6 Things That Change When You Live Abroad

It’s been a long old slog, but with 14 months in Qatar under my belt, I am finally starting to understand exactly what it means to move away from home to live on the other side of the world.

Expat life is difficult and confusing. I can’t remember any other time in my life when I have faced more challenges, grown so much as a person and been confronted with (but well-and truly dealt with) so much change. As a result, I have no doubt that those of you that have embarked on a similar adventure, by travelling the world, starting afresh somewhere new or living abroad will have felt one or all of these six things at some point in time.

1. You feel closer to, and yet further away from your loved ones

Leaving your home city or country cements the bonds you already have. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Distance makes you work harder to retain your relationships. You make extra efforts to remember birthdays, to ask how that interview went, to send a message just to let that person know they are on your mind. At the same time, you miss hen dos, birthdays and graduations. You aren’t there to bring your best friend cake when that guy breaks up with her. One day you wake up to a whole album of photos on Facebook from a party that your best friends threw that you didn’t even know was happening, because, well, you weren’t exactly going to be able to turn up were you?!

In your new home, you try not to get too close to those you know are just passing through, and you bond like you have never bonded before with those that are sticking around for a while. You guys are going to need each other!

2. You learn to adapt

Everything that you learned up to this point during your twenty odd years on earth is now thrown out of the window. Your description of what is ‘normal’ becomes a description of what was socially acceptable at home, and what is socially acceptable here. You become adept at learning new ways of thinking and being, and mastering new techniques at the drop of a hat. Drive on the other side of the road while four-by-fours swerve at you from all directions? No problem. Fast for a month during daylight hours for Ramadan? Piece of cake (oh wow, what I would have done for a piece of cake back then…).

3. You feel like a tourist in your ‘home’ city

When you head home, everything looks the same, but somehow it’s different. You forget the quick back routes you used to take to the tube station. You no longer have a ‘base’ to go back to at night. Shops have turned into bars and new restaurants have opened their doors. And at what point did they finally finish building the Walky-Talky Tower anyway?! You feel like you’re discovering everything anew. But then you set foot in your mum’s front door and everything is in its place and as it should be. Home will always be home, and you learn to appreciate it for that reason alone.

4. You become really, really brave

You are losing touch with what’s behind you, and you no longer have a scoobies about what lies ahead, so your only solution is a huge leap of faith into the unknown. That takes real guts. But as soon as you realise that you’re essentially alone, thousands of miles from home, and yet you’ve somehow made life work…scrap that, you’ve shaped things so that they turn out really, ridiculously good for yourself, you will realise you’re capable of an awful lot.

5. You have at least two wardrobes

For your backwards and forwards yo-yo life, it’s not just your head that’s got to be willing and able to adapt, your clothes need to be able to keep up too! Your wardrobe will need to be diverse enough to cope with the 40 degree heat of the desert one day, followed by the 5 degree chill of the UK the next(well, this was my excuse when I explained why I required four drawers, my own wardrobe, and half of Rich’s wardrobe for all my stuff, anyway).

6. And you suddenly feel very wise

And I don’t mean just knowledgeable, this is a different type of wise – it’s irrevocably worldly-wise. You now have the kind of wisdom that nobody else has, unless they’ve followed your exact path across the world and experienced the same experiences. Your whole world has been shaken up so much that you’ve changed. You now know yourself better than you ever did before. You’re proud of your immense accomplishments. There’s no turning back. And it feels good.

Have you ever travelled for an extended period, moved to a new part of the country or lived abroad? What would you add to this list? Drop me a comment and tell me about your experience!

10 Comments

  1. January 14, 2015 / 4:31 pm

    I have only the experience of 6 months in UK, during my erasmus, but I can agree with everything you wrote! While I was there in Italy there was this incredible hot weather (and I can say I was happy to avoid it) so my wardrobe had some problems, lol. Without talking about the strangeness of seeing your friends going out (on Facebook) and you didn't know.
    But it's such an amazing experience. I honestly hope to live abroad after I end my university!

    Eithne on the Moon | Lifestyle, books and travels!

    • January 15, 2015 / 5:59 am

      Aw I'm so pleased you loved the UK! I miss it very much. Not sure I'd be so happy about missing the sunshine though. I would definitely recommend living abroad for a few years when you're done – despite the hard times, it's all worth it! Polly xx

  2. January 16, 2015 / 1:33 am

    I find that living in Europe, I also prioritize my money totally different. I've hardly gone shopping at all and instead spend all my money traveling! Great list!

    • January 16, 2015 / 12:01 pm

      Thanks love. That's so true! Me too. But I'm also really bad at forgetting what the exchange rate is and spending way too much on little things like supermarket shops and meals out. Whoops.

      Polly xx

  3. January 16, 2015 / 3:14 am

    Although Hawaii is part of the US I feel like I can totally relate to all of these! I think that living so far from home has made me more independent, too. It's made me braver, too — more willing to take chances!

    carolann @ thetwoyearhoneymoon.com

    • January 16, 2015 / 12:02 pm

      Yes, I can definitely relate to that. You feel like you dare to say yes to things you never would have considered before you became an expat. Hawaii is far enough away (culturally and distance-wise!) to count as abroad 😉

      Polly xx

  4. January 28, 2015 / 4:37 pm

    I can relate to every single one of these points! I became incredibly brave, confident, mature, and wise when I moved to Australia at 16. It was the best thing we ever did, it was hard to see my friends back home having fun on Facebook without me, but then I just reminded myself how much fun I was having in my new life with my new friends. Now I'm back in the UK and I've got the best of both worlds – I visit Australia once a year to visit my amazing friends, and I also get to see my friends in the UK whenever I like. I miss my Aussie friends heaps, but the time I have with them is so precious and never taken for granted!

    C x
    Lux Life

    • January 29, 2015 / 9:10 am

      What a great story!! 16 is such a great age for a big move like that because you are just 'finding' yourself and developing opinions and characteristics that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I'm sure this has done you the world of good 🙂 I totally understand the benefits of having friends on both sides of the world like you describe – not least of which is a free bed in another city whenever you fancy visiting! Thanks for sharing Catherine.

      Polly xx

  5. February 8, 2015 / 6:43 pm

    I'm in Rennes, France for the year and I totally understand where you're coming from with all of these! Coming home is this crazy whirlwind experience that seems to happen to me instead of just happening. Leaping into the unknown, as you said, is pretty much the best way I can put it – and I'm just a hop across the Channel! Though for me the having two wardrobe scenario is pretty helpful – my first wardrobe was bursting at the seems!

    Lauren xx

    • February 9, 2015 / 10:46 am

      Wow, you lucky girl! I love France. What are you doing out there? It's so true what you say about going home being a crazy whirlwind – it always goes way too quickly and you never feel as though you've had a proper break!

      Polly xx

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