10 lessons learnt from moving abroad

My two year “America-versary” crept up and slinked by quickly. I had an inkling that moving abroad would change my outlook on life and the world, but you never really know how you’re going to react to a place until you’ve lived there a while.

Having lived in both the UK and now the USA, I can safely say that I’ve learnt so much from spending four years of my life away from Australia. If you’re thinking of making the leap into expat life you might be wondering what moving abroad will teach you. These have been my experiences.

YOU CAN MAKE ANYTHING WORK

Nothing builds confidence like taking that step into the unknown on your own. Moving abroad without a support network of friends or family is nowhere near as scary as it was.

lessons learned from moving abroad Tim Gunn

Thanks Tim Gunn, I will.

Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops setting up your life in a new place, working out office etiquette, transport and health care, it’s fairly easy. And while all of those things (and more) can be daunting and somewhat overwhelming at the time, you get used to it.

Like any new situation, you adapt and adjust to the challenge. Once you’ve made the move once, you’re basically just rinsing and repeating.

MOVING ABROAD PERMANENTLY

When I first got the idea to work in the US, I was 95 per cent sure that I’d  do my two years then high-tail it back home to Sydney. Where I have family, friends and feel comfortable with the health insurance.

Then I met Mr M and his family, started making my own friends and building a life over here. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to happen everywhere you move to – I lived in London for the same amount of time and didn’t make those same connections.

The longer I live in California, the more I’m warming to the idea of not going back home to Australia. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’d be able to stay in the US, but I’d think about alternative countries a little more seriously.

AUSTRALIA IS TINY

For 20-something years I felt that Australia was one of the most important places in the world. That we were a major player on the world stage and that other countries should be up-to-date with what was happening on that upside down island.

A bushwalk then a dip in Mermaid Pools. Perfection.

A post shared by An Aussie in SF: Expat life (@anaussieinsf) on

Now I see Australia through the UK and US’ eyes and it doesn’t look the way I’d imagined. We have a relatively small population, the ratio of land we have to that which is populated is minuscule and WE ARE UPSIDE DOWN.

We (meaning our politicians mostly) squabble about the tiniest of things and posture as if we’re some massive world power, when in the scheme of things, we’re more of an acorn than an oak tree. It took me moving away and looking in from the outside to realise that.

SENSE OF ADVENTURE

Moving abroad will sharpen your sense of adventure so much. You have a whole new city, state and country to explore now and you’re more likely to take advantage of that.

In Australia I wasn’t even half as inclined to go on weekend trips, visit tourist spots or fly interstate as I have been on my expat jaunts. Apart from the fact that the whole of Europe is on your doorstep when you live in the UK and flights are so cheap, you’re met with so many fascinating things to see and do.

Before the US, I’d been on maybe two road trips in my entire life. One involved a lot of car sickness, which I’ve happily grown out of. There’s so much more out there to enjoy and explore!

MAKE THE MOST OF WEEKENDS AND HOLIDAYS

A long weekend at home might mean a barbecue with mates, shopping on a Monday or kicking back with a book and a cup of tea.

Once I moved abroad they turned into fantastic opportunities for a mini-break. Fly to Florence for the weekend or drive down to LA for a theme park jaunt. Stay in your own city and experience holiday parades and traditions that you’re not familiar with.

There are so many “firsts” to experience and not enough paid vacation days to do them in so you might as well make the most of all the down time that you have.

MAKE THE MOST OF SUMMER

Summer is an event in some countries.

In the UK, it’s the time of year where you take your lunch breaks in the commons and parks, lay on the grass and soak up the sun (which will disappear in 10 minutes). In the US, it’s school holidays, time for camping, grilling, Fourth of July and experiencing the great outdoors.

My summers in Australia were all about escaping sweltering heat without the relief of air conditioning or a pool. The fact that it’s not so exhaustingly-hot here, and that you can comfortably go hiking and spend time outside is a total Godsend.

HOMESICKNESS EBBS AND FLOWS

The first month in your new home is exciting but you’re feeling pangs of homesickness as well. For me the year mark is always brutal in terms of homesickness.

lessons-learned-from-moving-abroadMost of my heart is still in Glenn Coe

I’m not much of a crier but both in the UK and the US, I hit the end of my first year and missed my family, friends and my old life. It’s like an ache in your heart that comes and goes. Personally, once I’m at the 18-month mark it seems to subside mostly.

Until a special event happens at home, or someone falls ill. Then the pangs come back for a while. I’ve learned that your heart grows every time you move somewhere new. I’ll always hold London dear and Australia too. Remember that when you move, you’re just finding more and more places to think of as “home”.

