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14 Things Only People Who Have Worked Overseas Can Understand

14 Things Only People Who Have Worked Overseas Can Understand

Some two and a half years ago, I decided to make a bold decision and follow my partner to the far away land of art, cheese, and fine wine — France. He had just landed a five-year work contract there. While a long-distance relationship did take place at first, eventually I decided to sort out all the loose ends at home, pack up my entire life into two suitcases, and move to another country for an indefinite period of time.

While I did have my fair share of the “expat blues,” cultural faux pas, and difficulties with navigating the paperwork, in the long-run, moving overseas and starting a job abroad proved to be a tremendously positive life experience.

As an expat, you are likely to encounter numerous misconceptions and false assumptions about your lifestyle that people back at home make. Additionally, you are likely to deal with a number of odd questions from the new acquaintances you’ll soon meet in your newly adopted homeland. If you have ever worked or lived overseas, I’m pretty sure you can relate to the following 15 things!

1. We do not automatically become fluent in another language

A lot of people assume that changing your geographic location serves as a super-booster to your language learning skills. The truth is, it doesn’t. You don’t wake up on the next day after your arrival, go to the grocery store, and start casual chit-chatting with a cashier. Even if you have spent months studying the language back at home, you won’t magically become fluent from day one. Language adoption takes time and has a number of factors that play into a person’s level of fluency. In fact, asking us why we are fluent already most likely will make us feel embarrassed, as we haven’t yet reached our desired level of proficiency.

2. We are not “lucky” or “blessed”

It may seem that we are now living in a better country with amazing job prospects and sun 365 days per year judging by our Instagram or Facebook feed, but that’s not 100% true. In fact, finding a job and sorting out all the moving stuff and paperwork requires anything but luck. It’s more like hard work, persistence, and tremendous dedication to making things work that plays a major part.

Anyone can choose to work and play where we are now. For some reason, most people decide not to make the leap of faith and put effort into the potential prospects elsewhere (and there are always opportunities available for those who seek them).

It’s not that we were “lucky” or “blessed” to get that opportunity and you didn’t. It’s just the fact that we played hard to get it and you’ve chosen not to.

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3. We do miss our friends and lose contacts

The friendships you establish abroad as an adult cannot be compared to those nurtured for years at home. When you first move, you are likely to miss all the little things — like being part of the annoying gossip at the water cooler in your old office, not to mention more strong bonds like you had with your college mates and childhood friends.

While working aboard, you will inevitably miss friends’ weddings, will have to decline invitations to college anniversary meetups, and miss out on other social gatherings you would have gladly attended.

While scrolling my Facebook feed, I still feel really sad when I see yet another close friend getting married, or my old gang having great times together on a night out, without me. Sadly, the price you have to pay for your decision is losing some important social ties and missing out on important events like your nephew’s graduation or your BFF’s son’s christening.

4. We have bad days too

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    Another shocker — moving abroad does not automatically solve all your life problems. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns.

    Some days, we lash out aggressively on social media about the officials losing our carefully gathered, 40-page-long personal dossier, or the incorrect spelling on our credit card — and then being asking to pay on top for the issuing of a new card. Or not knowing where the nearest grocery store is and walking five blocks in the wrong direction in search for food for breakfast.

    When you write back with things like: “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. You are living in France/on the beach/in the most beautiful place on Earth. It can’t be that bad,” you are not winning our affections.

    Yes, the weather might be better and my new place might be gorgeous. Or perhaps the cost of living is cheaper, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with the same routine and problems that you face at home.

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    5. We don’t make instant connections with the locals

    Making friends as an adult expat in a non-English speaking country isn’t as easy as you may think. You don’t just walk into a bar and make everyone instantly attracted to you by speaking a few local words with your foreign accent.

    Yes, you have the new coworkers who may eventually invite you out for beers in a month, or three, or a year (depending on the host country’s social culture). In fact, you are likely to act odd (and foreign) enough to scare off some potential buddies by breaking the informal cultural rules like trying to hug someone instead of doing cheek kisses (faire la bise) in France. Also, don’t assume everyone hates you or is acting rude because they don’t smile back, like in Russia, for instance.

    Making local friends abroad isn’t as easy as one might think. Most often, new transplants tend to mingle with other expats mostly — and there’s nothing bad about that.

    6. We feel extremely lonely at times

    Yes, living abroad can be marvelous. And yes, it can get extremely lonely on some days too. Sometimes, we think that no one back at home understands our true woes and life challenges. However, a lot of other people travel long term and work abroad. Maybe they are not facing the same problems as you, but they know exactly how you feel. Try connecting with other expats through Facebook groups or expat forums to help you beat the initial blues.

    7. We know that routines can become huge challenges

    Remember your first trip to the local grocery store? For me, that was a total disaster. I had my usual shopping list in mind, yet when I arrived to the store things went slightly amiss. I couldn’t find a lot of the usual brands I buy, and if I did, those things cost a small fortune. I had zero idea of how the local brands would actually taste and simply had to guess. Also, I had no idea what some goods were called in French, thus could neither locate them on the shelves, nor ask an assistant to guide me to the right direction. My trips to the supermarket would take two hours instead of the usual 30 minutes — even for minor shopping.

