You hear so much about the benefits of living abroad. Personal growth, new languages, new cultures, the traveling, the people…
And although ALL of this is true (and MORE!), living abroad is definitely not all sunshine and rainbows.
There are some really tough obstacles that require time and effort to overcome. Moments where you feel an overwhelming amount of emotion that completely takes over any and all reason.
It can be good in some cases, but it can also be really bad in others…
And so for once, instead of rambling on and on about all the benefits of expat life (which we usually do), we’re going to address the complete opposite…
The Hardest Things About Living Abroad
1. You feel like the outsider.
…because you are!
And that can be defeating sometimes. You are the stranger who people know nothing about. You are the one living in a country with a culture that’s different than your own. You’re not part of the majority anymore. And although that will change the longer you live abroad, in the beginning, it may prevent you from opening up.
It’s a different position to be in, which takes time to adjust to. But once you let go and embrace it, you’ll feel more like a celebrity than an outsider.
2. Your previous life seems so distant.
Of course you’re physically far away, but emotionally you’ll feel far away too.
Right now, you’re leading an entirely different life than you ever have before. A life that’s also different than the lives of everyone back home. It’s not just your environment that’s changed; it’s your daily routine, your entire way of life. And it’s changed so much that everything before it can feel like distant memory.
That’s the beauty in all of this, but also the tough part at the same time.
3. You’re uncomfortable. A lot.
This isn’t like traveling, where you pop in and out of places and feed off the excitement of being uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable all the time, or at least most of the time, and it’s permanent, it can be exhausting. Even though you said YES to the adventure, pulled the plug, hopped on that plane, you still have a lot to adjust to now that you’ve arrived.
The good news is, learning how to find comfort in change is the most rewarding part about moving to a completely foreign country. It will also benefit you in life and your career!
4. You’re growing, but in a different direction than you’re used to.
When you change your environment so drastically, the amount you’ll grow and develop is seriously incredible. But it’s in a different way that what you’re used to. It’s not the natural progression that you get accustomed to at home. You’re pulling out of the pack and forging your own path.
In time your initial energy and confidence to move abroad can deteriorate and you can develop a fear of getting lost.
Let me try to explain…
Instead of being surrounded by your peers, developing consistently through a day to day routine, you’re upside, down, sideways, skyrocketing up, changing direction back down, and up again. You’re throwing away that straight line and venturing to places you’d never reach without living abroad. You’re distracted by new things, and more curious than ever. There is no one to put you back on track anymore but yourself.
Of course this is good, but again, it’s outside of your comfort zone. And anything different can be confusing, frustrating and exciting all at the same time. Take time to reflect, meditate, or write in a journal. Don’t lose touch with yourself. Your inner dialog will be more important than ever during this adventure.
5. It’s an intense emotional rollercoaster.
In my first 6 months especially, my emotions were unpredictable, up and down constantly. I would be the happiest person in the world one second, and an hour later I’d be in tears. I would doubt myself and then all of a sudden I would feel like I could take on ANYTHING.
It was hard to deal with the extreme change in my emotions. But my husband and I would talk every time I was feeling the lows, which helped. Gradually, with all the talks and as our time in Austria increased, my mood swings become fewer and my attitude more consistent. And that’s when I realized I was getting used to change. I was willingly opening myself up to the unexpected and embracing it. It took a while, but it happened.
The unknown will directly affect you emotionally, so it’s important to keep that in mind, be understanding of yourself and aware of how you feel.
For more about this joyful yet frightening expat rollercoaster, read this: Living Abroad: The Emotional Rollercoaster of Being an Expat
6. You may not LOVE your adopted country all the time.
Sorry, but it’s the truth. Love is not the only thing you’ll feel for your new home. Before you moved, you had a vision in your mind of what life would be like, but when that doesn’t fully come to fruition, you can feel disappointed.
You’ll get frustrated, annoyed, confused and maybe even resentful at times. It’s completely natural. There will be moments where all you want is something familiar. Or you’ll think to yourself, “Why can’t they do it like this?” Or “Why can’t people just be like that.”
No one can be 100% positive all the time, especially in a stressful situation.
Keep reminding yourself why you moved in the first place: to experience a new culture and learn how people live in other places. In time, you’ll learn that your way of doing things may not always be the best way or just the opposite. Keep an open mind, and you will become a better person for it.
