Regardless of whether this decision is based on necessity or the need for adventure, moving abroad can be quite a dramatic experience. Fun, sure, but scary – and there are some good reasons for it to be this way.
People who have moved abroad years ago often don’t remember what it felt like for them when they first left. If they enjoy their new home, it is only well and good that it stays with them. Hence, more than the other way round we encounter stories about foreign destinations where life is always better and the move? Oh, the move was just fine, really easy, nothing to worry about.
Well, it is time to debunk this. But this time, instead of focusing on the obvious, time for things that I did not expect or that I thought I was immune from before I moved.
Grocery shopping will become… an odd experience
Me and my grocery shopping have quite a complicated relationship, but over the years we have worked out a few compromises to keep us going, somehow. But if I am to be completely honest, the day I moved to the UK falls fairly high on my Grocery Horror List. On that day I realized I had to cut half of the food I eat out of my diet.
Maybe I am just a dumb blonde, but for some reason I never ever realized that some of the foods and drinks I enjoy in my everyday life cannot be found on English shop shelves. Ok, I was aware that Polish brands would be missing, obviously, especially these very much obscure and local ones, I wasn’t that dumb. Yet my first grocery shopping made me realize HOW MUCH was actually missing!
And I am talking of big, international brands too. All of a sudden I was not only in a foreign country in which I knew virtually no one, just about to start studying at a university where I knew… probably equally much about, far away from the comfort of my parent’s house and I couldn’t even get myself my favourite pack of sweets. Nothing made me feel more alienated over here than this experience. Suddenly I was lost.
This of course applied to a great many other products I used to encounter in my everyday life, but food, food sent me a way more powerful message than those others did.
Your habits will need to change
A major part of my food transition was habit swapping. We are creatures of habit, we humans, and we hate adjusting our routine even if we are the most open-minded, change-embracing individuals. And I am talking of small habits that we don’t even realize we have, like what we do while drinking our morning tea or coffee, or where we sit on the bus.
Every big life change breaks some of our old habits – and moving abroad is no different. Some of the things can just no longer happen, or at least become increasingly difficult. We may try to cling on to them but sooner or later they will have to go.
Before I came to study in the UK, I used to watch the Polish news every morning. Once I got here, I tried to keep up with it – you know, not to lose touch. I watched half an hour every morning via the only legal online source I could find while sitting on my dorm bed and munching breakfast. I don’t remember when I stopped. One day I just couldn’t be bothered to start the day with a laptop on my lap and that was it.
Your memories and common cultural references will no longer be applicable
Ok, I did realize that if I made a joke about some old Polish movies, no one would get it. But somehow I forgot about all these other references I would surround my speech and writing in. Idioms are a good one, or childhood memories. Even though the UK is a relatively close country to Poland – both geographically and culturally – I quickly discovered a gap I simply couldn’t fill.
No one around me really understood what a good, big family dinner is like. The one that requires all the chairs and tables from around the house to be squished together, with sofas too, because there are never enough seats. The ones with more food than a full army regiment could eat in a month. And with drunk uncles who always want to dance with you too. See? These sort of references. There were a whole host of things I considered standard for all, at the very least European, countries which simply turned out to be false.
No one will understand your little quirks
I should get myself a swear jar, but instead of collecting pennies for each time I use an appropriate word (it would bankrupt me), I should pester other people to chip in every time they say That’s because you are Polish.
The truth is, I don’t mind. I got used to it. People judge – that is just the way of life, and they judge based on any immediately obvious feature that can be stereotyped. I am a little girl, and a skinny one on top of that, I’ve had my fair share of people telling me what I am and I am not like.
There is, though, another side of the story, one I never fully appreciated. There are actually plenty of behaviours that would be standard in Poland but somehow are unseen over here in the UK, and vice versa.
The first real cultural shock I survived, although survived may be a big word since I still am kind of recovering from it, happened during one of my first weeks at university. I had to send an email to one of my lecturers, let me call him Mr X. I asked one of my colleagues what would be an appropriate way to start it, you know, every university has its own way, right? And they told me to just write: Hi.
That is when I got my first mini-seizure. The second one came after I asked if I should at least add Mr X to it and was told that the first name would do just fine.
I told you I am still recovering. This nonchalance when it comes to addressing people one does not know personally is… quite a weird thing for me even now. Which does mean that consequently during the last few years I have become way too rude for Poland (to be honest I now struggle to go to coffee shops etc. when I am at home in Poland – people do tend to address others with Mr or Ms X and therefore I have completely forgotten how to behave in public) and way too formal for the UK.
Moving abroad can be insanely lonely
Somehow every time we talk about going places and restructuring our lives, we tend to stick to thinking about the grand adventure that awaits us and not of what we leave behind.
For me moving abroad was one of the loneliest experiences of my life. I left all by myself to a place I had been to only once. All my friends either stayed at home or moved to other places in world. I was prepared for the adventure of a lifetime, full of new excitements and new people.
Instead, all the other kids would be arriving to dorms with their families and often with their friends too, and I was all by myself, with 20kg of everything I owned and with desperate need of IKEA shopping because, let me tell you, planes are not a great way of transporting your pillows.
It may be really easy to keep clinging on to what you already know
Before I moved abroad, I always assumed, out of the naivety of my heart, that most people travel out of a love for adventure and are ready to embrace the new world around them.
Oh, how horribly wrong I was.
There are, in fact, quite a lot of people like me – people that are ready to embrace their new life, you know, with all its perks. People that always eat local food while on holiday, for example. But, dear Universe, I never knew how many people don’t.
And that’s ok – it is ok with me. If people like to stay within their closed circle of friends form only their home country and never venture out, that is absolutely fine. No choice is better than the other. All I am saying is: there is a culture of national cliques in which foreigners stick together at all costs.
I am yet to ever like or dislike someone based on the place that they are from. I just want to have fun.
Wherever abroad is – it doesn’t have to be paradise
Moving abroad is not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with it; don’t trust the magazines who tell you that if you don’t change your address from time to time you do not live. That is simply not true.
Not that I wouldn’t recommend it – I would. It is more than likely that I will move around the world again in my life as well; something about it just speaks to me, besides, I think I’d go bonkers if I had to stay in the rain for the rest of time. Trying new things can be great.
But it doesn’t have to be.
We like to think that the grass is always greener – it is not. Sure, you might find another country more suitable for what you want from your life, but it may just not be for you. It is important to know when to stop and simply come back.
And that is one thing that not many think about before making this decision.
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