When I decided to move to Sweden, I really didn’t think of the consequences that I would have to live with. Reality checked in two months when I settled in. Things were not getting better, things were changing. One way or the other, like the cat I am I landed on my feet and made the best out of it. I learn and I’m still learning lessons that I think I should share with anyone living or planning to live abroad in the future.
1. Home is where the heart is
When you move abroad, you will join a special club: You will have two addresses, two languages, and two currencies in your wallet. Let’s not go as far as to say that you’ll have two personalities, but you will definitely always be part of two worlds – your old and your new home. The two worlds will probably become more and more of a blur over time, but there will most likely always be mail sent to your parents’ house or a bunch of boxes stored in a friend’s basement.
2. Care packages start to mean a lot
Even though we can order almost anything online these days, getting a care package (a box of treats from back home) is better than perfect hair on your birthday. Of course, everything in said package will taste a gazillion times better than fellow food that hasn’t traveled the world. At this point, you will also have to choose a care-package strategy: You either devour it all at once and leave no traces behind, or your become a master rationer who works magic with the expiration dates to make everything last for as long as possible.
3. Goodbyes get easier (sort of)
Even though hardly anyone is good at putting the good back into goodbye, farewells do get a little easier over time. Maybe it’s because you know that you can go home and curl up on a couch that smells familiar – no matter where you travel to and from. Maybe you’ve also found a way to temporarily turn off all emotional organs, and you know that after a goodbye there’s always a hello.
4. Friendships intensify
Moving away and putting a large body of water or land between you and people you care about is hard. You will quickly learn who goes out of the way to stay in touch or uses their vacation days to come visit. There will be people who distance themselves, others will come closer. It’s basically a sentimental version of going through your clothes and trying to figure out what you want to keep and what you have outgrown.
5. Challenges look different
Sure, living by the ocean is amazing. But you will still have to pay bills, fix clogged toilets, and recover from a nasty cold. Just because you live in another country – that may or may not look like paradise – doesn’t mean your problems will stay away and everything’s gonna be a walk in the park (or the beach). The honeymoon phase will end – always, and no matter where you are. Even though your friends may envy you for your life abroad, they might not realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
6. Guilt lingers
Remember your mom’s face when she learned that you can’t make it home for Sunday night dinner, but you promised to come by the week after? Now, imagine this face when you’re trying to explain that you’re not coming home for Christmas because you couldn’t get time off (or because that roadtrip with friends was just impossible to say no to). Oh, and you probably won’t have time for a visit until the summer after. There’s going to be guilt trips (no pun intended) – and you will have to focus on quality instead of quantity.
7. The show goes on (with or without you)
Tough love: Exciting things will happen without you – friends will get married, babies will be born, and legendary parties will be thrown. You’ll probably miss a whole lot of it and only catch selected moments on social media. It’s really hard to accept, but – and it may or may not be a silver lining – it will be the same for your friends who miss out on all the amazingness in your life.
8. You see home in a whole new light
You might have moved abroad because of the weather or the crowded/boring streets. However, if you explain to people from another country where you live, your photos or descriptions are usually met with fascination and interest. Getting this outside perspective can give you a whole new appreciation for those streets back home and the nasty weather you normally complain about. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and possibly more patriotic – especially when you’re cheering on your country even though you don’t even like (insert sport of choice here).
9. You start doing as the locals do
Little by little, you will become a local. Eventually, you will know when to go to the market for the best deals, you’ll find a coffee shop where they know what you want before you even order, and passionately discuss local elections on the bus. Even though you will probably never become as local as someone who grew up in your new home, you will assimilate and catch yourself “doing as the locals do” – being part of a new culture is a pretty awesome feeling.
10. Home? Home!
It becomes hard to answer the question where your home is, as it usually involves a lengthy explanation (see point 1.). Sometimes, it really is where the heart is. Sometimes, it’s where you spent your childhood or where you lived during an important life event. For me, home is where my laptop is and where the Wi-Fi connects automatically.