After going through the process of moving to a new country a few times, I started to notice some patterns in my experiences.
If you are thinking about working abroad or just moving to another country, the following stages can provide you with some insight into what to expect. My advice? Stick out the challenges of each stage. With a little time and an open mind, your time abroad will definitely pay off.
1. The ‘Fresh off the Plane’ Stage
The first few days in a new country are some of the best because everything feels like an adventure. They can also be some of the most challenging as this is about the time you realize that literally everything is in a different language, even the road signs.
I had many experiences during this stage when I was living in Korea where I would just point blindly at a menu before I learnt the words for kimbap or kimchi jiggae – two of my favorite Korean meals. Until then, Google Translate is your best friend at this stage in the game, along with Google Maps. I would also recommend downloading some kind of currency converter until you get used to your new dollars (or pesos, or won).
2. The ‘Honeymoon’ Stage
This is the time when everything is bathed in a glow of new experience. Nothing can bother you. Your apartment is the size of a shoebox? New experience. No stores will accept your bank card? New experience. You discover your shampoo exploded in your suitcase? Experience.
At this stage nothing can take away from the excitement of living in a new country. Things that would normally frustrate you just feel like you’re making memories. Like when I forgot to get off the subway in Seoul and ended up on a non-stop journey to the airport. Or when my Google Maps kept telling me I was in the middle of the Han River no matter where I went in the city.
Challenging experiences tend to be funnier during this stage. While it may not last forever, if you keep your sense of humor throughout the coming months you will have a way better experience.
A great thing to do during this stage is write down all of the things that you love about your new city. This could be cafes you tried, local dishes you liked or cute places that you want to visit again. It could even be moments where you feel really successful, like the first time you successfully navigated public transport or ordered your dinner in the local language.
Having reminders of all these small victories will make persevering through the next stage way easier. Plus, it will make it easier to reflect on your travels should you ever want to start your own blog.
3. The ‘Rude Awakening’ Stage
This is when the honeymoon glow starts to fade a little and you get a feel for the more challenging side of living abroad.
For me, this stage usually coincides with attempting mundane tasks like trying to set up my new phone number or a new bank account. These would be small struggles at home but they are exacerbated by a different language and culture. Being flexible and open to adapting is the key to surviving this stage.
Despite the challenges, there is a huge silver lining here – it means that you’re going through the motions of making your new location feel like home. Nobody said it would be easy but my advice is to stay positive and keep reminding yourself of why you chose to move in the first place. Soon you’ll be out the other side and walking around like a local!
4. The ‘Feels Like Home’ Stage
At this stage you have a favorite mart and the nearby café owner knows your order. You’ve gotten into a rhythm and more importantly, a good support network of people you trust or enjoy spending time with. You no longer need Google Translate when ordering food, although it does get taken out during conversations at bars.
This is possibly my favorite stage because it shows that you’ve stuck it out long enough to feel comfortable. While it may not be easy getting here, it’s a great feeling to know that you’ve made a second home.
For me, a key part of getting to this stage is making my apartment feel like home. Having a cozy, familiar space to come home to is so important. Plus, hosting dinner parties and games nights is a great way to make memories.
Some bonus tips to get to this stage:
I have always believed that it’s the people who make a place feel like home. Connecting with others is super important if you plan to put down your roots but it can be hard overseas. Have a look around your area for churches, community centers or sports clubs or have a look online at expat Facebook pages. They are usually a hub of information and upcoming events for other expats.
If you’re feeling brave, why not ask your work colleagues out for coffee? From my own experience I can say that my life abroad got way more interesting once I got the guts to chat with new people.
My final piece of advice for this stage is to simply say ‘yes’. I would never have been able to call Cambodia or Korea home if I hadn’t said yes to people’s offers of dinners or outings. I have also found that connecting with locals or long-term expats led to heaps of adventures I would never have discovered on my own.
5. The ‘Time to Move on’ Stage
Whether it’s the end of your contract or you have simply set your sights on something new, there always comes a time to leave (unless of course you’ve fallen in love with your new home and have chosen to stay forever).
For most of us though, this is the stage where we begin planning our next adventure and prepare to say goodbye. Maybe you have a job in another country, or maybe you are just ready to return home. Whatever the reason, only you can determine when it’s time to move on.
This stage could also be referred to as ‘the beginning of the end’, but that sounds a little too serious. After all, you can always come back to visit or even live there again. Moving on doesn’t have to be a sad ordeal, but it is good to give yourself room and time to say goodbye. The next few steps deal with some healthy (and unhealthy) ways of doing this.
6. The ‘I Have to do Everything’ Stage
Speaking from personal experience, about a month before I’m set to leave a place I end up going nuts trying to do everything I have missed.
This could be visiting places I didn’t have time to, or attempting to eat at all of my favorite places one more time. I do not recommend this process! Sure, it’s a great idea to visit some places on your bucket list and definitely get that one last Korean BBQ before you go. But I have found that filling my final month up with activities usually means I miss spending time with my close friends.
Instead of trying to do everything the country has on offer, try choosing one or two really amazing things and then invite your closest friends to join you. This way you’ll end up making memories and ticking a few more things off your bucket list!
7. The ‘Fond Farewell’ Stage
During my time in Korea I heard a few stories about teachers who became so stressed or overwhelmed in their jobs that they simply up and left during the middle of the night. Hearing these stories always made me feel so sad for them. I believe that the way you leave a place is just as important as the time you spent there. Taking time to say a proper farewell is so important, as is making sure that you finish your job well. Remember, you never know whether you might want to return one day.
This is also a great time to go back and look at all those things you wrote during the honeymoon stage. My journal entries are usually super irregular but I am so glad I took the time to jot down a few favorite moments throughout the year. This is the time to reflect on all you have learnt, the people you have met and the incredible job you have done. Oh, and also the time to load up on snacks and gifts for your family and friends back home!
Living abroad isn’t easy, but it is super rewarding. Each of these stages have their challenges but I guarantee the silver lining is there if you look for it. Your experiences will be similar to mine in some ways, and very different in others. Wherever you end up, I hope that your time abroad is everything you imagined it to be and more!