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If you’re considering moving abroad, then you should probably prep yourself for the emotional roller coaster that comes with becoming an expat. You need to know what you’re in for before you make that final decision to book a one way ticket. If you’re about to read this blog, then you’ve probably already made that final decision to book a ticket and just doing your research.
Others might not have the option whether or not they want to become an expat. I’ve met so many people who either completely hated their time abroad (usually because they were forced to move abroad and didn’t even try to integrate) or they completely loved their time abroad and took advantage of every second they had.
Making the decision to move abroad, either alone or as a family, temporarily or permanently is always nerve-wrecking. You can feel both excitement and fear at the same time and it can drive you mad. Some days you’re so incredibly excited, you can hardly contain it. Other days, the thought of leaving everything and everyone that you know behind may over run that joy you felt yesterday. You’re feelings will leave you bipolar, leaving some to wonder why on earth you’re doing this in the first place.
No one ever said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it.
1. Everything is New and Foreign
Some people may be completely fearless, ready to take on the world without an ounce of doubt. They have no qualms with leaving everything behind, ready to explore the world and take on a new adventure, knowing one day, they will see their friends and family again and the thought that you can always go home again. Nothing is permanent.
You’re so excited that you just can’t wait to get on the plane and get this adventure started. You may be like me, and not even shed a tear when you wave goodbye to friends and family, until you step on that plane and realize, “OMG, this is really happening!”
You’re ready to take on any battles that may come your way, as you know there are bound to be times that test you. Your fists are up, ready to knock down anything that might prevent you from living your dreams of moving abroad.
Fear / Grief
Others may have serious doubts as to whether or not this is the right decision, or fear that this might turn into a big mistake and a waste of money and time. They may be afraid they won’t find a job or a place to live, or even understand the language. It can be incredibly hard in the beginning to manage these things, especially if you’re moving for the first time to a new place, or don’t have a support system to help guide you into your new life. You may be walking around blind, bumping into things until you finally get settled in. And once you do, it may truly hit you, that this is your new life and seeing friends and family will become a rarity. But don’t get too sad. Skype and FaceTime will be your best friends and people around you will motivate you. So keep that chin up, Buttercup!
2. Getting Accustomed
Frustration / Culture Shock
The first several months are always the hardest and NO ONE said it would be easy. But you knew that already before you decided to make the move. Learning the new ways of this new and exciting culture can sometimes leave you baffled and down right frustrated when you can’t figure out WHY they do the things that they do. It can drive you mad and make you miss home, but you will have to learn to let things go, otherwise, you’ll never be happy in your new home.
It can also be incredibly frustrating to communicate to others, especially when there is a big, massive, annoying language barrier. It is one of the most frustrating things about living abroad, especially if your language isn’t English. If English is your Native Language, then consider yourself lucky as everyone can speak some words of English. But, even if many people can speak some form of English as a second language, there will still be a language barrier, keeping you from truly connecting with friends. Jokes, sarcasm and other forms of humor don’t always come across in a foreign language and people may not get your jokes. You may feel like the people around you don’t get you or think you’re crazy. This alone can be incredibly baffling.
3. Settling into a Routine
After weeks of getting settled in, going through the ups and downs of getting accustomed to learning the ways of your new home country, you’ll finally go through a period of being content. Everything will start to feel as it should, you’ll be comfortable in your new home and surroundings, know your way around and should have by now a group of friends. You’ll start to feel more like a local, and get excited when someone stops to ask you the way and you can proudly tell them, hopefully in that language, how to get somewhere. There will still be lots to learn over time, but you’re at least feeling positive and happy about your decision to move.
Once you’re settled into your new life, you’ll start to venture out and start exploring your surroundings and getting to know the lay of the land. Weekend day trips will become an obsession and you’ll crave new cultural and historical outings to learn more about the place you call home. Staying busy with work and traveling on weekends will help ward of any second thoughts you might have about moving or any homesickness that might be lurking around the corner.
4. Brief Surge of Homesickness
Then, when you’re not ready for it, homesickness will sneak up on you out of no where, waiting to pounce on you when you least expect it. Things will be going great for you and then all of a sudden, it’s just there, waiting on your doorstep, ready to collect. You’ll give in for a little bit and cry or become melancholy for a time. Some big event back home will get posted on Facebook and you’ll be sad that you missed out on that person’s birthday, wedding or even a birth. You’ll start to second guess yourself if this was the right decision and feel guilty for not being near family.
Skyping with friends and family can only keep you content for so long before you really start to miss physical hugs, and after a while, there will even be a phase where you’ll become “out of sight, out of mind” and your friends and family or even you, will start to get too busy to sit down and Skype. You’ll start to feel as if maybe they have forgotten about you, making your homesickness worse.
Quite possibly the hardest phase of them all to go through. And for me personally, this came much later. Almost 3 years into living abroad. After all of your hard effort of settling in, getting accustomed, trying to make friends and learning the language, you’ll go through this phase where you just feel completely and utterly defeated. Nothing is ever good enough. Perhaps, you’ll always be looked at strangely and immediately called a foreigner, perhaps people will give you a hard time about your language skills, no matter how much they have improved or perhaps you just can’t seem to make friends and connect with people.
Hopefully only one of these, if not none of them happen to you. Unfortunately, all three hit me at the same time making for one very long year of feeling like my efforts were pointless and I couldn’t be motivated to try any longer. When you do go through this phase, just know, it’s only temporary and you need to fight your way through it. If living abroad is what you want, you gotta fight to keep it. Keep those fists up and don’t give up!