MAKE SURE YOUR BUCKET LIST REFLECTS YOU

Do a Google search of bucket lists. You’ll get millions of hits from people telling you what you should be seeing and doing.

Don’t waste your time doing things just for the sake of being able to say that you have. Do what makes you happy, not what you think will look good on a list that you’ll tick off mentally.

Sure, it’s great to experience new things, but don’t let FOMO guide your adventures.

NEW FRIENDS TAKE TIME (AND PATIENCE)

You haven’t had to make new friends since high school really. Or maybe university. But now you’re in a new country and all your friends are far away from you.

Lessons learned from living abroad making friends

If you want party, picnic or beach-buddies you’re going to have to work for it. Here are some great tips on making new friends overseas, but mostly you need to remember to be patient. You’re not going to instantly click with everyone you meeet, and you need to get through that awkward stage of tiptoeing around each other.

Think of it as dating for friends. Don’t give up though, it’ll happen!

A NEW START

This is the part that I almost like the most about moving abroad. Some leave behind difficult situations, toxic relationships, or the person that we don’t want to be anymore.

In a new country you’re starting afresh. It’s a great feeling of freedom that you can rebuild yourself, turn over a new leaf or decide to be different to the person you were. Also, for all the critics out there, it’s simply not true that all expats are running away from something.

I’ve heard people say lots of times that they “don’t trust” people who move abroad mid-life because they’re “running away from something. It’s a ridiculous notion that you can tar everyone with the same brush, but distancing yourself from a place and time that you felt trapped in isn’t a bad thing at all.

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43 thoughts on “10 lessons learnt from moving abroad

  1. Great post and your lessons are so valid. I especially like the part where you said to pick a bucket list that reflects ourselves. SO TRUE. It’s easy to be led by the expectations of others and what people dim “cool” enough. But at the end of the day, those things will probably not be fulfilling after all, reducing them to just a ticking activity.

    So, yes to bucket lists of things we truly want to do and we are happy (and scared, maybe) to do.

    1. I’m glad you agree Ufuoma. That’s how I explain going to see so many things that other people find a little strange. Because I’m the one who needs to love them, not anyone else!

  2. Being able to connect with people emotionally is very important. I think the idea of being accepted and a part of the community goes a long way to making a person feel welcome in a new environment. I’m so glad that your experiences were pleasant.

    1. You’re so right Penny. There’s no way to feel like you’re a part of a new place unless you really explore it and get to know people.

    1. Thanks Clare! It is a beautiful country with so much great scenery, parks and lovely people. Thanks for visiting 🙂

  3. Hahaha! Summer! I know what you mean. I too come from a place where its usually hot and can never understand why people really enjoy summer. I love the cold. I so agree with the bucket list point. I’ve seen people adding things that they aren’t even into but doing it just because its on someone else’s list.

    1. Hahaha, well I don’t know that I liked summer in Australia, it was more that I disliked winter so summer was the bright spot in the year. Until it got humid as hell. 🙁

  4. If you live in the DC area as I do you absolutely can *not* “comfortably go hiking and spend time outside”. Swimming is lovely though.

  5. I struggled with home sickness as well when I moved to the UK. I’m from Australia and am from a very tight knit family so I struggled at times. However, I found some true friends who have helped me through it and I am still in contact with them!

    1. I text my brothers every single day, so I get the tight knit family. I’m glad that you were able to find some great friends to help you with the homesickness.

  6. Happy 2-year Expat-iversary! You’ve actually made me realize that I am one month away from my own anniversary, which is a weird thought. I can relate to a lot of the things you mentioned (except for car sickness… I think mine is only getting worse. Good think I don’t live in the States anymore then haha)

  7. Looks like you have finally made your way! Where in California are you in? I live in Sacramento! I am glad you were able to make the connections and make your own little home here in California. I often worry about what people think about American since we can sometimes have a bad rap/label sometimes. But, as you know, not everyone is like that and often times stereotypes are just that and often false.

    1. I’m on the San Francisco peninsula. I still haven’t been to Sacramento yet but it’s on the list. I think California somewhat escapes the bad rap that the US sometimes gets. Meanwhile, everywhere I’ve been in the US, the people have been really lovely.

  8. Such a great post and I can relate to so much of it. We weren’t running away from anything but just loved Australia so much, we wanted to give it a go. I’m totally with you on the friends thing – even though we relocated as a couple, building a new social circle was the hardest thing to do. When we first came down under, we thought we’d be running back to the UK in a year or two, but we kept an open mind and we’re still here 9 years later. Now, we couldn’t entertain the notion that Australia is NOT our forever home! Sorry for shouting, but there are no italics 🙂

    1. I’m so glad that you did give Australia a go because it can be such a great place to live! I agree though, building a social circle is TOUGH. I’m still kind of struggling with it now, but I think that’s more to do with my introverted personality (in real life, not so much online) than anything else.

