When you live in another country, you get a whole new perspective on yourself, your host and your home country. Here are 9 things I learnt when living abroad.
Living abroad is not the same as traveling
Traveling is one of the best, inspiring and enriching experiences you can have in your life. I’ve always loved traveling and would never want to miss any of the countless memories I gathered. You get to see beautiful places, experience hospitality, taste delicious new food and meet amazing people.
As much as traveling has enriched my life, living in another country brings it all to a whole new level. Don’t get me wrong, you definitely can learn a lot about a country and its people when you travel. But living abroad just has so many more layers than just traveling.
Setting up your infrastructure takes time
It all starts with setting up your infrastructure meaning finding the perfect neighborhood for you and your family. You may have to consider schools, day care, shopping, healthcare, job, etc. when looking for the right place and of course your budget will play a role as well.
Once you have found your place there are more things to organize, think electricity, water, gas, cell phone, internet, the list goes on. And these are just small things but trust me when I say, they take time and can be a real hassle. Just an example, I wanted to compare electricity prices in Melbourne and requested prices. Most companies just tell you the prices over the phone and I was left writing down everything. It took so much work and time. Once you decide on a provider you seal the deal on the phone. This was strangest thing because they read the T&Cs on the phone. And you have to agree to them over the phone. I don’t know about you but I feel it’s kind of hard to process all the information over the phone.
Most people don’t care much about that anyway but I still found it weird.
And another funny story. Most providers offer you a discount for paying on time. Seriously? This is probably my cultural background but isn’t that kind of a given?
The job application process is often different
If your partner was the one who was sent abroad and you tagged along you might be faced with the additional challenge to find a job. I can definitely relate as it took me a bit of time to find a job in Melbourne. I was not used to how resumes are written there. And I had to experience that a lot of time it came down to who and not what you knew.
A resume in Germany is quite short. Only with the very basics of your position because your employer writes a reference. In Australia and other countries as well, you write this endless (that what it seemed to me) list of achievements. To be honest – at times it felt strange to write all that down because I felt it was just part of my job and I wasn’t used to brag about it.
Make sure to know what is important in the application process and follow it. No matter how strange it may feel to you. For more tips on how to find a job down under, read my blog post here.
Make local friends
Now that you set up the basics of your every day life, it’s time to find your tribe. Friends, people to hang out with, to count on in difficult situations because – let’s be honest – it can be difficult without having family or friends nearby.
In some countries this can be quite tricky. Either they are filled with international people so you hardly see any locals or the culture is so different from yours that it can be quite difficult to make local friends.
I have always liked that part of the experience. I love putting myself out there and meeting new people. And I’m really lucky because so far I have always met great people.
But even for me it can be difficult and frustrating. You might think you met someone to hang out with. Just to realize that it was all superficial and it’s just the way people are. It is definitely something I have experienced in the US. But it’s not really shocking because I lived on the east coast before and knew that people generally are that way. They are very friendly and will talk to you pretty quickly but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to hang out. I don’t take it personally.
To be honest, I don’t mind the superficialness too much anymore. In some areas of every day life it can even be nice. When I go shopping and someone asks nicely “How are you today” it’s still better than a grumpy person. Even though I know the person probably doesn’t care too much how my day has been 😉
Make an effort to learn the local language
I know not everyone loves learning languages as much as I do. And I also know that it takes a lot of effort to do it but IT’S SO WORTH IT. It is so much easier to meet people and make friends. Most people speak decent English around the globe so it is easy to just converse in English. But to be part of everyday life and get to know the people it is essential to have at least a basic understanding of the language. Most people will make the effort to speak English with you. Eventually, they will go back to their language if it gets difficult or they talk about every day things.
Oh and one other thing to show you how much is lost in translation and how speaking a language really DOES make a difference – my friend used to watch Friends when we were at university. As all foreign movies and series in Germany are dubbed, she couldn’t watch the original version. This was when we still had to rely on TV program and didn’t have Netflix or other streaming services to watch the original. I never understood why she liked it, I thought it just wasn’t funny. Fast forward two years another friend made me watch it on DVD in English. It made all the difference. All of a sudden, the jokes made sense and were actually funny. I didn’t just like it, I LOVED it. This would have never happened if I hadn’t spoken the language.
The same applies to reading a book in the original language. At least I feel so much closer to the authors and what they intended to bring across. It’s also a good way to improve or keep the level you have in a language.
Each country/culture is diverse – ditch the stereotypes
Stereotypes tend to have a bad reputation because they over-generalize, put people in a box and oftentimes lead to prejudices. To a certain degree they make sense. There is so much information out there and they simplify things and people and give a frame of reference.
Nonetheless, they are also not too accurate. Just remember how diverse one country can be. People on the US east coast are quite different from people on the west coast. And a Northern German from a Southern German. It just goes to show that one country is so diverse.
It doesn’t mean that stereotypes don’t have a certain truth to them but I feel they shouldn’t get in the way of getting to know a country, culture, region or especially a person.
Understand foreigners and their struggle in your country better
Living abroad has taught me to look at my own country and how the people (me included) treat foreigners there. I know that we are often caught up in our lives. And we have had the same circle of friends for years and just move in these circles. We might meet people from other countries. Maybe new colleagues or neighbors or simply another mum on the playground. Whatever the circumstances, when was the last time you made a real effort to get to know them? Or maybe hang out with them or even invite them to a party or your home? Of course only if you feel the vibe between you and that person is right.
The grass is always greener on the other side
When you spent time abroad you experience things are done differently elsewhere. Things you take for granted or that annoy you in your home country. So you can either appreciate how it’s done at home or learn how others approach certain topics.
Take parental leave for example. In Germany you get up to three years but if you live in the USA or Switzerland you might only get a couple of weeks before you have to go back to work. Yet still some people in Germany complain. Sometimes it just helps to get another perspective to appreciate priviledges that you have at home. Or take breakfast in Australia. Before moving to Melbourne, breakfast or brunch wasn’t really something I valued or celebrated much. But Melbourne is so special in that regard, that it changed my perspective completely. I have a separate blog post about breakfast in Melbourne and why it is so special here.
You always find things you like better in another country but you come to realize that the same applies to your home country. Not everything there is bad and not everything is good somewhere else. Remember the grass is always greener on the other side. The beauty of your adventure abroad is to take the best of both (or more) worlds!
Relax, be open, be patient
Last but not least – this is probably an obvious one, but the most difficult one – be open and be patient. Things are different in other places of the world and sometimes it’s important to look beyond and ask why.
As for patience, it may take time to find the perfect job, the right friends, the best place to live but eventually it will all come together. If it doesn’t maybe this place is not your place and it’s time to find another adventure.
There is of course so much more that you will learn on an adventure in another country but I hope these 9 things I learnt when living abroad gave you a little bit of insight of what it means to live somewhere else.