Consider Returning Home
For that reason, you’ll be torn between two countries you’ll begin to consider returning home and weighing your options. You’ll start listing all the pro’s and con’s of each country and try to come to a conclusion as to where you belong. And it will be hard and torturous because you love both places so much and you’re afraid of making the wrong decision. It will keep you up at night and you’ll shed tears of frustration trying to pick the right option. After all, you don’t want to walk away from the beautiful opportunity of a life time you’re currently enjoying, or you don’t want to give up traveling to return back to a 9-5 job behind a desk.
5. Staying for the Long Haul
Happiness and Joy
After much deliberation, hopefully you’ll have decided to stay put, at least for now. My torturous debate of being torn between two countries came to an end when a certain new president who shall not be named on this blog was sworn in. There will be some final factor, helping you to finally come to a decision. Whether it be that you’re a fighter and are not willing to walk away from a good thing, maybe you met someone (and married them like I did!), or perhaps you’ll move to a new country, but not home. No matter what, going home again is always a possibility, but we all know it won’t be the same when we return. It never is.
Once you have finally come to a conclusion, the weight of the world that you’ve been carrying with you will have lifted from your cumbersome shoulders. You’ll feel join and happiness again and can finally start re-enjoying your decision to live abroad. And you’ll pick up where you left off and try to start integrating again into that culture. Perhaps you’re language skills will have improved enough you can even read a book in that language, giving you the motivation and esteem you needed! (Yey me! I finished Harry Potter in German!)
That doesn’t mean you won’t have anymore ups and downs along the way. You’ll still miss home, friends and family. You’ll start going home for a visit perhaps more often or trying harder to Skype more and stay better connected.
And then all of a sudden, you won’t feel so much like an expat anymore, but a local who’s meant to be here, perhaps, even, ah dare I say it?… an immigrant!
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Replies to 5 Emotional Phases of Moving Abroad
Love this post! I’ve never been abroad for a long time but I can imagine the mixture of feelings that anyone would experience in that situation. And love the photos in Königssee too.
I think moving abroad, getting out of your comfort zone teaches you so much about who you are as a person.
Moving abroad is a very stressful time, but a time for real growth. I worked in the removals industry for 14 years relocating people internationally and it is said the stress is only second to losing a loved one.
I can only imagine!
Though I only studied abroad, all of these feelings are real… and when I got home, there was this other emotion – reverse culture shock!! It was incredible to see how much I grew and changed during my time abroad, and it’s an experience that I definitely want everyone to experience. I think it’s so very valuable.
I very much enjoyed reading your post. I can relate so well to your struggles of living abroad. Almost 30 years ago, my husband and I emigrated from Romania with our 3 year old son. For us it truly was a one way ticket. We knew we were never to return back there. But unlike you, there wasn’t much about Romania we would ever miss (other than friends and family). We ran from communism, persecution and hardship. I don’t know what your reasons for leaving California were, but it seems that doesn’t matter very much. The unfortunate thing is that once an immigrant, always an immigrant. You will never feel fully integrated and assimilated into that new culture, no matter how hard you try. There will always be people who will look down on you or make you feel you don’t belong there. That is particularly true in Germany, who is so xenophobic. Should that matter? Probably not. After all, it takes a lot of strength and courage to take this step, so growing a ‘thicker skin’ should become your second nature.
It is always a little easier when you move from Europe to the USA, especially in California where almost everybody is from somewhere else. People here are friendlier and more tolerant. Once in a while though, just when you thought you have been finally assimilated, someone will ask ‘innocently’ where your accent is from. Just to point out that they have a good ear and they cannot be fooled.
Thank you Anda for sharing your experience with me. It has taken some time, but I have grown that thicker skin you mentioned, but there will always be things that remind me I am not German and never will be. It’s so sad that some people in Germany are really xenophobic given the history. At least in America, we generally accepted everyone (especially places like Cali). We know we are a country of immigrants blending together. Sadly, this acceptance is changing in the US.
I left my country 3 years ago and I moved to California. Thankfully for me, I knew english and I got a job quickly.
I still feel homesick, sometimes sad, and few months ago I was thinking that I could never get used to CA. I went to my country, and there, I was missing Cali. I think I’m in the limbo, in the middle. Now I feel I dont belong here or there, and kind of scares me. Maybe it is part of all this grief.
A friend told me that took him 10 years to feel that he is part of this. My aunt and husband say its less. I guess it depends of the reasons of why you left in first place. I didn’t need to left, I did it for my husband.
And yes. One day you feel you belong here: you manage the language, you have an awesome job, good money, you know everything, and that stupid question (that I know is just naive, they dont do it intentionally or in a nad way): “You have an accent, where do you come from?”. Kils you and put you the label on your forehead of IMMIGRANT.
Surprisingly, I’m here in the US for two months trying to decide if we want to move here and yet I’m struggling to with so many things. I’m definitely going through some reverse culture shock and now just want to get back to Germany. I think I be finally come to some peace while being here.
I am living this right now. Unfortunately, I’ll be heading home for a while to save up more money before returning to my future home of Australia. It has been nearly a year and I regret having to leave such a gorgeous place and all of the people I have met.
Sorry to hear you’re going through the phases! You’ll come through it though!
What a relief that I’m not the only one going through this! I’m feeling exactly the way you’re describing in the “consider returning home” part. However, this is gapping to me whilst I haven’t left yet! I moved from the Netherlands to the UK in 2009 and only because of Brexit I decided that there was too much uncertainty for us to stay. However, now I secured a job without too much hassle in Portugal and time is drawing nearer to the moving date (under 60 days left) I’m having 2nd thoughts, tears, frustration and all that. I see all the opportunities that I’ll miss. I’ve never felt a stranger here but I know I will there… simply because of the language. Now what?
Just remember that nothing is permanent and if you don’t like it after giving it a suitable amount of time, then move on! 🙂