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.
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!