Unless you’re a serious homebody who really dislikes change, chances are you’ve experienced some sort of wanderlust at some point in your life. The urge to travel is likely one borne of our natural human curiosity, that desire to know what others are doing and feeling so that we can make better sense of our own actions and thoughts. If we give in to wanderlust, we often find that our travels (especially those abroad) enrich our lives by challenging our perceptions and expanding our awareness of the world. And if we find ourselves living abroad, the opportunities to enhance our worldviews are even more pronounced with everyday living forcing us to reconsider basic belief systems, as well as our own identities. But lest you believe moving to a new country is right for everyone in every situation, here are five things no one tells you about living abroad:
You’re Going to Regret It
We don’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but living in another country is harder than people think. And no matter how much you want to experience new people and new food and new customs and everything else that comes along with a new place, at some point you’re going to wish you’d just stayed home. It might occur when you can’t understand enough of the language to get through the local doctor’s phone answering system or when you find yourself driving down a sidewalk in the middle of a pedestrian park because you can’t read the road signs. It might be when you sit crying in your sparse living room because you haven’t made one single friend yet. The reason and its significance (whether big or small) won’t matter. You will simply regret giving up convenience and familiarity for the unknown. When it happens, don’t let it frighten you. You’ll ultimately understand that not moving, not opening your heart and mind to new experiences (no matter how hard), would have been worse.
Your Language Skills Will Suffer
In an effort to be understood, you will probably begin using fewer and more basic words. The people around you will probably do the same when they speak to you. As you worry more about comprehension, you will worry less about proper word usage, perhaps talking good, but not well.
All Toilets are NOT Created Equally
You will inevitably, at some point in your travels, meet a toilet that doesn’t look like the one you’ve always known. Where once there was a handle, there might now be two buttons (one for flushing #1 and the other for flushing #2) or a cord. Some toilets are only holes in the ground with no flushing mechanisms at all. And don’t think you’ll always be able to even identify the toilet! Many countries frequently forgo toilet paper and use a bidet to clean themselves after using the toilet. When you’re not used to seeing a bidet, you could mistake it for a commode, thereby, literally, creating a mess. It will behoove you to research the type of sanitation system your new country uses before you get there.
You WILL Miss McDonald’s
It might not be McDonald’s, but you’re going to miss something. The convenience of fast food. The variety of Target and Wal-Mart. The availability of services past 5:00 p.m. and that are not dependent on the government’s control. Things are often harder to do and buy when you live in another country, and the things you took for granted will be some of the things you miss the most.
Things Will Never Be The Same
They say you can’t ever go home again. After living abroad, it’s certainly true. Your friends and family back home will grow and change in your absence, and you will, too. Living in a foreign country teaches you humility and forces you to be more independent, more courageous and more tolerant than you might think possible, making you an altogether different person than you were before you set out on your expatriate journey.
The next time you get wanderlust, ditch your usual vacation timeshare (via Step Zero) and instead think of going all in with a move to new life now that you know what to expect!