7. You won’t always feel like yourself.
This was the hardest one for me to realize. I’m proud of my positive happy self, but there were times when I didn’t feel like that. Especially in the beginning. When language or homesickness or lack of close friends got in the way. Or when I was just feeling emotional and fragile.
With ALL of that going on, it can feel like these new friends don’t know the real you, which sucks.
This is especially true if you’re adjusting to a brand new language. When you can’t speak fluently, it’s hard to portray your true personality. You become a little quieter, since speaking a foreign language around locals is intimidating. Or maybe you don’t feel as funny as you did back home, since humor is very different everywhere you go.
When you add on all these extra emotions and the lack of comfort you have in this new environment, even you might not recognize the “real you” at times. Am I all of a sudden shy and unfriendly? Where did this negativity come from? Who am I here?
This is all part of the journey of self discovering and growth.
8. ALL of your insecurities surface and you have to face them.
You’re more alone more than you used to be, so that means you’re faced with your toughest critic far more often – yourself.
Back home, you could hide behind all the distractions: work, friends, family, and comforts. But now that you’re living abroad, you can’t anymore.
Every insecurity you’ve ever had will surface when you move abroad. And it is a huge emotional obstacle to tackle. But that also means you will grow and develop in so many ways, faster than ever.
Seriously, I feel like my confidence has improved immensely, but that didn’t come without the challenge of conquering my insecurities first. It took a while, it was tough, and I still have moments of self-doubt, but I know I wouldn’t be at this point without living in Austria.
9. Every physical thing you know is far away.
Foods you know, favorite restaurants, stores, even brands of medicine you’re used to. All of that is far far away. Of course it’s fun discovering new places and finding new go to spots. But sometimes you might not feel like it. You’re human.
For example, when you’re sick and can’t find the foods you need or the medicine you’re used to – it’s frustrating. You’ll feel it most during your most vulnerable moments. And it will also creep into your everyday life too.
Patience here is key and living abroad will definitely test your patience.
10. Every one you know is far away.
This is what it usually comes down to for people considering a move abroad. They will be far from family and friends. Well, you will be physically far away, and there’s no easy way to get around it.
It’s difficult to choose a world that’s different from those you love, because that also means you’ll no longer be living close to them. But the special moments between you will still exist. Friendships will last and family will be there. Video chatting becomes not satisfying after a while and you’ll yearn for that giant hug from your mom. But when you get it, it’s the BEST feeling in the world and you’ll never take it for granted again.
11. Forming new friendships is harder than you’d expect.
Making new long-term friends abroad is an unexpected challenge that you may not anticipate. If you’re thinking of living in another country, most likely you’re open-minded and friendly to new people. But surprisingly, it takes more than that, and it doesn’t come as easy as you’d think.
Making new friends as an adult is hard in general, but when you combine that with the language barrier and a culture you’re unfamiliar with, in an environment that’s new, your outgoing self may not find it so easy. Traveling and making friends on the road is one thing, but being accepted into a group and building long-term friendships take a little more time than you may be used to.
To read how we branched out and made friends abroad, check out: How to Make Friends Abroad in Your Late 20s
Realize that the people you meet in your new country are just as interested in learning about you and your culture, as you are about theirs. It always seems easier to turn inward when you feel uncomfortable, but that is NOT why you moved.
Who cares if people don’t laugh at your jokes or make fun you when you try to speak their language and fail miserably. It’s like moving to a new high school in your senior year, CONFIDENCE is key!
12. When the road seems impossible, you have to push forward.
Giving up is just not an option.
When you feel defeated and exhausted from all the effort it takes to move and THEN the emotional effort it takes to adjust, you have to keep pushing forward. There will definitely be times where you want to pack up your things and just give up, but you can’t.
You made this move for a reason and you knew it wouldn’t be an easy road, but it was the right road for you.
It’s hard to stay focused and to continue on your journey when you’re feeling down. But doing so will turn you into a stronger person who can face AND conquer their fears.
With all the challenges of moving abroad and settling into a new country, there is no doubt that every bit of the struggle is worth the result.
Living abroad changes you in ways that nothing else can. Inside your comfort zone is a safe, but dangerous place. If you never leave, you’ll never change and you’ll never become your very best self.
When you follow through on your dream of living abroad. When you put yourself out there. Conquer your fears. Take on the unfamiliar. That’s when the magic really happens.