We have a romantic view in our minds of what life would be like living in a foreign country, in a “the grass is always greener” way. For some people taking that step to move overseas is an easy decision, for others, it is much harder. And even if the decision to move is easy, adjusting to a new life abroad can be challenging. So is Expat life as it’s cracked up to be?
For me, the decision to move to abroad was a no-brainer, but it didn’t happen overnight. In November 2008 left a great job in a large UK theatre to work a winter season in Austria as a chalet host. Even though it was possibly one of the hardest (and most badly paid) jobs I’d ever had, I discovered that going back to the UK was not what I wanted, so I planned my onward travel with what little money I had left. For the few years that followed, in what I named my “mid-mid-life crisis”, I qualified as a ski and snowboard instructor and spent my time travelling across the hemispheres following the winter. Between each season I’d spend a few weeks back at home in the UK, but apart from seeing my family, each time it felt less and less like it was MY home, where I was supposed to be.
Whilst moving to a new country is incredibly exciting, it’s not one big holiday like some people think it is. Whilst we love living in Austria, here are some of the highs and lows that we’ve experienced moving to a foreign country:
1. Language Barriers
My German has improved tenfold since we moved here four years ago. Sometimes I do find myself in situations, especially when people have really strong accents, where I just get lost. It can also be quite tiring being completely surrounded by a language that is not your own, as even if you understand it, you’ll usually be concentrating hard all the time to make sure you’ve followed everything.
2. You Will Always Be A Foreigner
Trying to set up a life is hard. If you are not a citizen, even buying a mobile phone can prove to be a challenge, let alone renting an apartment. Even though we are both from other Western EU countries, we often got the feeling that we were second-class citizens. I will never forget one ski school we worked for. Although we were some of the only trained instructors (and most experienced) in the ski school, in our first meeting the boss openly said that because we were not Austrians, we would probably not be as good as most of the (unqualified) locals, and would probably need extra training! Needless to say, we proved our worth pretty quickly.
Again, this comes down to language issues, but it’s easily to isolate yourself from other people. When you are travelling you meet lots of people, but then you all move on, and start again in the next place. Especially for me as a quite introverted person, in our first few months here I barely left the apartment. Even now, my closest friends are all people I speak English with. It’s just so much easier to relax and be yourself around people who you communicate easily with.
4. Missing The Most Insignificant Things From Home
Anyone who’s been travelling for a longer period of time will know the feeling when you start to miss some of your home comforts, and although you miss family and friends, it’s often the smallest, most mundane things that you really crave. You are surrounded by all sorts of local foods, but sometimes you just miss the taste of home, like crumpets, gravy and having more than two flavours of crisps to choose from. Cue food parcels of Tesco produce thanks to my amazing mum!
5. Adjusting To A New Pace Of Living
Growing up in the UK, I became used to the getting whatever I wanted, when I wanted. I mean things like Sunday shopping and 24-hour Tesco. Did I often go shopping during those times? No, but I liked having the option there. Switch to moving to a country where shops close for 2-3 hours for a long lunch, banks only open until lunchtime on Fridays, shops close early on Saturdays and everything is closed on Sundays and on bank holidays. It takes a bit of getting used to, and you learn to plan ahead. But I have to say, I love that everything is closed on Sunday’s and national holidays here. It means that you spend time with friends and family and actually do something meaningful with you time, like hiking or skiing.
6. New Cultures and Traditions
Although there are not any really massive cultural differences between the UK, Austria and Holland, there certainly are a few new things that we’ve learned about. It’s great to be able to celebrate your own traditions and also experience lots of new ones. My favourite has to be Saint Nicholas and the Krampus. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you can check out my blog post on it here.
7. People Love To Hear Your Story
In many places around the world, the locals are really proud of where they live. Something I think has become a bit lost in the UK. People around here love to hear our story, and how we came to be living here, and they are often really proud that “us foreigners” have decided to settle in the place that they call home too.
8. You Holiday Days Are No Longer Used For Holidays
Yes, our life is like a holiday, living in such a beautiful location, surrounded by nature and exciting things to do. And believe me, we do make the most of it. But we still have the desire to travel and see other places too, to take a holiday, explore a completely new place, and just get a bit of time out. We also have family and friends back at home that we’d like to visit. So our holiday allowances are split between visiting family in England and Holland, and if there is anything left over, taking a holiday for ourselves too.
Has moving to Austria been challenging? Absolutely, and many days even now it still is. But I love our life here, and all of the good stuff really outweighs the challenges.
Are you living abroad or thinking about moving overseas? What have been your biggest challenges? I’d love to hear from you.