Gone Learning

15 Things Expats Don’t Usually Tell You (Part 1)

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Kat Smith
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This is part 1 of a series I’m working on where we’ll talk about the good, bad, hilarious, messy and exciting things about living abroad that most people don’t talk about. On today’s agenda we’re talking about the bad.

Skip ahead to Part 2 and read some hilarious stories from abroad!

Before we dive into this unpleasant topic, I want to preface it with this- I LOVE LIVING ABROAD. It’s been the best decision I could have possibly made for myself and for anyone who doubts that, if it wasn’t true, I would have moved back home by now. 

Just like anything in life though, it comes with its own set of struggles. Some of them on this list you’ve probably expected, like missing out on big milestones at home but others you might not have considered, like how hard it can be to invest in relationships when before you’ve even said “hello” you know there is already an expiration date on your time together.

This isn’t to dissuade you from moving if it’s what you want to do, hell, I built Girls Gone Working to help women around the world live abroad, so that’s not what the aim here is. The aim is to take you away from that beautiful picture Instagram has painted for you and tell you all that’s going on behind the scenes.

Buckle up, this one might get rough.

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1. You’re going to miss out on big milestones back home

Unless you’re a quick, cheap flight from your hometown, you will miss big moments back home. Some moments you’ll prioritize more than others and make a big effort to get there for but you can’t and won’t be there for everything.

2. You’ll be frustrated by the language barrier, especially with doctors

Let’s face it, being sick or injured is stressful on its own, now add in a doctor that you can’t communicate with and you’ve just reached a whole new level of frustration. What’s worse, it’s your fault you can’t communicate, which is harder to swallow when you’re in pain. One time the receptionist at the school I taught at in Korea took me to the gynecologist and actually had to be in the room and translate what was going on...down there. Talk about work-life boundaries getting crossed.

3. You’ll never stop having to explain yourself to your friends and family back home

I’ve been gone almost 8 years now and I still find myself explaining to the same people over and over again as to why I still live abroad and why I’m not planning on going back. While maybe the questions aren’t as common as they were in my first year, they still keep coming.

woman on a beach in Vietnam wearing a one piece bathing suit and t-shirt that says "nice" giving two thumbs up to the camera
Regardless of all of this, to me, living abroad is still "nice"

4. You won’t always feel like investing in relationships

This one comes and goes for me based on where I’m at but when I first moved abroad, I didn’t care if the person at the bar was moving tomorrow or never, I wanted to be their friend. Now, after more good-byes that I can count, at times I find myself not really wanted to put in the extra effort when someone says they’re just passing through or are only staying a month. It’s a weird feeling to have an expiration date on a relationship before it’s even started.

5. On a similar note, you won’t want to invest in nice things for yourself

With the exception of a nice laptop if you work online or a nice suitcase or backpack, you won’t want to spend the money on many material possessions. Personally, I like to make my living space comfortable but it ends up being a mix and match of things I find for free or art I’ve collected along my journey. Our forks and spoons don’t match, we have one pan and get by using the plates that are chipped because why invest when you’ll be leaving it in a year or so? This doesn’t bother me most days unless I’m on a wormhole of cute living decor on Pinterest.

6. You’ll get tired always starting from scratch

Depending on the lifestyle abroad you aim to have, you might pick a country and make it a forever home, you could be like me and aim to spend a year in each spot or you could be more nomadic and stay for a month or a few weeks. If you’re one of the last two, you’ll be starting over A LOT. It can get exhausting (yet refreshing) always starting off by knowing nothing and no one. 

7. You’ll learn to loathe the word “visa”

One of the most tiresome parts of living abroad is dealing with visas. Finding out where you can and can’t go and for how long can be a tedious process, especially when you factor in the very real “passport privilege” of travel.

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8. You’ll get lost and confused a lot

Luckily, the internet is super helpful with this but sometimes getting data can be a challenge and Google Maps might not work well in all parts of the world. Trust me, even if you’re good at directions, you will get lost. You’ll ride the subway too long, the house you’re looking for will seemingly be invisible and you’ll no doubt walk circles around a spot until you find the right turn. 

9. Packing and getting rid of things will become 2nd nature

If you’re not a shopper or very sentimental with your belongings, this might not be difficult but regardless, it can be a tough process to do over and over again. I’m always surprised by how many things we end up with after just 1 year.

10. You’ll feel like you’re on an “emotional roller coaster”

This starts usually when you’re saying your good-byes. It can be tough to say bye to friends and family and you’ll undoubtedly feel sad but at the same time, you’ll be excited for your new adventure. That mix of excitement, sadness, confusion and curiosity will follow you throughout your entire journey abroad, you just might start to feel them less intensely.

A woman on the golden hands bridge in Da Nang, Vietnam in a storm caught in her poncho
Some days can feel a little bit like this


11. You’ll eventually realize life abroad is still life

Living abroad is fun and exciting, don’t get me wrong, but you still have life to deal with. You’ll most likely still be working, still feel those days of laziness in bed with Netflix and still have relationships to navigate. Just because you packed up and moved to another country doesn’t mean you didn’t pack up your extra baggage, too. 

12. You’ll feel lonely

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert or if you move abroad solo or with a partner, you’ll still feel lonely. It can be tough not knowing anyone. It can also be just as lonely to be surrounded by people that are speaking a language you don’t understand. When a culture or language are very different than your own, it can be tough to "break in" and feel like you're "home."

13. You’ll feel confused and dumb

When living in a foreign country, most likely their customs will be different than your own. You might do something that’s inappropriate or doesn’t make sense in your new country. Unless you speak the local language, you also won’t be able to read basic directions or understand simple sentences. You’ll make mistakes, feel silly and have to learn from them on your own.

14. You’ll feel uncomfortable

On that same note, some things that your new country does (or doesn’t do) will make you feel uncomfortable. You also might look different from the locals and get met with a lot of stares, whispers or straight up catcalls. It can be uncomfortable to forgo anonymity. 

On a different level of comfort, most likely you'll miss your at home comforts like certain foods, big comfortable furniture or relaxing in a bathtub.

A woman closing her eyes and smiling at the camera ready to eat at a Mexican restaurant
One of those really long, tiring days, I just wanted to eat some comfort food


15. You’ll slide down a slippery slope

Once you start living abroad and test out other countries, you might not stop. I’ll be honest, I’m completely hooked on the rush of picking out a new country, figuring out the logistics and making it happen. I live for that feeling of calling somewhere new home so just know once you start, you might not want to stop.

There you have it- some of expats best kept secrets! It's not that we don't want to tell people the "truth" about living abroad but just like anything in life, it's so much more fun to talk about the good stuff, so in part 2 I'll be coming at your with all the amazing things that happen when you take the leap abroad!

xx,
Kat

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