This is a post that has sat in my “Drafts” folder for a long time. The idea has long been there, but I just haven’t taken the time to really flesh out what I want to say in response to the question, “Should I move abroad?”. It’s a big blob of gray area, and that can be intimidating. However, with the arrival of the New Year and ever more people wanting to move abroad, I wanted to write something more reflective, so let’s do it. I hope it makes us both stop and really think deeply about our choices – whether they be in the past, present, or future.
This post, as so many have, got away from me as I was writing and was getting a little too long. So I’ve split the post into two parts, the next of which I’ll post next week. Come back next week for Part 2, or, better yet, sign up for the Weekly Newsletter! You’ll get my recent posts (and a message from me to my subscribers, and weekly recommendations!) the following Sunday morning in your inbox. I’ve heard my emails go great with a nice cup of coffee to start your day 😉
I got the “travel bug” from my first solo travel trip to Ireland and Germany in 2014. After I got back, I immediately began looking for ways to further and farther. Some time passed, and I moved onto the next stage of the travel bug, thinking about a move abroad. That’s when I began to ask myself this simple question. It’s a question that, I think, many people ask themselves at some point, especially after they’ve been bitten by the travel bug. I also think that too few of us really take the time to contemplate it.
The question is “Should I move abroad?”. As I expect is the case for many people. I had no answer to the “should” part of the question. So, I began looking into if I “could” at first. I evaluated my options and then briefly thought about the “should” part as an afterthought. To be honest – I was pretty dead-set on moving abroad anyway, so more self-reflection on the topic probably wouldn’t have changed my mind. Looking back, I think it would have benefitted me greatly to have seriously considered what I’ll cover in these two posts.
Reasons to Move Abroad
First of all, why? Why do you want to move abroad, really? There are as many reasons for moving abroad as there are people who want to, and possibly more. It’s a very personal topic. However, in answering “Should I move abroad?”, it’s important to think of the actual reasons that you have for moving abroad.
Moving for work and moving for education are probably the two most prevalent methods of getting a visa, but I won’t say they’re the most prevalent reasons for doing so. A lot of the reasons that I had and that I’ve seen others express as well, have to do with more ambiguous feelings and desires. Sometimes people move abroad for love. Some do it to hone their skills with a foreign language, or to acquire some in the first place. Maybe it’s just to experience a change of pace. It might be all three, none, or any combination of completely different reasons. All that matters is that there is a well thought-out, positive, reasoning for taking the leap.
What is a “positive” reasoning? This is terminology that I made just made up, so it’s not perfect. Still, I think it encapsulates a very important factor that can have a huge effect on your experiences abroad. “Positive” describes a reasoning which is aimed towards advancing yourself in some way. It has a goal in mind that can guide you and is, one of, your purposes for moving abroad. What I am trying to emphasize with the usage of “positive”, is the idea that moving abroad should be a means of moving towards something, not away from it. I didn’t run from Chicago or the US to escape some problems I was having professionally, socially, or that I had with the politics or culture. That would be running away, in my case. I had a fine life.
I moved to Germany to become more self-reliant, to put myself out of my own comfort zone of US culture and life. Second, I moved to Germany to learn German and to experience its culture. Finally, I moved to Germany to get my master’s degree, which, incidentally, was the source of my residence permit but not my main reason for moving abroad.
“No matter where you go – there you are.”
This seems to be a sort of truism that’s appeared all around the world from time to time. I have no idea where I first heard it, but apparently, it became well-known from the 80’s cult classic, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonsai Across Eighth Dimension. I haven’t seen the movie, actually, I had barely even heard of it before writing this. Though I’ll be watching it ASAP! This clip I found Googling around for this quote has definitely intrigued me.
It goes back further to some Alcoholics Anonymous literature from the 1930’s, Yogi Berra, and possibly even back to Confucious. Either way, it totally underlines this concept of running towards something instead of running away from something. No matter where you go, when you get there, you’re still you. You don’t magically change when you cross a border or get a residence permit. This is why it’s so important to go somewhere for a positive reason. Go somewhere to do something. Don’t go somewhere to get away. Obviously, for asylum seekers and others in truly terrible situations, going somewhere to get away is a valid reason, more valid than any I’d imagine.
With a positive reason to keep your chin up, the day-to-day and year-to-year struggles of adjusting to the Settlement Curve will be much more bearable when times get tough. Because they certainly can get tough.
Moving Abroad is Difficult…
Believing that the grass is always greener is a common, common problem for those looking to move abroad. The grass can be greener, but it will take blood, sweat, and tears to get it and keep it that way. There are lots of situations many people don’t expect to encounter. Then again, most don’t go through the process of voluntarily reverting yourself to the cultural equivalent of a 5-year-old. When you first move, everything will be a new experience, and everything will be more difficult than it was back home. This will obviously depend on how “different” your new culture is from your home. You’ll find yourself in some pretty unexpected circumstances no matter where you go, though.
In my first months of living in Germany, I had to take time to mentally prepare for each interaction in German. From ordering a buttered pretzel at the subway kiosk to getting my residence permit, I had to take time mentally preparing myself. It’s not just a language problem though. Everyday actions like those I described in this post will make you feel childish and just plain stupid. What is the basic etiquette of eating in restaurants, riding the public transportation, or more difficult, meeting new people? All these kinds of things would be second nature to you at home, but in another country, all bets are off.
Distance can only make the heart so fond.
On top of that, you’ll be physically and emotionally separated from everyone you knew back home. Sure, Skype and online texts and calls have made it much easier to keep in touch, but it’s just not the same. The time difference, depending on where you are, can also make keeping contact with your friends and loved ones difficult. As a result, you’ll probably lose some contact with lots of people whom you didn’t think you would. This doesn’t mean you’ll lose friends, but you can’t be as close as you were. That just has to be part of your choice to move abroad, or not.
You’re probably going to be a little lonely, possibly a little scared, and probably quite often embarrassed at first. And that’s okay.
Stay Tuned for Part 2!
I promise Part 2 next week won’t be such a downer :). It focuses on how a move abroad can be an amazing, fulfilling, and truly life-changing experience, and closes up this little series with a nice neat bow. Make sure to catch it next week!