I’ve been living abroad for ten years. I say it slowly, I let the words come one by one so I have time to fully understand the meaning. Ten years. Two countries. So many experiences, hard moments and great days. Leaving Barcelona to pursue my studies in Göteborg was life changing, no doubt. Being abroad has made me grow up and learn a lot, since I had to understand, be patient, be flexible and adapt to new places.
A few months ago one of my friends from Toulouse moved abroad. Before leaving, we discussed how it is to live in a foreign country. At that time I had not really thought about it. Today, I would tell her that living abroad can be very challenging, but it is also very rewarding and, at the end, it is worthwhile.
>> You miss your family and friends. You cannot share with them the daily moments as you used to, neither the new experiences you are living. Of course you can call each other, but it is not the same, and you will not be there when they celebrate a new job, nor the birth of their first kid, nor when someone is sick or sad and need a hug.
>> You make new friends. At the university, at work, in the bus, taking language courses, doing new activities…
>> It might be difficult to meet new people if you don’t speak the local language.
>> It might be easy to meet new people… other foreigners who are in the same situation, who have just arrived, and are keen to exchange information, help each other, and make new friends.
I made a lot of good friends taking language courses. We started by eating a crêpe after the French lessons, and soon started going out together. My flatmates became as close as family, since we were sharing the good and bad moments every week, helped each other and took care of the other when one was sick.
>> The first days are busy: getting a residence permit, working permit or other official documents, finding a place to live, opening a bank account, getting a new phone number, understanding how the social security works…
>> The beginning might be hard due to the language barrier.
>> You find your resources and become creative to be understood: try communication by signals, talking using only key words, drawing…
>> The first days are full of discoveries: a new city, new streets and parks and museums, new restaurants and bars and pubs, other things you haven’t seen before…
My hardest moment was the day I searched for an apartment in Toulouse. Most of people working in the agencies did not speak English, and did not want to rent me an apartment since I did not have family in France who could pay for me if I didn’t. Once I found one, I had to get an insurance. I signed and paid without understanding the contract…
>> You learn or improve another language, even more than one if you get international friends and are good at learning.
>> You might get worse on your own language: lose of fluency, mixing up words and expressions, getting a different accent…
Today I can speak fluently four languages: Catalan and Spanish (my mother tongues), English and French. I use the four of them every week, almost daily. But sometimes I cannot find the right word in one of them, or I mix expressions, or I speak Spanish with a strange accent and use words from Chile or Peru. My family and friends laugh a lot about it.
>> You miss your country’s food, and you might try to import your favorite things or eat them all every time you go home.
>> You discover a new gastronomy, and if you like cooking, it is a nice way to enter into the culture.
>> There are things or activities that you can no longer do, because the climate or the geographical location or the customs are not the same (as skiing or climbing if there are no mountains, or going to the beach if the sea is far away…)
>> You discover new things or activities that are not common (or do not exist) in your country.
I miss the sea. I loved to walk along the coast, either harbor or beach, observe the come-and-go of the waves, the movement of the water. It calms me down and gives me energy. On the other hand, I have tried things that I would have never experienced at home, as ice skating under the stars, swimming in a river or entering a frozen lake coming out of a sauna.
In the process of learning about a new culture, there are shocks, and there are surprises. There are moments when you wonder what are you doing here, and others when you wouldn’t ever leave. When you are abroad feelings seem to multiply: if you’re happy, you feel extremely happy; if you’re sad, immensely sad; if you’re alone… completely alone.
Living abroad is full of encounters and meeting new people. At the same time, is also full of good byes, specially during the studies. At the end of the year, all the friends you have made, with whom you have shared such amazing experiences… they leave, either to go back to their home countries, either to start in a new place. Very few stay. And if you chose to stay, you have to start again… as a little bird who has lost its nest, you need to meet new people and reconstruct your social life.
Living abroad is full of cycles, and each of them teaches you something, leaves a print, makes you grow up.
Living abroad is challenging, but there are a lot of rewards and, overall, it is worthwhile.
Have you ever lived abroad? How was your experience?
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