    Next, figuring out things around your neighborhood will take time too. Where’s the closest corner store, where I can grab some forgotten items from my shopping list? And the pharmacy? And the bakery? What are the working hours? Do they close for lunch? And don’t get me started on figuring out the go-to coffee/lunch/shopping locations in a new city.

    If I could give one piece of advice to my past self, it would be to do your home base research in advance! Post questions in expat groups, browse Foursquare or Yelp or any local alternative if you don’t want to spend two hours running around the neighborhood in search of tea on the day you arrive.

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    8. We can get ill too, and that’s 100 times worse than at home

    Getting seriously ill sucks, but when you are ill abroad, multiply the “sucks” factor by ten. You need to have a good command of language if you want to visit the doctor (in the case that you already have your health insurance stuff figured out). You can’t get a lot of drugs without a prescription abroad, and even if you do, you still need to explain what’s your problem and you may not be able to ask for your usual drugs as they can go under a different brand name. If you need to stay at home, there’s no one to look after you or bring you comforting soup. When you are ill abroad, all you can feel is tremendous self-pity. Don’t make it worse by writing something like: “How did you manage to get a cold in such a warm place?!”

    9. We hate when our loved ones get sick or in trouble at home

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      You know what being desperate is? It’s when your loved one is in trouble and you are miles away with no chance of being next to them in the next few months.

      Sometimes, your phone rings during an odd hour and you know it’s going to be nothing good. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to some of my good expat friends. And when you hear the news is bad, the worst thing is that you can do nothing about it. Just wait and see how it goes without your direct involvement.

      10. We learn to value the simplest things most

      If you ask us how life is going abroad, we probably won’t start telling you about visiting fancy restaurants or having epic adventures. With equal excitement, we’ll talk about how we got into a pleasant chat with an elderly lady and could understand 98% of what she said. Or how we’ve gotten our first piece of praise for speaking so fluently. Or about our first dinner invitation to a local’s home.

      Living abroad makes us value the little things a lot. The most lavish things are not always as enjoyable or as memorable as the cheap, simple things we’ve experienced.

      11. We don’t really like our birthdays

      Usually, your special day ends with the last phone call you get from home and after you’ve browsed through all your greetings on social media. After that, you just get dressed and act as if it’s yet another ordinary day in your life. You may throw a small party with some of your new friends, but it’s going to be nothing compared to the good-old feasts you used to have with your loved ones back at home.

      12. We don’t know when we’ll come home next

      We miss you like crazy too, but too often we simply can’t tell you if we will be coming home for holidays this season. Sometimes, our working/living permits require us to stay in the country for at least a year. Sometimes, we spend our vacation days too lavishly and run out of them well before Christmas. Sometimes, we have important things on our plates and simply can’t leave for even a few days. Add up the flight costs and additional travel expenses, and traveling home becomes quite a challenge for us.

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      13. We may not plan to move back home

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        Another question that often baffles me is: “When are you moving back home?”

        Do you really think that I invested so much time and effort into working my way here and packing my life into a suitcase just to move back in year? Highly unlikely.

        I might decide to come back home someday, but for now, my life is here. And I’m trying to make it work. Please, support me rather than acting like it’s “just a phase.”

        14. We will change

        Living and working abroad shapes your personality a lot. You become more mature, independent, and open-minded. You quickly adopt new rules, social cues, and cultural norms, and may even end up having reverse culture shock when you come back home.

        Usually, you return home as a better person than the one you left as. You now have a bunch of amazing experiences and cool stories to share, and a vast network of personal connections with people from all around the globe — whose couches you are welcome to crash on at any time!

        If you ever get the chance to live or work abroad, grab it!

        photo credit: Pinterest

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        Elena Prokopets

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

        your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

          Why You Need a Vision

          Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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          How to Create Your Life Vision

          Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

          What Do You Want?

          The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

          It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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          Some tips to guide you:

          • Remember to ask why you want certain things
          • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
          • Give yourself permission to dream.
          • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
          • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

          Some questions to start your exploration:

          • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
          • What would you like to have more of in your life?
          • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
          • What are your secret passions and dreams?
          • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
          • What do you want your relationships to be like?
          • What qualities would you like to develop?
          • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
          • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
          • What would you most like to accomplish?
          • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

          It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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          What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

          Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

          A few prompts to get you started:

          • What will you have accomplished already?
          • How will you feel about yourself?
          • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
          • What does your ideal day look like?
          • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
          • What would you be doing?
          • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
          • How are you dressed?
          • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
          • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
          • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

          It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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          Plan Backwards

          It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

          • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
          • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
          • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
          • What important actions would you have had to take?
          • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
          • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
          • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
          • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
          • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

          Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

          It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

          Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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