  9. So much wisdom in this post! I agree that it takes time to get accustomed to a new place but can be well worth the adjustment. Great post!

  10. New to your blog! Hi! Great post – definitely agree with it all! I hated London the first 2 years I was there but in the end, I completely fell in love with it and would consider moving back! I’m in Singapore at the moment and while I do love it here, I do feel like a place really only feels like home when you’ve built the friendships.. I’m now toying with what do next – should I stay or should I go?

    1. Hey Julie, welcome to the blog! It’s interesting to hear that you weren’t happy in London at the beginning. It’s a great place to be in the middle of it all!
      Ugh, the good old “should I stay or move on?” debacle… I’ve written about it too. I think in your heart you know when it’s time to move on right?

    1. Where are you thinking of moving to Johna? There are lots of great places to choose from, and that can make it difficult to start with 🙂

  11. These are such useful lessons! Really good food for thought. I think moving away has definitely made me maximise my time – I never want to feel like I’m sleepwalking through life. Now we try to fit in as much as we can as we don’t know how long we’ll be here. Making friends is rough, for sure. Everyone is so busy it’s hard to get to know people.

    1. You’re so right, moving makes you appreciate everything there is around you to see and experience! My fingers are crossed for you to make some new friends soon though!

  12. Hi Katherine,
    I enjoyed your comments about being an expat & living in the UK & now the US
    having travelled to both the UK & US I found your comments very interesting &
    I’m looking forward to hearing more about it
    Cheers

  13. We had dinner with people from the UK and US last week and you realise how different we are – we all skirted round a few issues and all relaxed on common ground….I always think we think the same until you realise we don’t (and we all have some pretty shameful behaviour at the moment to be embarassed about.)

    1. Yep, I think sometimes it’s easy to get into the rut of thinking that your way of thinking is the norm everywhere and travelling really helps you realise that’s not true.
      Ugh, you’re right though, a lot of countries have made some pretty rough decisions lately that I’m sure at least some of their populations can’t back.

  14. Great post. The points I love are about to the rest of the world how small & relatively inconsequential we are. I also liked your point about making friends. Since our sea-change that’s something that’s still outstanding. We’re both working from home, so opportunities are limited. Thank goodness for social media!

    1. Thanks Jo. I think I offended a few people with my comments on how small we are in comparison to the rest of the world. I think when it comes to a sea change it can be a little bit more difficult to make new friends. Especially if you’ve moved to a close-knit town. Hopefully getting involved in the community will help a bit! Best of luck!

  15. I just loved reading about your adventures living in different countries, Katherine. It has been a dream of mine but one that probably won’t be a reality for various reasons. I did live the dream through my daughter to lived in the UK for a year and would have stayed but her partner missed the beaches of Queensland. I do believe that travel and living abroad does open your eyes. I loved your point about making the most of weekends and holidays and also having a bucket list of things that you want to do and not because someone else has it on their list. Have a fabulous week! #LifeThisWeek

    1. Aww thanks Sue, that’s nice of you. I think it’s a dream for lots of people but it’s not the right fit at that time of their lives or other things take precedence, which is just how life goes.
      After coming home from the UK I thought I’d never live overseas again, but things change. I’ll bet you’re glad to have your daughter back from the UK though!

  16. It’s weird. I spent about 18mths in Africa in the mid 1990s and I could not imagine coming back home. But then I had to and my niece was born and I fell in love with her.

    I next went to Cambodia but came home after 7mths cos of a coup d’etat, however I never felt the same there – as if I wanted to stay.

    And now I can’t imagine living anywhere else but where I am in Australia. I’ve had to think a little however about the longer term. One of the reasons I chose the beachside town I’m now in was because my mother is nearby but after she’s gone I wonder if I will want to remain here….

    1. Aww that’s so sweet! The part about coming home after your niece was born and falling in love with her.

      It’s strange to think about the things that are or aren’t tying us to one place and what we will do when those ties no longer exist isn’t it? Hopefully by then you’ll have built a great community around you.

  17. Such a great and helpful post…and thank you too for the words about me in the post you wrote about when people at home get ill…I wrote there as well.
    Your posts are always so informative and chatty and downright helpful!
    I applaud your efforts!
    Thank you for joining in #lifethisweek 31/52 and next week’s prompt is “Selfie Time”.

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