Living abroad is a unique lifestyle choice that comes with all sorts of ups and downs. The easy aspects of being a jet setting expat are well-documented all over the internet. However, living abroad is nowhere as easy as many, including myself at times, make it out to be. It’s time to discuss the things no one tells you about living abroad through my own mistakes, challenges, and embarrassments.
- Forgetting The Laws Of Your Native Country: Coming back to the states for the summer was a strange transition. This can easily be summarised on my first night back. Back in May, I had just arrived in Boston from Lisbon, Portugal less than two hours ago, and my family was celebrating my brother’s graduation with wine. We had to leave to go to dinner, and, conveniently forgetting that it’s illegal to publicly drink in the states, I took a glass of wine with me to drink it on the way. My entire family looked at me, bewildered, and I nonchalantly asked them, “what’s wrong?” They then had to frantically remind me that “I wasn’t in Europe anymore.” Basically, I ended up chugging a glass of wine in a 20-second elevator ride.
- Almost Driving On The Wrong Side: When I came back for Christmas, I hadn’t driven in six months. It’s also a well-known fact that the UK drives on the left. I then made the wise decision to drive for the first time in 6 months in the middle of Santa Monica at rush hour. After backing my car out, I almost started driving on the left…in the states. I then quickly checked myself and allowed my brother and I to survive another day…until I come back this Christmas.
- Family and Homesickness: Living so far from everyone you love is really hard! This is a given, but especially when you’re a 19-year-old university student who barely knows how to function in the real world, being thousands of miles away from family adds a new layer of difficulty to daily life. There will be the smallest, most mundane things you encounter that’ll make you homesick. For example, one time, I saw a Boston Terrier here in Edinburgh; a wave of lonlieness then engulfed me because I realised I had not seen my family and dogs in 6 months.
- Missing Out: If you decide to live abroad, know that you’re going to miss birthdays, weddings, and key events in the lives of those you’re close to. I’ve missed my both my parents’ birthdays, the birth of a cousin, graduations, and more. Missing core events of my direct family gives me a sense of feeling left out.
- Emergencies: There is nothing harder than not being able to be with family in the event of an emergency. Just a few days ago, my boxer, Max, had to be put down because he had cancer. It was heartbreaking, to say the least, to not comfort him in his final moments. I couldn’t just drop $600, hop on a plane, and fly almost 7 hours to see my dog. This was by far the hardest moment of living abroad. It was the only time I reconsidered living abroad in the event of another loss.
- Assimilation: No matter how long you live in another country, 9 out of 10 times you’ll never fully assimilate into your new home. Even if I pick up a Scottish accent and live here for 20 years, I’m always going to be the expat or “the kind-of-Scottish-guy-but-not-really.” I’ll never understand this country like a native does, but I’ve come to peace with it. On the bright side, my origins make for interesting conversation.
- Briefly Forgetting How To Speak Your Native Language: I had just come back from a five-month stint of living in Florence, Italy. At this point, I was speaking, dreaming, and thinking exclusively in Italian. As soon as I land back in LA, my brother and I go to an In N Out drive-thru. I try to order my burger but I started ordering it in Italian. I stop myself and start again in English….except my brain totally blanked on how to order food in my native language. It was more or less like this:
“Ciao! Vorrei una…wait.. sorry can I get uh..um one burger con ketchup e mustard…umm…e una..one Arnold Palmer”
I eventually powered through it, confidently signing off with a grazie. I couldn’t bring myself to go back for a few weeks.
- Lost in Translation: In Italian, there are two words for “excited.” Thinking they were interchangeable, I exclaimed to a friend that “sono eccitato per il disco!” Why was my friend blushing at my harmless excitement? Turns out, eccitato is often used in a sexual connotation. Of course. He then advised me to use emozionato instead. I read somewhere that both words are slowly becoming interchangeable. But for now, it’s best to avoid sending mixed messages.
What are some things you didn’t know about living far from home until you did it? Let me know in the comments below!