Expat Life

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving Abroad

I wrote this in 2016, but thought my reflections were still quite relevant to today. I feel quite proud of the advise I gave, so I want to re-share it with you. Let me know if it resonates it with you!

When I set my foot on a plane for the first time five years ago, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be where I am today. I was 17, had only travelled around by bus and the longest I’d been away from home on my own was for a month. But when opportunity knocked on my door I wasn’t about to let my fears and doubts stop me. I settled down at the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy for two years, and the rest is history.

Since 2011, I have learnt so much about myself and the world around me. To be honest, at 22, I’m aware I don’t have it all figured out – and that’s okay. Because I wished someone had told me a few of these things when I stumbled, I compiled them for you.

This is for everyone, no matter if you’re going abroad for a semester, a month, a year, or if you’re moving for good.

Relationships should be built on and not taken for granted

If I have to be honest, I’ve only learnt about this one recently. A friend of mine whom I’ve known since I was a child was ‘suddenly’ not talking to me.

Instead of asking what was wrong, I assumed she was busy and didn’t have time to talk…. big mistake. She had been texting me for months and I would only respond to her once in a while, so she got fed up of waiting for a response. Can you blame her? Not at all.

In my head, I kept thinking I would text her properly when I had time, but that time just never rolled around. If I could go back in time, I would just reply to her message right away or just send a voice message if I can’t type.

Taking the time to make those around you feel loved should be a priority, not a side job.

When I was in Nottingham, I struggled quite a lot with making friends. Coming from Luther – where people were immediately friendly to me – I felt out-of-place in UoN. But yet, all it took was a little effort in getting to know people to get out of that bad place. At Luther, I had taken friendships for granted. In Nottingham, I had to start from zero, and ask people to sit with me at lunch, or go out for coffee. I had to go out and talk to strangers and get out of my comfort zone.

Being in Nottingham I learnt that waiting for friends to come to you is a no-go when it comes to being abroad. If you think someone in a hostel is cool, approach them! They’re more likely than not as nervous as you are and want to meet people.

You will more likely than not lose someone you love or miss an important event at home

During the summer of my first year in Italy, my grandfather passed away. I was lucky to be home, but I wasn’t so lucky in other instances. I missed my friend’s weddings, many birthdays, graduations, births and more. For a while, I hated the idea that I was missing out on so many people’s memories. It hurt me to think that my friends were together without me, or were hurting and I was miles away.

But yet, in the past five years, I’ve realized that FOMO is an unhealthy thing to have. People’s lives will go on with or without you. Being a part of it depends on you

Every Christmas, I Skype my family and we ‘take a picture’. For my friend’s birthdays, I try to call or send a message. When I’m home, I try to divide my time among everyone evenly. Death is natural, and even though it stings especially harder when you’re far away, it will fade away.

Take pictures and videos – but don’t let it stop you from living the moment

Anyone that knows me in real life knows that I am obsessed with taking pictures and videos on my phone and on my Canon T5I. Since I moved abroad, I’ve been keeping thousands of videos and pictures of my travels. However, I am so aware that at times I tend to forget to put my phone down.

One of the things I’ve been working on is that instead of taking my camera out at museums for a painting, I doodle it. I try to write down how the painting or artwork makes me feel, instead of just walking past it and *click*.

I won’t lie to you, I occasionally sneak a few selfies in front of historical monuments (who doesn’t?) but for the most part, I’m learning to put the camera down. Mental Polaroids are much, much better than physical ones.

There’s no shame in being homesick

I hit the wall hard on this one. When I first got to Iowa, I smiled through any culture shock I had and pretended it was all fine. Inside, I missed my family and friends like crazy and thought about going home at least twice a week. Even though everyone thought I was having the time of my life, secretly I was struggling.

Looking at it now, I wish I had been less proud and admitted to it. I used to joke that I never got homesick, but in reality I did quite often.

Being homesick is not a shameful thing – it’s just a reminder that what you left behind is important to you Click To Tweet

My family, my friends, my old school, my living habits were all important to me, and it was okay to miss it.

If you ever struggle with missing home, your culture, your food, even your bed – it’s okay. If you ever feel that homesickness gets to be too much, confide in a friend or a counsellor. They can always help you find a good way to cope and learn how to adapt easier.

Moving away will make you value your home culture much more

Growing up, I was one of those kids that disliked everything about my home culture – my mom’s mate, Carnaval, Candombe, etc. I thought that disliking my culture was cool – most of my friends did it. We all looked up to the USA, listened to Britney Spears and sang in broken English. I grew up watching American movies, and wishing I could be like Lizzie McGuire (can we take a minute to appreciate the Lizzie McGuire movie?).

