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Things I Have Learned from Moving Abroad

With Italy being her starting point, InterNations team member Noemi tells us about some of the things she has learned and introduced to her lifestyle after living in England, France, and Germany as an expat.

Spoiled for Choice

I have never thought that life abroad could have such a big impact on my outlook on life and that even some of the little things that I have seen, tasted, or experienced could greatly enrich my everyday life.

One day I was having a Brezel for breakfast — the famous German bread shaped into a twisted knot and also one of my current obsessions — while having a great conversation with my landlord, who eventually became almost like a father to me during my time in Germany. Sharing his thoughts about how great it is to experience life abroad, he wisely said: “Travel introduces you to new ways of doing things. Every day, you wake up and decide what kind of breakfast you want from which country.” That was a very interesting way of putting it and a good metaphor!

Traveling enriches your life and introduces you to new things that you have maybe never thought of. Every day, you can choose what you like to do (or eat), having much more choice than before. Now, here I am with the German Brezel, butter, and jam being my new all-time favorite food to start the day.

Creating Your Own International Menu

As an Italian, I grew up with many untouchable rules related to, of course, food. Drinking cappuccino only for breakfast in the morning is one of the many examples. After living abroad, I came back to the country of espresso breaking many rules, and I can truly say that traveling changed my eating habits.

I now enjoy cappuccino at any time of the day, and I prefer sitting down with a big mug of American coffee, instead of sticking to the Italian coffee culture, that involves standing up at the bar counter while drinking an espresso in three sips. I also cannot drink black tea without pouring some milk into it, even though everyone around me gives me a weird look. This is a habit I picked up while living in England, which always evokes many good memories that I carry with me wherever I go.

There is a never-ending list of dishes that I have adopted — what can I do, I just love food — with Raclette being just one example. This dish, mostly consisting of melted cheese, accompanied by boiled potatoes, salami, and meat, not only takes me back to the beautiful French Haute-Savoie, but it has become my all-time favorite meal to share with friends during a long and cozy winter night.

A Rainy Day Is Not a Wasted Day

Coming from sunny Italy, I wasn’t used to spending time outside on a rainy weekend. I still love being inside and watching a movie on a day like this, but after living in England and walking for hours in my wellington boots (or “wellies”), I have learned to overcome laziness and try a more creative approach to rainy days. Now, I grab my umbrella and enjoy peaceful walks outside or even a little dance in the rain, without caring if my hair gets wet. I understood that if I want to do something that involves being outdoors, the rain shouldn’t stop me. I can make the most out of every day, no matter what the weather is like.

Being Frank, but Still Polite

As a quite reserved person, I have always struggled with sharing my opinions, but traveling and especially experiencing expat life in Germany have taught me that there are times when it is okay to be silent, and times when I have the right to speak up. Learning to be more direct wasn’t easy in the beginning but digging into the German culture kind of forces you to do it: Germans tend to be goal-oriented when communicating and prefer receiving clear and confident answers.

Although I am still trying to be as polite as possible, I became more open, when it comes to say what I like or dislike about a situation, and more honest when sharing my opinion.

Speaking Foreign Languages Enriches Your Life

Have you ever experienced that moment when words in your native language don’t seem to be enough? I cannot count how many times I have started a sentence in my first language and then added words in French or English (still working on my German), because they simply seemed to express a concept better.

Traveling and knowing four languages made me realize how language is key, when it comes to create a connection with others, embrace another culture, and fully understand a different community. On the other hand, meeting someone who speaks Italian (sometimes not even a native speaker) immediately creates a connection and a sense of belonging while living abroad. It is incredible to see how the power of language can break down walls between different cultures.

Valuing Time and Appreciating the Little Things

When you move to another country, especially if it’s for a limited amount of time, you really learn to cherish your time and to make your days count by fully living them.

The Power of Planning

I have never practiced my time management skills as much as while being an expat. From trying to be productive in the evening after work to planning weekend meetups with new friends, getting organized and setting priorities can be hard when jump-starting a new life abroad. However, it can greatly reward you with many opportunities to try new things and explore new places, leaving little room for disappointment and regrets.

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Of course, well planned days are important, but there is nothing better than the little unexpected things that can brighten up your days. Traveling taught me that everyday has something unique that can be found in the small things, whether it was having a quick conversation with a friendly waitress in a new cozy coffee shop on my way home, or running in the countryside fields just to reach a beautiful spot to see the sunset.

With Great Effort Comes Great Reward

Expat life is filled with fantastic opportunities, but also with big challenges. From getting lost or feeling homesick, to struggling with making friends or learning the local language, moving abroad and mastering a new lifestyle can be tough. But, after all your effort, you will be rewarded with fulfillment and new strength.

During my very first experience abroad as an expat, in England, I understood that what I had learned from schoolbooks wasn’t enough to fully immerse myself in the local culture. I had to put my language skills to the test for the first time and force myself to speak the local language. After feeling uncomfortable, making mistakes of all kinds, and misunderstanding questions for weeks, being able to speak with confidence was so gratifying. The biggest reward was being able to completely follow and participate in conversations with locals and even receiving compliments on my language skills.

Another difficulty that I had to face regarded building my own network. While in Germany, living outside the city came with the price of always having to leave earlier than anybody else during a night out, because of the limited train and bus connections that could bring me back home. I shortly realized that I needed to make an effort and choose between simply staying home or trying to meet people that live far from me, even just for a couple of hours.

Leaving what is familiar and jumping into a brand-new world comes with its own challenges and expats know this very well. But every new start, every new person, every new culture we experience leave a mark and enrich our life with lessons that we will never forget.

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