What Does Living Abroad Teach You? 7 Lessons From Expat Life

expat life lessons
Life as an expat can be pretty darn chaotic – just like London traffic!

There are things you don’t think about when you move abroad.

You’re sort of in a state of chaos, packing things up, organising transport, selling stuff off. Resigning from one job, looking for another, or organising your study plans for your new city and new life.

There’s usually no time to dwell on the you that you’re leaving behind. The ‘you’ as you once were. As expat life changes you, to the point where that person, that version of you can become to seem unrecognisable.

I spent a few years living abroad and it wasn’t until I’d been back in my home country for a couple of years, that I realised how much the experience had changed me.

Although I still consider myself to be a fatally flawed person because hey – we all are – I do believe that living life as an expat changed me for the better.

What does living abroad teach you? Well, here are some life lessons I learned from living overseas. Do any of them apply to you?

what does living abroad teach you?
Nobbys Beach in Newcastle, Australia – once home.

1. To be grateful for your roots

That saying of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” is SO TRUE IN THIS PARTICULAR CONTEXT.

For me, it was realising just have many things I took for granted in Australia.

The weather, which is nice for most of the year (not summer). The food which is fresh and yummy.

The safety of living in a place that is pretty far removed from the rest of the world.

Countries worldwide are burning, but here in Australia you feel like you’re watching it from a distance. Except you’re also burning a bit, because of the sun.

Your cultural identity really makes up a huge part of who you are and I didn’t realise that until I threw myself into situations where I didn’t have that factor of myself to readily fall back onto.

Although I think patriotism can be oh so dangerous – I’m proud of where I come from. I probably never would have felt that way, had I not distanced myself from the place for three years.

2. You learn to appreciate the friendships you do have and let go of the ones that don’t serve you

Oh man, this was a hard lesson to learn.

I moved around Australia a fair bit in my youth and got used to losing old friends and making new ones.

Yet, it gets harder and harder to make friends as you get older.

And there were certain friendships I was involved with in Australia that I knew wouldn’t stand the test of distance. Sadly, in many cases, I was proved completely right.

Moving overseas also gave me a bit of perspective of some of the people who were in my social circle and had been for quite some time… but had no right to be there, whatsoever.

It was really hard to let some of these friendships go, but at the end of the day, you’re better off not having toxic people in your life. Friendship is a two way street and once the balance is lost, the relationship is along with it.

[bctt tweet=”Here are 7 lessons you will learn from life as an expat, like being comfortable in your own skin. #ExpatLife”]

On the flip side, I came back to Australia with several new friendships (notably with other expats) that never would have happened, had I not taken the plunge and made the move. So, screw it. Just remember the good times had with friends of old and look forward to the times you’re sure to have with the new people in your life.

expat life lessons
Beyond caring in Doha.

3. You start to feel comfortable in your own skin

Do you have an image in your head of “that person” you’re going to be, one day when you FINALLY get your act together?

She or he probably rises at dawn, is fit as a fiddle, reads a lot, plays a musical instrument, has actual savings in the bank, etc, etc – you get my drift.

When I moved overseas, I sort of realised that that was never actually going to happen and lol for even thinking it might.

Maybe this is something that has come hand in hand with age, as well as with perspective.

I actually like myself a lot more, for having moved overseas. At home now, I feel way more comfortable with the type of person I am and I know who I want to be.

I came back 15 kilograms heavier, but comfortable with how I looked. I came home with less money in the bank, but with a greater perspective for what I actually wanted to do with my life.

This wasn’t an instant acceptance, in that I spent some time wondering if I’d made a mistake in moving overseas. Yet, over time, it became apparent that it was the right decision, for these reasons.

In a way, life as an expat will open your eyes to what’s important in life. You don’t sweat the small stuff so much and learn how to be grateful instead, for what you have.

4. You learn to appreciate your body

When you’re living overseas, it’s easy to let your health fall to wayside.

You’re probably working weird jobs, or not yet sleeping properly. Moving is stressful and that can affect your health.

You could be travelling a lot, unable to properly form healthy habits, like having a regular exercise program, or cooking good meals at home.

All in all, it’s easy to let your health fall to the wayside, while you get organised. And once you’re out of your routine, it can be hard to break back into it.

I know I let my health fall to the wayside. I was a gym bunny in Australia, but in London I failed to find a gym I liked.

I felt myself get woefully out of shape, to the point where I was out of breath, walking up the Tube escalator.

It didn’t take too long to spring back into shape when I got home and I find more joy in exercise and healthy eating these days. It’s no longer a form of “punishment” or something I just have to do.

I do it because I want to do it. My body serves me well and it deserves to be taken care of.

It might be one of those realisations that comes with age, but I think life overseas was largely to blame.

expat life lessons
Certainly learned to live in the moment in Iceland.

5. You start to live in the moment

Expat life truly does teach you to live in the moment.

