Moving abroad is a life-changing experience. I was twenty-seven when I left my home country. I thought I had a pretty steady life.
However, after moving abroad I realized that many things in my life were not as stable as I imagined.
From my experience, going to live abroad comes with the five significant changes to your life and personality.
Your Social Circle Becomes Very Unstable
It is natural that in a new place you start relations with new people with whom you eventually may become friends.
That doesn’t mean, however, that your new friends will always be around. I noticed that most of my friends abroad are foreigners like me, and I tend to have a better emotional connection with them than with the locals. The thing is foreigners tend to move around a lot (including yourself), which makes it hard to maintain steady social relationships.
You need to be morally prepared for the fact that there will be times when you are going to feel completely alone because your old friends are gazillion miles away, and your new friends have moved along to the new adventures (maybe it’s time for you to move too?).
It Becomes Easier For You to Move Forward
When you go abroad for the first time, you give up many things: the comfort of home, social connections, and the language environment. So it’s natural that it may feel overwhelming in the beginning. At least, it did for me. My first few months in the U.S. felt both like a dream and a nightmare at the same time. I no longer had my friends and family around (add 12-hour time difference), lived in a room infested with bed bugs, and had to count every dollar to make ends meet. And you can’t call me a saver.
At the same time, I was making new friends daily. I was learning to feel happy from the simplest things, like the sunset under the new sky or small non-committal talks with strangers around the campus. I was able to meet with two of my best friends from Russia in the U.S., which showed me that leaving your home country does not mean leaving your friends behind because when people want to meet, they make it happen regardless of geographical location.
The longer you live abroad, the more you understand that moving forward does not necessarily mean giving up on things. It means giving up on the accustomed and bringing the best of what you have into the new life.
Your Skills in Native Language Worsen
Perhaps, the weirdest thing that can happen to you after the years of living abroad is that you become a less confident speaker of your native language. For example, I notice that sometimes I struggle to find the right word or expression in Russian and resort to foreign ones.
“Forgetting the language” can occur when I talk about anything, but mainly when I talk about my work. I started two different careers after I moved abroad, and I had no related vocabulary in my native language. So, even when I talk about work with Russian colleagues, I tend to switch to English just for simplicity.
I also noticed that my writing skills in Russian have worsened significantly (e.g., grammar-wise) and I tend to think about something I want to write down in English more often than in Russian.
You Become More Open to Career Choices
When I lived in Russia, I worked as a translator, and I was happy with my job. When I went abroad to do my master’s in computational linguistics, I was thinking about it as additional training. I was hoping that it could help me better understand how computer technology applied to language and boost my career in translation business.
But after some time, I suddenly realized that I didn’t need to stick with one career. Two years spent at Indiana University showed me that I am capable of understanding the programming and actually programming myself. After graduation, I went to Germany to work in an IT research project. After three years, I switched to the role of a developer advocate in one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers. And I am pretty sure this is not the last career change in my life. The takeaway—going abroad may open up exciting possibilities you won’t even think of pursuing if you stay in your country.
You’re Not Afraid of Being Outsider Anymore
Let’s face the truth—you’ll never pass for local abroad, no matter how hard you try. In fact, pretending to be a local is the worst thing you can do in a foreign country. Not only do you make a fool out of yourself, but you also send the wrong message to people around you that you are not happy with who you are.
The reality is you will always be an outsider living abroad. Even if the country is tolerant of immigrants (like the U.S.), it doesn’t mean that the locals will always treat you like their compatriot, which is totally fine. However, you need to be prepared that there will be times when your confidence in your identity will be shaken. I experience this every time I go to the immigration office in Stuttgart to extend my stay in Germany. You need to be there at 6am to get a spot in the line and then wait for at least six hours. It’s also not uncommon for the clerks there to be unfriendly.
Despite all these adversaries, living abroad gives you a vital lesson in confidence: what people think of you is less important than what you feel about yourself. Yes, at times, people will treat you like an unwelcome guest. So what? Move along.
Just remember a simple truth: wherever you go, you will always find people that make you feel safe and at home.