What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Overseas

My good friend Hope, a veteran expatriate, will be sharing her experiences of living abroad. She will be writing about her experience of adjusting to a foreign culture, and how you can encounter difficulties even when you speak the language. Hope is deeply passionate about books and the written word – you can read her blog Bound2Books here.

I’ve lived overseas three times now. Each time has had its varying degrees of ups and downs and yet, despite Switzerland being the third country, things don’t seem to get any easier. In fact, this time around it feels even more daunting, because there is a good chance I will be in here for a while. Moving overseas is the most rewarding thing you can do in your short life, if you ask me. It will change you and help you grow in ways you didn’t know were possible. You will travel, see the world, meet new people, reevaluate your own culture, and check your privileges and understanding of the world around you. So go do it… but be warned. It’s not going to be easy.

While I’m a firm believer of travel and exploring, there are some dark truths about leaving your country, your family, your life, and your loves behind. Here are some that I have found out.

Related: 7 Lessons Expat Life Will Teach You

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1. You are going to be alone. A lot

Love talking to yourself and having conversations with fictional characters from the books you’re reading? Well, then this point won’t affect you. For everyone else, it is going to make you question your existence, your life choices, and your integrity as a person.

Being alone is not always a requisite of moving overseas, but it is 110% a requisite if you move to places like Switzerland or Germany. Regardless of the language barrier, the Swiss, like the Germans and the Austrians, like their space. You won’t find them talking to each other on the streets, chatting with their neighbours, striking up new friendships at a bar. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you will walk through your first 12 months of living abroad thinking “Everybody hates me…”

[bctt tweet=”It isn’t all puppy dogs tails and rainbows. Here are some harsh realities of moving overseas.”]

The Swiss are hard people to get to know. I always think of them as coconuts, if we’re going to use fruit metaphors here. The Swiss will keep you at arms length for a very long time. You’ll try to get closer and you will be met with a harsh wall. It will take a long time, generally, before you can get to know them. I am yet to figure out the exact time this takes, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

Compared to Australians who are much more comfortable with talking more openly with strangers and often make fast friends, Switzerland will make you feel like you are the most unpopular kid on the block. The reality is, it took me at least 18 months before I started to feel ‘normal’ in Switzerland, and before I really made any friends. My husband and I often lament about the good ol’ days where we went to dinner parties and made plans for Saturday night…

I wish there was an easy solution, but it just takes time. If you are in a foreign country, you don’t get home turf advantage. You have to play by local rules, and it’s not always easy.

Related: The Hardest Parts of Expat Life

2. You’ll end up with a split personality

This is a very prevalent issue for me, as someone who uses two languages throughout the day. Between English and German, I am two different people. I consider myself to be a fairly funny and easy going person in English, yet in German I feel a lot more direct. With English, I feel like there are less taboos: I can talk about money with friends, I’ll ask strangers how they are doing. In German, I feel a lot more aware of the things I can and cannot say (some of these have been painfully learned through trial and error).

If this isn’t strange enough for you, the languages you speak will start to blur together. Particularly if your foreign language/s start to take the place of your native language. For people who speak German as a second language, this will result in a strong urge to capitalise all the nouns! ALL OF THEM! It will also result in using the wrong prepositions and German sentence structure in English. Not to mention, that after a while, you will just get plain lazy and start to just throw in German words into your English sentences because you have temporarily forgotten the English one.

If you visit home, or speak with fellow Australians, they’ll often tell you that you don’t sound like an Australian, or in some cases they will even ask you how long you have been learning English (this is extremely depressing and has happened to me before).

3. Your home country will become like a dead relative

This one is tough. I have only been to Australia once since I moved overseas and it’s a strange feeling to think about ‘home’ and to visit it. The day I left Australia, the country froze for me. The people, the places, everything was cast in a perfect glass sculpture. When I would talk about Australia in Switzerland, I eulogised it like a dead relative:


“Australia was such a good country. It was always kind and welcoming. Always with a sunny disposition…”

The Australia you left behind will never come back to you. Even if you return, it will feel like your years away were some sort of coma-like existence, where you could only hear echoes of the life back home.

Related: What I Regret From My Time Spent Living in Sydney

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4. No one will understand your frustrations or hardships

If you have family or friends back in Australia who have never lived abroad, they probably aren’t going to get where your coming from when you start talking about frustrations and hardships. To them, you are living the dream. “How can you be upset? You get to do your shopping in Germany and you live in Switzerland!” they will exclaim. It doesn’t matter that Germany is literally 20 minutes away by train. A lot of people will only see and only want to see that you are having an extended holiday in Europe. They often won’t understand that you have to live there, work there, count calories there. All they will see is adventure, holidays, shopping, fun. If you live in Switzerland, they will think you’ve instantly become a millionaire because the taxes are low and the pay checks are high. Never mind that it can cost 10 AUD for a coffee.

