6 life lessons I’ve learn after 6 months living abroad
Six months ago I took a giant leap of faith and moved from one side of the world to the other. The first month living in London was a blur of chaos, confusion and homesickness and the last month has been a celebration of bravery and acceptance (pale skin and Vitamin D supplements are not the enemy after all).
Planning a major life move is one thing but actually going through with it and maintaining your sanity during the transition is a whole different story!
Here are the top 6 things I have learnt in my first 6 months abroad (warts and all).
Lesson #1: It’s okay to feel sad in the beginning
Some people see moving abroad as giving up the mundane to take a permanent holiday. Newsflash: moving to a new country is nothing like taking a holiday, in fact sometimes I dream about going back to home for a holiday because holiday equals relaxing and there is nothing relaxing about having to find a house, a job and your way around as soon as you step off the plane in a new country.
For the first month after my move to London I experienced a lot of “sad” days. At first, I was annoyed at myself for feeling this way because I was finally “living the dream” but the reality is: everyone deals with change differently. The sudden influx of change that I experienced at the beginning took a toll on my mental well-being while jetlag played havoc with my body. I wish I had been a little more patient with myself, after all I had just moved half way around the world!
All you need to know is that these random feelings of sadness, loneliness and numbness will pass, you’ve just got to give yourself time to adjust as it certainly won’t happen overnight!
Lesson #2: You’ll get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and asking “stupid” questions
“Hello, I don’t know how to get home. Can you help me?” – Me to the pissed-off woman at the train station service counter.
“Hello, I need to put my money somewhere other than in a sock under my bed” – Me to a bank manager of a funny English bank that I had never heard of before.
“Hello, can you please make some alterations to my pants?” – Oh, you don’t call pants, “pants” here, you call them trousers and pants actually mean undies, well that’s embarrassing.
I’m not a big fan of asking questions, especially questions that I know are going to warrant a judgemental look from a stranger. Some of the conversations I’ve had to have here have been downright elementary, however, it’s better to ask the question than to walk around commenting on how much you love a colleague’s pants.
Lesson #3: Finding a job in a different country can be really tough
The best thing you can do is start putting in the ground work before you move. Find out as much as possible about the industry you want to work in and start meeting recruiters as soon as you arrive. Ask your recruiter for a template CV as every country is different, update your LinkedIn profile and attend networking events regularly. Some people land the first job they apply for while most of us have to stick it out past the breaking point. 2-6 week is the average time it takes to land a job in London. My biggest tip is to not rule out contract or temporary positions as they can lead to full-time jobs! While it might be hard to get your foot in the door, working in a different country will give you a professional edge in the long run.
Lesson #4: Establishing a routine is key to your sanity
…And rolling out of the pub every morning at 4 am does not constitute a routine!
Every day I wake up at 6:30 and make myself a cup of coffee, for 15 minutes I gaze out the window and watch the street cleaners and the early risers. At 7:30 am I walk to work, giving a nod to the squirrels and foxes I see along the way. I do my washing on Sunday and eat a tub of Ben & Jerrys every other day. The point is, my day-to- day routine hasn’t changed much! In fact, the only difference is that I now walk through the Portobello Market to work in gloves and a winter coat instead of the Sunny stroll I used to take in Sydney. Having a daily routine is paramount to finding balance and feeling grounded in a new environment.
Lesson #5: You’ll appreciate those little wins more than ever before
Buying a train ticket, working out the pence from the pennies, getting somewhere (anywhere) without getting lost. These are all the little wins that you will come to celebrate every single day.
In fact, just yesterday I managed to walk from my apartment to work in Paddington without slipping over on the frosty sidewalk which is quite an achievement considering the first time I fell on my bottom I thought I’d slipped on someone’s spilt slushy!
Oh, the learnings never end. Which leads me to my final lesson….
Lesson #6: You will learn more about yourself in 6 months than an entire decade in your comfort zone.
Moving abroad is not for the faint-hearted. There will be times when you’ll feel terribly alone but for the most part, you’ll be too busy overcoming cultural barriers, discovering new traditions and kicking goals to notice exactly how far you’ve come.
Nothing beats walking through Piccadilly Circus not as a lost tourist but with a sense of awareness and purpose, perhaps on your way to a high profile business meeting or just to meet your new girlfriends for brunch at a fabulous restaurant.
That is the moment when you can fist pump the air and say “I bloody did it!”