The best things in life aren’t always easy to get and can require you to get outside of your comfort zone. You work hard, you plan, and maybe even get your heart broken. Once you get to the point in your life where all that pain, work, and planning have come together to bring you what you really want, it feels amazing and invigorating. Hopefully you will even get renewed energy.
Moving abroad and living a life outside of your home country is an experience that someone who had never done it could possible understand and it really takes a certain kind of person to do it. Some that went and studied abroad in college might know some of the feelings, but nothing prepares you, and no-one will fully understand the chaos of emotions you will go through.
Don’t let this deter you. Let it empower you. Allow this information to push you forward in your dream to live abroad…or to validate your feelings if you are already there.
I’ve found that sometimes a well-written blog by someone who “gets it” will have me in tears because they said what I was feeling in a way that others could only partially understand.
So here is my advice along with some motivation to get you through a time of enormous change and a roller-coaster of feelings.
Part 1–Before You Leave
This can be the most exciting and nerve-wracking part of the process. If you aren’t a planner at heart, it can be difficult! Some things you can plan while you are still in your home country, and some things you AT LEAST have to research.
Are you allowed to live in the country you want to be in? Do you need a job? Is it easy to get a visa? What about your partner/spouse/children? How much will that process cost?
Thanks to the wonderful world of Airbnb, house-sitting, and other handy short-to-longer term housing options, you might not have to find a permanent place before you go. This is very handy when you aren’t very familiar with the area. Once you are there, you can scout out the neighborhoods you feel the most comfortable is, and be available for in-person viewings.
Purging, Packing, Shipping
Some people pack up everything and move it. That’s a pain and you might not know if your stuff will fit in your new home. Appliances will likely be different voltages and plugs could require lots of adapters and/or converters. It’s easier just to buy when you arrive.
There are many ways to move your things from Point A to Point B. Research closely, some can take 6-8 weeks to arrive. Can you live without your stuff that long?
For what you do get rid of, think about having an open house to sell various items. Then what’s left you can donate or give to friends and family. We gave to so many different organizations–from places that take care of animals, domestic abuse shelters, high school (for a prom dress drive), a library, and second hand stores. There are many options.
There’s a lot to wrap up in the final month in a home. From the purging and packing to the cleaning. It seems like it never ends. The people that offered to help us in those last weeks were people that saw our struggle and jumped in at the right moment. Major life events can show where you stand in people’s lives.
With the mix of excitement and nervousness, you might forget about the part where you leave everyone and everything you’ve known. When you finally think about it, it can be an overwhelming emotion. I had a few of these moments, but the one that stuck with me was months before I was going to leave.
I worked at a university, so my calendar is on the academic schedule. After finishing up a commencement ceremony, I said goodbye to my intern. This was a woman who truly made a difference in the office and would be back the next year. But I wouldn’t be. In the moment I asked her for her walkie-talkie, I realized it might be the last time I would ever see her. Because this was about 4 months before I left, it took me by surprise.
I wish I could say these moments get easier, but they don’t. The feeling just gets masked by the wonder of the adventure ahead. The hardest part about any of the goodbyes, were the ones we didn’t get to do. While most made an effort to visit before we left, some didn’t. We had people come from hours away to say their farewells in our last months in the U.S., and some nearby never made an effort, even when we tried. It was heartbreaking.
It was hard to leave a job I enjoyed with people that made it worth going to work. It was hard to leave a community that I had become so close to. I was proud of the connections and relationships I had made, and was actually scared to leave the safety of that. I still miss it sometimes. Thank goodness for Facebook. I still get to keep up with my college, the university I worked for and the city that will always be in my heart.
Goodbyes might take the form of parties. It’s a great way to make the fact that you’re leaving festive occasion and to send you best wishes. You will experience different reactions from people. Some might be so excited to follow your “adventurous” new life, while others might be resentful or confused. “What’s wrong with right here? Am I wrong for staying?” This question was not one I was expecting but a fair question considering how many local people had recently moved away.
These parties can be fun with lots of food and alcohol, or slightly awkward with coworkers or friends of your partner. Just remember that everyone there came to see you and say goodbye. Realistically, neither of you are probably sure when you’ll see each other again. So, enjoy the event, take lots of photos, eat, drink, and be merry! Don’t forget to thank everyone for coming. You mean a lot to them!
I’m not sure what I can say about family. Everyone has different kinds of relationships and only you know your family best. But it’s probably a nice idea to have a family get together before you leave so they can give you their well-wishes. If you know when you’ll be back, be sure to let them know. Otherwise, be open for Skype dates!
One thing you might not think about, but should, is how you are getting to the airport. This can be tricky. I tried to keep my excitement up so I didn’t get emotional. And it worked…right up until I checked my bags. Then I lost it. I was lucky enough to have my mom, dad, and one of my brothers drop me off. And if your airport is anything like mine, the drop-off area people try to keep you moving. There were hugs and smiles and tears…and a couple pictures.
Pick the people who drop you off carefully. You don’t want to walk into the airport doubting your choice so don’t let anyone who isn’t supportive drive you there. If possible, have one of your cheerleaders do it. This is someone who is excited for you and wants you to live out your dream! Don’t forget to encourage those who dropped you off to come visit.
In the next part, we’ll cover how to make your new home feel like home! So, stay connected. Sign up here for the weekly update, and here for the monthly newsletter. If you’re looking for other posts about expat life, simply look below.
And let me know below what tips or truths you have to share about expat life!