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5 Tips for Living Abroad: Its not like the movies!

Hello to all,

I have been lucky enough to live and work abroad in 4 different countries, all for various amounts of time. Some as short as a few months while others have lasted two years. Currently, I am an ex-pat living in Budapest, Hungary. I have been here for the past 2 years and at this point have no plans to leave. So, these are a few of the things that I have noticed while living abroad that you should take into consideration before packing up and fleeing whatever country you are from.

1. Research can be your best friend: Moving abroad means experiencing a completely different lifestyle to your own, you need to be well prepared. Whether that is researching online about local places to visit that may make you feel closer to home or about ex-pat groups so that you are not so alone. I can tell you from experience the first few months or even years of living abroad can be extremely lonely especially if you are not willing to put yourself out there. Take a look at tourist websites and see what your new city may have to offer in terms of things to do or amazing places to see. The best way to distract yourself from your homesickness is to go out and explore experience new things.

2. Curtail Your Expectations: I can tell you this was a major issue for me every time I have moved to a foreign country. It is not like in the movies. You will not have a life like Emily in Paris. Most likely your apartment will be cramped, especially if you are from the United States where space is ample. Sadly, you will not have a gorgeous neighbor willing to help you out at all times of the night or day. You will also feel lost and alone a majority of the time. That is until you settle in and make some new friends.

I have no doubt that if you are moving abroad your are thinking to yourself I love to travel. I will easily fit in anywhere. STOP!! Try to realize that most of the time these are short trips where you go to places crowded with tourists, you make friends with a group of fellow travelers or hell maybe even a few locals. This does not mean you are destined to live wherever the wind takes you because these trips are simply not real life. Whatever place I have gone to in the past to visit I have easily been able to navigate it. I stay in hotels, eat in restaurants that usually cater to foreign clientele, and visit places overrun by tourists. That is not the case when you actually live in these places. Instead, you will have many experiences where the language barrier becomes embarrassing. Where you feel utterly lost about the cultural traditions and accidentally offend someone without actually meaning to. I am not saying this should be a reason to stay in your own country and never venture out, because thankfully an apology is usually all that is needed to sort out these missteps. Remember though live will be different when you are living and working in these places just trying to survive.

3. Say yes to everything (within reason) : I can say with certainty my first time living abroad I was extremely cautious about partaking in local activities or going where my co-workers invited me. I was always afraid of not speaking the language and therefore feeling left out or embarrassing myself. Such as not knowing certain customs traditional to Arabic culture. Sadly, by secluding myself for fear of humiliation I actually had a miserable time and never experienced much of what Dubai had to offer. I hung around people who were mostly from America or the UK and therefore never got to have much of an authentic cultural exchange.

I did not make that mistake again when I lived elsewhere, I said yes to everything (maybe even too much) some of them ended up being pretty sketchy but always ended in a fun time. I went to my co-worker’s family wedding in Thailand despite not knowing the bride or groom. They took me to their local fair where I saw amazing shows and experienced interesting new food (granted I did get food poising more than once), and most importantly I made amazing friends. Although I didn’t speak the language they always made me feel welcome and were thrilled to have me there. I went to Braai’s in South Africa and played football with the local children, the families and children were always inviting me over, cooking me food, and asking me questions about how our lives were different. Even here in Hungary where the culture is much more similar to that of the U.S. I am still always baffled by so many that want to invite me to celebrate their local holidays here or teach me about a tradition they have. So, I am serious when I saw don’t be afraid to say yes go out, explore, and meet new people. They will be so happy that you want to learn about their culture and maybe even ask you something about yours as well.

4. Don’t Forget About Life Before: Make sure you stay in touch with people who have always known you and are a comfort to you. These people will be the ones to reach out to when you are having a particularly bad day after getting yelled at in checkout line in a different language or after an awful trip to the local government office where you got the run around because you don’t know how the system works. Whether you are talking with them through daily blurbs on messenger or WhatsApp or having hour-long conversations on face time or zoom, these people will be your lifeline. Do not forget about them or neglect them even when you have assimilated or settled into life in your new city. Who knows how long you will stay in your new country, therefore, it is important to not forget the people we left behind back home, they love us too and we need to make sure that love is reciprocated.

Invite them to stay with you so they too can experience your new life and get a taste of what it is like to live abroad, plus you will get the fun experience of living like a tourist again in your own city. Share pictures of your adventures and all of the places you go to and tell them how you wish they were there with you to see it too. Even send them gifts and trinkets from your new city, and ask them to send you things to remind you of the home you may be missing. Put photos up all over your new home so that you are reminded of them and to give you a bit of comfort after a long day, because sometimes seeing a familiar face will bring back a great memory and with that your first smile of the day.

5. Take Care of your Mental Health: This one may seem fairly obvious, but I am talking from personal experience here. Everywhere I have moved I have had some bout of serious depression, whether that was from homesickness, culture shock, or just not loving my place or my job, it will come. Not to sound ominous but the depression will set in at some point. You may just have a little blip and not a never ending saga like mine had been, but either way, you must find out the culprit.

In the past, I had some serious bouts of homesickness, but this was cured by twice a day phone calls to my parents. Granted I was 18 at the time so I needed that reassurance especially living away from home; however, it did the trick and I was able to stick it out and get through the rough patch. I also had some serious culture shock in certain countries. Which was only made worse by my stomach’s aversions to the new foods and my body's affinity for picking up every little bug it came across resulting in two hospital stays and constant trips to the doctors. Here the solution was not as straight forward and it meant being creative and trying to find more familiar ingredients from home. Also staying away from side of the road food stands in my travels and exposing myself to germs that could have a deathly effect on my immune system. There have been times where I just hated my apartment or my new job, either my neighbors were up all hours of the night partying or playing music or I was just in an unsafe part of town that made me feel uncomfortable to walk home at night. I was able to discuss it with the school I was working at and they helped me find new accommodations where I felt much better and happier than before. I also have arrived in a new country and found that the job was not just unsatisfactory but a toxic work environment that I could not subject myself to, so I looked for employment elsewhere. It only has happened once thus far thankfully but I was quickly able to secure another job and felt much more relaxed and fulfilled in my new position.

Every new place will have its challenges and it is up to you to figure out how you can accommodate them and make them work to your advantage. Sometimes there is no simple answer and it takes trying a few different ideas to solve the issue. It is important though to know your breaking point and try to prevent yourself from ever getting there, when you know you are starting to feel awful take a mental health day, regroup and look inside to find out what is causing this distress is it simply a bad week or is there a deeper issue you need to tackle now instead of later.

I leave you here with this last piece of advice, call it a freebie for getting through the entire post. If something doesn't feel right even after trying countless different ways to make it work, don't be afraid to pack up and move on. You are not a failure for going back home, it doesn't even mean you can't try again sometimes life gets in the way or your mental health becomes to much to cope with. Do what is best for you!

Please leave me a comment if you are currently living abroad and let me know whatever struggles you may be having. Also tell me if you are thinking of packing up and venturing off to a new country. I would love to hear from you and see if everyone has struggled with the same issues or what advice they may have for living abroad.

Signing off until next time,

The Mental Millennial Mom


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