that « no French friends » policy for years. We wanted so much to melt into the cosmopolite culture, improve our English, meet people from all over the world, that we skipped the possibility to hang out with French people. Until we met some cool Frenchies and re-discovered the joy to share a bound around the same culture, the same stupid jokes, the same complaints -of course, don’t forget we’re French! Why restrain yourself when you could just stay open to anything?
8. Adopt the YES theory
Because that’s how you live stuff. Don’t be afraid to do stuff you’d never do back home. No one’s here to judge. No one knows here you anyway.
9. It takes time to feel home
Give it a couple of years. No less.
10. You will not come back the same