Especially as this kind of life generally consists of many great highs and equally as powerful lows. They can be tough to deal with, but the moment often draws you in tightly and won’t let go.

I had many beautiful moments as an expat, that made me feel so lucky and grateful to be alive.

I also had moments that were exceptionally hard to deal with – but I feel they were good for me in the long run.

Now that I’m home in Australia, I remember how much I missed being here and hold on to each and every moment I have – whether that be with friends or family, engaging with nature, or simply just being.

6. You learn you can weather the bad

People tend to wax lyrical about the joys of expat life.

Oh, it’s a great adventure!

It’ll make you a better person!

You’ll appreciate what you have more!

(I do realise that I mentioned most of these points in this post).

However, this is largely misleading, as moving overseas is not an easy thing to do.

The first time I moved overseas was a breeze, as I had a job and accommodation lined up. I just had to make some friends!

The second time, a move to London, was much more difficult.

I spent the first six weeks there, living in a relative’s house out west, freaking out about the rate at which my Aussie dollars were burning out and feeling despondent over the constant work-related rejections.

Combine that with my first English winter… Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed.

It was hard at the time but I’m glad I went through it – it taught me how to hustle and was also the moment that prompted me to finally start this blog!

There were many good times to come after the bad. I don’t think I would have appreciated the highs of life overseas – life in general, if I hadn’t sunk so slow to begin with.

expat life lessons
Spending quality time with my dog is so important.

7. You realise what’s important in life

Ah, here’s the biggest lesson that I’m most grateful to have learnt.

Living overseas taught me what was important in life.

My family. The friends who kept in touch and have welcomed me back with open arms. My relationship. My dog. The environment. Books. Having a good life, one that you can look back on, sigh and say “What a ride!”.

I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t moved overseas – but I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now.

And as much as I love being home, if I had the opportunity to live overseas again, I’d probably do it in a heartbeat, whilst armed with the knowledge that I can always come back home to Australia. People in my position are incredibly privileged, as not everyone is in this same position.

My greatest fear in life has always been “what ifs?”. I don’t want to look back and ask myself “What if I had done x or y or z?” I want to do it. And even if it ends up being the worst decision I could have made… at least I’m not left wondering what could have been.

So what does living abroad teach you? Quite a lot, it seems! Have you ever been an expat? What did you take away from the experience?

Further Reading

Which is Harder – Moving Abroad or Coming Home?
The Downsides of Moving to the City of Your Dreams
What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Overseas
How to Survive Christmas as an Expat
13 Things That Happen When You Move to Melbourne

Pin me baby, one more time.

How to live in the moment, weather the bad and be comfortable in your own skin. Here are seven lessons expat life will teach you. / Living Abroad / Moving Overseas / #ExpatLife / #Expat /

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  1. I’ve never lived the ex-pat life, but these are such good lessons. I think any sort of travel can really help you appreciate your roots, and even my weekend city breaks make me feel often that I am not prioritising my health. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice post LC and I completely get you as I and my family have been living as expats for the past 17 years (pushing 18!). There are plenty of struggles but we are grateful for the experience, the new found friendships, and blessings we get along the way.

  3. I have never been an expat but thanks for sharing these good lessons. It’s good that you appreciate things in life may it be big or small.

  4. I relate to this in so many ways. I am also an expat, South African living in the US. You are so right about missing that frame of reference culturally when you are plucked out of it – its a hard feeling to get used to. And the friend thing, ugh, and the learning to be yourself! So much truth in this

    1. Yes, it is so confusing when the cultures are similar! I think I’d find US as confusing as British too, due to growing up reading their books and watching their films/TV shows.

  5. I’ve definitely thought about being an expat a million times but somehow always come up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t do it. This article is awesome, thanks so much for sharing these lessons with us!

  6. I’m from South Africa and I lived in Istanbul for a year now I’m moving to Seattle and I loved this as I can totally relate. Thanks for sharing

  7. I have only lived abroad during the summer season, but I can really identify with some of your points. This is a great article and love the picture of your dog he is such a cutie 😉

  8. Love! I share very similar sentiments, and most of all is appreciating and feeling comfortable in my own skin. As well as living in the moment. When I was a much younger traveler, I kept on having issues with “ah! I should have done that when I had the chance, now I can’t.” As an adult, the minute I see the opportunity, I grab onto it and cherish every moment of it. time moves fast and is very fickle. the biggest of all that I appreciate is your friendship bit. I relate so much to it, and that has become so much of my way of life. Cut out the bad ones, and cherish the ones that cherish you too.

    1. Yeah, the living in the moment is tough and yes, what the hell time, where are you going? Sometimes I think I’ll blink and my life will be over – how morbid a thought is that?! That’s why you should make the most of it, I guess!

  9. I have never experienced the expat life but this for sure is of interest for me. I know that it is sometimes hard to live the expat, but once you get the hang out of it, it will be rewarding in the end. 🙂

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