The 10 Things You Don’t Find Out Until You’re an Expat
1. Culture shock is something almost all expats can expect to go through. What many who are new to expat life may not realize, however, is that it doesn’t necessarily hit you straight after arriving and then disappear a few weeks or months into your stay — culture shock doesn’t have a time limit. Moving abroad as a couple or with a family can make culture shock more noticeable as not everyone goes through it at the same rate or deals with it in the same way.
2. Expat life means being away from your support network. As daunting as this is, you soon realize that all expats are in the same boat. You find that the friends you make in your new destination become like family, often remaining good friends for life. Whether it’s being a shoulder to cry on or simply spending the holidays together when it’s too far to make the trip back home, expats quickly form strong friendships.
3. You will miss the silliest things. It’s not just the people you’ll miss when you live overseas — it will be the little things you take for granted in your daily life. Whether it’s your favorite snack or a particular shampoo you’ve decided you can’t live without, you usually only learn what you miss the hard way. Anyone coming to visit — even friends of friends — find themselves with a bizarre shopping list of things you can’t find in your home.
4. One thing many expats may not consider before their move abroad is how it can be near impossible to make long-term plans. Expat life can be fickle, particularly if you are sent overseas by your employer, due to the high chance you will be moved elsewhere at short notice. Expats have to try and turn this uncertainty into a positive, throwing themselves into local life, exploring and experiencing as much as possible of what the destination has to offer.
5. Learning the language is an essential, but will not solve all your problems. Whether you spend hours practicing vocab on a language-learning app or enroll yourself in intensive language classes, there are always aspects of language learning that take years to master. Whether it’s calling a plumber or getting a haircut, you soon find that language classes didn’t really cover that vocab! You become an expert in miming, drawing, or just guessing the everyday words you need to get by.
6. While the internet and social media make it much easier to keep in regular contact with your nearest and dearest, technology can be maddeningly unreliable. Cutting off your video call mid-conversation or often just not connecting, it can ruin your carefully planned slot that suits both time zones. As frustrating as it can be to rely on your WiFi connection, it has become an essential part of modern expat life. Sometimes just hearing a familiar voice is enough to make you feel a little closer to home.
7. Little things that are totally normal in your home country, such as drinking your coffee on the morning train commute, may be seen as utterly bizarre or even disrespectful in other cultures. Though some mistakes won’t seem so amusing at the time, often the quickest way to get used to the social and cultural norms of your new destination is by learning the hard (and embarrassing) way. Laugh about it and embrace your mistakes — after all, expat life is meant to be an adventure, and mistakes are a part of this.
8. Your weekly food shop may require some creativity. Depending on where you are in the world, different products are local, and something that may be expensive and exotic back home might now be grown on your doorstep. Faced with different ingredients and prices, you find yourself putting a local twist on classic dishes from home or improvising to get your comfort food fix, creating a whole new recipe book in the process.
9. Living overseas seems to make remembering birthdays and other special occasions twice as difficult. You undoubtedly end up with accounts on various shopping websites, ready at a moment’s notice to send a gift or card to your loved ones, saving friendships with the magic of express delivery. And you will absolutely blame the post service for any “delay”.
10. The world really isn’t that big, but, at the same time, you’ll find that there’s so much more to it than you could ever have imagined. As contradictory as this statement might seem, it’s true. Despite the world having an inexhaustible number of places and cultures, people really aren’t so different. More and more expats and travelers roaming the globe means, in a way, that the world is shrinking. At the same time, your experience abroad means your own world has expanded beyond your expectations.