When I moved to Italy, I came to see my country in a different light. By talking to people about the good and the bad things about my home country, I realized that I actually valued my home much more than I ever thought. I found myself listening to songs I never would’ve played at home, watching the local news and reading the newspapers much more.

I became aware of my accent, and the fact that the Uruguayan way of life is embedded in me, and that’s okay. Gaining an appreciation of my culture helped me be a much happier and rooted person than I was ever before. Leaving my home country only made me love it more!

Being able to share these experiences with people has helped me understand how I felt and how I never want to feel again in the near future. Here’s to hoping that in the next five years, I don’t go back to making any of these mistakes I get to learn five more things to share with you all.

Know anyone who needs this advice? Share this with them and comment with some of your own experiences!

14 Comments

  1. Lianet

    May 20, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Hey Vicky! I loved reading this – I moved to the US 11 years ago. I am here permanently—for now—and don’t consider myself an expat, but I can relate to your list. I particularly liked your “live in the moment” advice. I am also guilty of taking too many photos and videos; but we agree, being aware is the first step to control it. Accepting my culture and accent was also challenging. My accent used to be one of my biggest concerns and barriers, but I’ve come to realize that’s what makes me different, and that most people actually don’t mind. The roots will always be there, so I’ve chosen to embrace them!

    Great post, looking forward to your next one! 😊

    1. Vicky @ Beyond London

      May 20, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      Hey Lianet! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I feel quite similarly about my accent – a lot of people find it quite hard to pinpoint and before I used to be quite self-conscious but now I just make it into a game. It’s brought me a lot of peace to come to terms with who I am and my roots.

      Ps. I’m still not great at putting the camera away… haha. But you’re right, it’s practice ♥

  2. Rachel

    May 20, 2020 at 10:06 pm

    Hey Vicky, I loved reading this because I could relate to a lot of it. I moved to the United Kingdom from the USA just about 8 months ago to pursue my uni education and felt like everything was so different compared to what I expected (good things of course). I can also totally relate to sneaking selfies here and there.

    1. Vicky @ Beyond London

      May 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      Hey Rachel – I’ve been on that boat. It definitely is different and it can be a big culture shock. Feel free to message me if you need any advise or help, I bet I’ve stumbled with similar things!

  3. Lekha C

    May 20, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    Great blog! You wrote things people are usually in denial of, including myself :). Thank you for sharing!

  4. Nicole | Mapless Adventures

    May 20, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    Wow. This really hit home. I’ve also moved and lived away from home for many years between studying abroad in Italy too then teaching in Thailand, you do tend to take relationships for granted. I learned that the hard way (though I was the other friend constantly messaging), I found that the friendships I cherished I really worked hard to keep. These 5 things are so relative when moving abroad or even just moving away from family and friends. You will miss out on things, but you will gain other things. Live in the moment. You’ll learn to love what you thought you were ready to leave. What a great post! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Vicky @ Beyond London

      May 21, 2020 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Nicole!

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s really hard not to take relationships for granted – I still do it a lot of the time. With technology especially it’s easy to assume that you can text back later or to think you can video call another day and it just slips. I started being really intentional with friends and making lists of the last times I reached out to people, otherwise it would feel like it was yesterday when it was months ago.

  5. Camille

    May 21, 2020 at 10:29 am

    It really takes a lot of courage to move to different place. However, you could discover a new places and friends. I hope this pandemic will be over very soon so we could all travel safely. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Vicky @ Beyond London

      May 21, 2020 at 5:01 pm

      You definitely discover a lot more than you think you would – so many places I’ve fallen in love with thanks to travelling and moving away! Thank you for commenting 🙂

  6. Alexandra B

    May 22, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    As an expat myself, it takes so much courage to move to another country! These are things I wish I would have known myself, too. I just kind of eyeballed it and thankfully it worked out, but phew! You really need to do your research.

    1. Vicky @ Beyond London

      May 22, 2020 at 5:11 pm

      Very true! I think I underestimated how difficult it was to move to another country because the first times I did so it was under study abroad programmes… when I had to do it all on my own I had to eyeball it all and stumbled many times haha. You definitely should do research, I feel like I would’ve saved myself a lot of pain! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience 🙂

  7. Patricija

    May 22, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    As someone who’s moved twice I couldn’t agree more! Wish I saw this first too 🙂

    1. Vicky @ Beyond London

      May 23, 2020 at 5:38 pm

      Aw thank you so much! I sincerely wish someone had told me all this when I first did it. Hope someone stumbles onto it for their first move and gets a leg up on us haha.

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