What nobody tells you about living abroad

Cause everyone shares the good pictures, but never the bad ones

Wan Raitelli
May 10, 2019 · 4 min read

How many times have you caught yourself daydreaming about leaving your current life and moving across the world? Just leave everything behind and have a fresh new start somewhere else.

Gotcha.

I have been there too. I can’t really track the number of times I have imagined myself walking through streets somewhere in London, eating food in parks around the Amsterdam, strolling around a beach in Australia or simply having some tea, cozy and warm, in my flat in Berlin.
It feels like you have been preparing for this your whole life. It feels like there’s nothing else you can do but work towards that and count the days for that new life that awaits you, the real life that you deserve.

And then, a couple of years later after all the daydreaming, I am writing this piece seating at a small café, in Cologne, Germany.

The question, after all, is: how does your life change when your dreams become a reality? Is it all pink and roses? Do you suddenly feel happy in a new, unknown environment? What happens to all that you’re leaving behind? Your family? Your friends? Your comfort zone.
I’ve been living in Germany for 6 months now, and believe me that when I was daydreaming, none of those questions ever popped up. The answers are still in the process of being figured out, but let me tell you: these are the things that nobody told you about moving abroad:

  • The journey begins before you think: I thought my trip began when I put afoot on the plane, but the real journey had begun at the time I had acknowledged I was leaving; saving money, doing research about the place, doing that lovely visa paperwork and all that bureaucracy. Moving abroad is a full-time job, so if you decide to do it, start now and take your time.
  • Saying goodbye is hard: even before I had my one-way ticket, my friends and I started to spend more time together. I began to truly enjoy every single minute I had with my family and started visiting places in my city that I had never been to or that I really liked. I made every minute count; not only because I was going far away, but also because I wanted to say goodbye to the place I’d lived in for practically all my life. Something that I am actually working on is accepting the fact that life will go on without you. It might not be a goodbye, but it’s an actually long see you later.
  • Nothing will be as you expected: or maybe yes, but always prepare for the worst. This might sound harsh, but our dreams always idealize the perfect situation and do not take into count things that will happen: nobody told me how difficult learning German was going to be, how hard making friends would be and how lost I would feel in a country and a culture that’s so different to mine. I thought that by traveling, I could leave all those fears aside. But traveling is not moving.
  • You will need to get to know yourself again: as a result of being somewhere new, without many friends or acquaintances, you will spend time alone. Therefore, you need to get comfortable with yourself and get to know who you are and what you are doing in these new surroundings. I feel this is something that I can’t comment much on, as I am still getting to know who I am, today, in Germany, speaking German and living in a situation completely different than any other I could have ever been.
  • You will have to be patient with yourself: as I am writing this sentence, I feel I should follow my own advice: it’s easy to get frustrated because you’re finally out (and far away from) your comfort zone. Adapting to a new place and culture takes time, on occasions, it might require a lot of effort, yet remember: don’t expect to get to your new place and build everything you had in a couple of months. It took me 24 years to build my life in Buenos Aires, I can’t expect that in 6 months I have the same life in Germany.

And a small bonus you might all know: You will miss home. This is no news, but sometimes homesick is more than just a word, it’s you crying every once in a while because you’re not comfortable (yet) with yourself, your situation, your life. Give it time, take a step back and remember why in the first place you wanted this.

Finally, I wish I had a conclusion or a magic recipe to avoid all the above, yet I am still here, at the café, trying to figure out more things that nobody told me about living abroad.

Wan Raitelli is a Freelance illustrator who dictates creativity workshops and creates visual content for selected clients. Subscribe to her monthly online letters, check out her work on her website and follow her in social media @wanraitelli

If you are looking for language partners to improve your foreign language skills you can find one for free at swaplanguage.com. Additionally, you can join our weekly free live Spanish and Danish lessons. Grammar, vocabulary and culture, taught by native speakers.

Swap Language

We write about breaking down cultural and language barriers…

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store