6 Lessons Learned While Living Abroad

1. Living abroad is not like traveling

Traveling is undoubtedly different to living abroad. Whilst both are good ways to explore and grow your own character and strength, one comes with a lighter connotation – traveling, that is. There’s the nomadic experience of being constantly on the go; the various encounters of people from all types of backgrounds and the ability to remember them fondly, as you don’t always have the time to discover the bad traits. When I first moved abroad, I expected it to be a never-ending party, and whilst in retrospect, it feels like one giant party of lessons and good times, the first months were hard. I didn’t know many people, and the people I met kept leaving the town.

Living abroad means routine. Surly, it’s the development of a new routine, but the same mundane struggles continue: opening a bank account, finding a job, struggling to pay bills, looking for a better job, etc. At first I had very little time to truly relax and spend my weekends exploring my new city. Near the end of my first six months abroad, I of course realized that it would one day come to an end, and decided to use my weekends wisely. I started booking day trips, exploring places, and made sure I made time to meet new people

2. It takes time to feel at home

To further develop on the point above, nothing is easy breezy. The first six months, I worked minimum wage crappy jobs that I thought I had outgrown. It made me question my motives. I also did not have a steady circle of friends, and relied on people back home far too much. I experienced homesickness like never before, and even called my mom in tears one times too many. For someone who went traveling alone for months at end, it was very unusual for my friends, family and myself to see that side of myself. Eventually, rather subtly, everything fell into place. I got a good job, made friends there, fortified the friendships with the people I had met during my first months there. Through those people, I met so many other amazing people, got involved in a drama group, and started volunteering as an actress at another theatre. It was well rewarding. Without much notice, my circle of friends had expanded, and not only had it expended, it was filled with likely-minded people who had an interest in the arts, the world, shared my life philosophies, and were inspiring. I developed certain habits which I loved, became a regular at bars and cafés, walked certain streets every day, which I did with full consciousness of impermanence.

3. You can’t fight impermanence

Visas and other technicalities were always in the back of my mind. Of course it added pressure, but it also ensured that I spent my time there exactly how I wanted to spend it. Realizing that impermanence was inevitable meant that I kept my eyes wide open walking through beautiful streets, whether it had been the first, or the hundredth time I walked that street. Every conversation I had meant more than just words exchanged. A line I once read that remained within me during all that time is a line by Milan Kundera

“The river flowed from century to century, and human affairs play themselves out on its banks. Play themselves out to be forgotten the next day, while the river flows on. ”

Living in the present ensured I now remember every little thing with such precision. Accepting impermanence lingers on. I stop myself in some of my most mundane tasks to remind myself that one day that too will be intangible, and I will look at it with fond nostalgia. I now think of all the wonderful people I have met, and all the places we have walked together. I think of the Thames and the way I would stop to marvel at its flow during all the years I spent there. I think of the busyness of Piccadilly Circus, and the tourists blocking my way with their obnoxious cameras, and I smile.

4. You will never runaway from yourself

Before I moved abroad, I loved spending time with people. After quality time spent with a family member, or friend, I loved having some me-time. But that me time was necessary, and never truly enough for me to learn that I am ‘enough’, because when I’d get tired of myself, I’d always have someone to call, someone to go for drinks with, etc.

As mentioned, my first months abroad were difficult. I became depressed, spent the autumn days on solitary walks, reading Sylvia Plath, and daydreaming. I wanted to be distracted, I wanted someone, anyone but me, to distract me. I clinged onto people and gave them many chances to disappoint me over and over again. It wasn’t because they were so special, but rather because I was so lonely. In retrospect, I wouldn’t want to have done anything differently, because it led me to a point of self-acceptance and understanding. I started truly enjoying my own company again. You take yourself everywhere you go, so learn to truly embrace everything you come with. I started enjoying my quirks, and not beating myself up for feeling sad. I started being compassionate about my depression, and developed a more positive internal dialogue. It was the very first time in my life that I had to face myself, and deal with years of low self-esteem, and personal issues. Surly, I’m far from having everything figured out, but am way more comfortable within my own skin than I was before I took that one way flight. And so I started going to the cinema alone, I powered through panic attacks and made myself go to first theatre meetings, I accepted invitations when all I wanted to do was stay comfortable in my own depression, I went on day trips alone, and spent mornings discovering new cafés, and visiting new sights. I even had my first drink alone in a bar!

6. You will never return the same person

On my way back ‘home’, I sat on the plane crying. It was sadness, longing and happiness all meshed into one hysterical feeling, that I could not hold back any longer. I remember feeling entitled to cry, without needing to excuse myself. I always had a very hard time taking my place, particularly when I’d be on my own. That may come as a surprise to many, but I spent decades feeling very uncomfortable and out of place in this world. It is a very distant feeling now. No amounts of self-help, or psychology courses I studied were as great of a teacher as life experience. Without realizing, I had been evolving all along. When I thought I was regressing or sinking, I was in fact growing stronger and fortifying the layers of my personality that I used to leave unattended. Every single one of us has this innate ability to grow thanks to life experience! See, all the new songs you hear, new voices that speak to you, places you see cannot possibly leave you unchanged. You will change, you will grow, you will learn so much, so quickly. And when you return home, you will never be in the place you were before you left, because you, yourself are no longer the way you were then.

 Found on etsy.com
Found on etsy.com

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Moritz says:

    Very interesting thoughts. It’s true, living abroad is absolutely not the same as travelling. I still love that feeling of coming home after an exhausting week or month of travelling, so I’m maybe not the person for living abroad for a very long time. Anyway, I think the experience of living abroad is absolutely great in the aftermath. You’ll never lose what you experienced.

    1. N says:

      Thank you! Very well said!

  2. fazianai says:

    I’m also living abroad and having similar experiences. It’s different from travelling, living in a new place requires planting new roots, building a life for yourself. And there’s no longer the comfort that comes from familiarity and and being with your loved ones.
    Good luck on your journey!

    1. N says:

      Agreed! I only realized how much I relied on moral and social support when I left to live abroad.

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