The reality is, some people will get it, and some people won’t. And there is really nothing you can do about it.

5. You’re going to lose people you thought would stay with you your whole life

Out of sight, out of mind. This also rings true for people who move abroad. People are going to forget you. Friends will stop calling, stop writing. Heck, even family will do it. You’re going to have people you thought were your best friends seem to forget you. And sometimes you might be the one doing the forgetting. Either way, you are going to lose people and it is going to hurt. The hard truth is, that sometimes these things are blessings in disguise. I found this to be true when I moved overseas. I had so many toxic people in my life and having them forget me and me forget them was the best thing that happened. On the contrary, there are friendships that I’ve watch slowly crumble away, ones that I really wanted to last and hoped would last. I can tell you, it will hurt like hell. People are busy, and only true friends are going to stick around for the long haul.

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Moving overseas is not going to be easy. You have to take the good with the bad. These are just some of the darker experiences I’ve had while living abroad. And while I hope they don’t scare you from travelling, I do they prepare you for those dark moments and let you know that you’re not the only one.

What are your experiences of living abroad?

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Moving overseas is not going to be easy. You'll be alone a lot, you'll lose friends and you'll pine for home. You'll have to take the bad with the good.

Posted by Hope
July 28, 2015

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leigh - July 4, 2017

All so true! Im a South African expat living in Canada – its been a huge adjustment!

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    LC - July 10, 2017

    Massive! At least it gets easier (in tiny increments sometimes!) as time goes on.

    Reply
Kay - July 11, 2017

The truth of number 4 is probably what made this post bring tears to my eyes….

I’m from the states and am just completing my first year in Switzerland after having multiple other “living abroad” experiences. Switzerland has been the toughest by far. (Even after two years in Germany).

This is all pretty much word for word true of me. The split personality has almost caused an identity crisis causing me to wonder if I’m not the person I thought I was. I’ve started to feel like I don’t really want to be friends with anyone either, which is so incredibly not my “style”.

Anyways, thanks for writing this. I know it’s an old post, but it encouraged me today, I’m not alone. Can you do a part II saying if it gets better? 😀

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    LC - July 13, 2017

    Hi Kay! I’ll answer on behalf of Hope – who is still living in Switzerland (I feel like the two of you should connect!). I will say I found living in the UK hard enough, but Switzerland does sound like something else entirely. I hope it gets easier for you – and I’ll have to ask her if she’d be keen to do a part II one day. 🙂

    Reply
Lesley - August 17, 2017

I totally relate to our homeland being frozen into a perfect ice sculpture. When I went home to Canada after being 2 years in Greece; I expected everything to be as it was. But no. Life went on for those I left behind. I am 14 years out of Canada now (9 years in Greece, 4 years in Ireland and back in Greece one year now) and I am always shocked at how things have changed in Canada when I visit.

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    LC - August 20, 2017

    Things do change so rapidly, which is really quite rude of them! I’m from Sydney and came back after a year and there were whole new buildings in the CBD, which hadn’t been there previously. It was a bit upsetting, truth be told!

    Reply
Lena - August 17, 2017

Very interesting read. I absolutely know the feeling. In my case it is the opposite, I am from Germany and am living in india. Been here for several years now but still having trouble in finding friends. I feel I am much funnier and *social* when speaking German, after all it is my mother tongue. Over here I’m really careful what to say and how or to whom as my humour is quite different from what people over here are used to. Hence many times I just send up saying hardly anything.
I haven’t been to Germany for more than 3 years now and feel lost and lonely sometimes. Not that I really am, as my husband is supporting me and making things easier. Nonetheless it is just not the same.
I guess I could go on and on…. thanks for sharing your story, I could really see a lot of myself in it 😉

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    LC - August 20, 2017

    Hi Lena, thanks for commenting. I found Hope’s experience of harbouring different personalities with each language really interesting (I’m not bilingual so can’t relate!). It makes sense to me that anyone would feel more at home, or themselves when speaking in their native tongue. It’d be hard to have to constantly watch yourself.
    I’m glad the post was helpful – all the best!

    Reply
The Scottish Mrs - September 15, 2018

Thanks for sharing. I am an American living in the UK for the last year. I have noticed that people have their inner circle of friends and it’s been really hard to actually make connections . I feel like I’m a fairly outgoing person but it’s been a really lonely year. And going back to America seems so surreal . Almost like I never lived there. Things change so fast but I wouldn’t take back the experience of moving abroad . Thanks for the stories. It makes things here feel more normal knowing we are all experiencing it.

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    LC - September 18, 2018

    As someone who also lived overseas, I can second that it is a new normal. All the best – LC.

    Reply
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