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.
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.
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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.
Most 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.
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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