Take it from someone who’s been living overseas for three years: moving away from home isn’t easy. Since leaving Canada, I’ve experienced just a few of the world’s many natural wonders (and written about them for Ten Tree), from climbing Mount Kinabalu to beaches in Cambodia. These were great adventures I couldn’t have unless I left where I grew up. But I still get homesick all the time.
Before you think about relocating thousands of kilometers, here are the challenges you need to know from someone who’s been there:
1) You’ll miss your family.
Your siblings and parents make you crazy sometimes, but it’s tough when they’re not around. Finding a moment to Skype can be impossible (especially with time differences), and if you’re like me, you only make it home twice a year (and forget about Christmas because flight prices skyrocket). The plus side though, is that you’ll learn to cherish family time more because it’s never enough.
2) Friendships fade away.
It’s harder to stay friends with people when you never see them. Some of my friends have deleted Facebook, and then it’s really hard. Plus side: you figure out who the gems are. Real friends are the ones that go out of their way to spend time together when you visit.
3) Be prepared for paperwork.
Whether traveling or living as an expat, you need to accept getting buried in documentation. Working visas, health insurance, cellphone contracts are always challenging in a foreign country – especially in a foreign language. And then there’s doing foreign taxes!
4) And little things are harder.
When you move to a new country, all familiarity goes out the door. So sometimes even small things – like where to buy contact lenses or how to order my meal “no mushrooms” – can be a serious process of trial and error in a foreign language and alphabet. And speaking of eating…
5) You’ll crave food from home.
Not just home cooking, but everything from fast food to your favourite peanut butter brand. Sure, you’re bound to try a lot of new, exciting cuisine but sometimes there’s nothing like a comfort snack you’re accustomed to.
6) You’ll even miss the weather.
It’s just not Christmas without snow. It really isn’t.
7) Navigating a new culture can be tricky.
You’re going to make some embarrassing mistakes, from bad pronunciation to dealing with others professionally and personally. Take it all in stride.
8) You may despair for the environment.
Recycling programs around the world can still use big improvements. I lived in Thailand where there are serious problems in garbage separation and the overall mentality towards waste management. For an environmentalist, or anyone who’s traveled and marveled at the world’s natural beauty, it can be disheartening.
9) Your mother tongue will slip a bit.
I go through regular brainfarts of forgetting English words. Speaking foreign languages and very basic English with non-native speakers is to blame, and it does take some getting used to!
10) You can’t take everything with you.
A suitcase (and its weight restriction) is only so big. Get ready to let go of all the stuff you’ve accumulated, whether giving it away or paying for a storage locker. Now that you’re moving, you’ll inevitably accumulate more stuff. If you ever move back, you’ll have to leave that stuff too. Moving countries can indeed be fickle business.