What No One Tells You About Living Abroad

December 10, 2020 in - 5 min read

It has been almost 2 years. A whole 2 years of living in USA! Honestly, time really flies when you are having fun that’s why it also doesn’t feel like it has been that long since I packed my whole life into 2 suitcases and left South Africa. My main and only goal for moving abroad was to travel and write about my experiences but woah nobody prepared me for everything else in between. 

Yes, living in a different country is one of the best things you could do for yourself because it helps you grow and helps you see the world with a whole new different lens amongst other benefits. However, although life seems all sunshine and rainbows when we scroll through expats’ Instagram pages and stories, the reality of it all is that it’s not entirely like that. We struggle more that you could ever imagine in the midst of all the fun we have too. Today I am going to tell you about all the things that nobody tells you about moving abroad, just to prepare you so that you know what to expect…

Independence will be forced down your throat

Whether you think you are ready or not, the fact remains that you can never prepare yourself enough for what is yet to come. Yes, you might have people around you to help and guide you but it’s all really on you. You will have to quickly learn the ways of the country you have moved to. The first time I ran out of gas in USA, I was calm and collected because I knew the closest gas station and when I got there, I went from being calm to panic mode because I realized that it was a self-help gas station – I had to fill up my own gas! That moment! I couldn’t leave because I had no gas right? So, there will be times when you have to learn something there and then, with no help.

You are going to miss the little things from home

You see all the things you never really care about or find interesting? You will all of a sudden start missing them, just watch. I would’ve never thought I would miss food. Food? But I wake up everyday craving something new and it’s not just the home cooked meals but also the candies from the stores, the restaurants and the food sold at ‘tuckshops’. You know how bad it has gotten? I recently ordered my favorite chocolate (Cadbury Biscuit slab), Astros and Simba chips for a whole R250. Just those 3 things! Meanwhile, back home, they cost about 15% of that in total. But hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

RELATED | My Experience with Living Abroad – 1 Year Anniversary

You will change

Trust me, in a matter of months, you will not be the same person you have been all these years living in your home country. In just months! You will also be in denial for a long time but one day it will hit you. Not only will you change the way you are and the way you do certain things but you will find yourself speaking like the people around you too. I recently caught myself slippin’ when I said the word “can’t” like Americans – in South Africa we say, “cAHn’t” and Americans say, “cEHn’t” (please don’t ask me where they get that ‘e’ sound from because I am still trying to figure that out too). You know what else has changed? I went from being an extreme extrovert to an introvert – in social gatherings, I do speak but I generally spend most of my time zoned out or listening to what people are saying and just nodding my head. You will change and it’s okay because that’s a sign of growth.

You will do things you said you would never do

As you change, so will your values and it’s really the little things. I have always been that one person who is always bashing avocado, saying I would never eat it and looking at people funny when they do eat it. Haha. Jokes on me now because it is one of my favorite things to eat, especially on tacos. What? Give me extra avocado. Also, people who aren’t ‘your type’ when it comes to dating will be your type. You said you would never get a tattoo, dye your hair purple or get a nipple piercing, haha YOU WILL! This is actually one of the valuable lessons I have learnt from living abroad – never say never.

The movies and stereotypes were wrong 

A perfect example of this is how the US is always the superhero country that saves everyone from demons, aliens, monsters, the planet being in danger, dinosaurs making a return and a life-threatening diseases/virus attacking the world. But let’s just take a look at our current universal situation – the COVID-19 pandemic. USA had the most cases and the one country which has been so consistent in getting worse. The ideas you have on what it’s like to live in a particular country will change very quickly, you will realize that it’s either not as good as you thought it is or not as bad as you thought. It’s all an experience though, a good learning experience.

Dating just isn’t the same

If you are convinced that all men and women all over the world are the same, I am here to tell you that you are greatly mistaken and misinformed. I don’t know how it made sense to me that American men would be the same or similar to South African men. Communication, for one, is one of the major factors. Besides the language barrier of course, you both have to learn how to communicate with each other and learn each other’s love languages too. Recently, when I was about to go exercise, I told my boyfriend that I would call him ‘just now’ which caused so much confusion because back home we have, ‘just now,’ ‘now now,’ and ‘now’ which all mean different things. But ‘just now,’ means ‘a bit later’ to South Africans – check out the Urban Dictionary definition here. You have to be patient with yourself when you are trying out dating in a different country, this will also change you and how you interpret relationships too.

Living abroad is definitely not easy and again, it is a beautiful experience that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. Having a community of people who have also moved abroad is what you need to help you settle in, understand your new home/adopted country and they will also give you a sense of belonging which we all need. Keep in touch with friends and family from back home as much as you can, yes you will get homesick and that’s where your foreign friends come in to make you feel better because they know exactly what you are going through. 

I would not trade this experience and the memories I have made here for anything. Keep an open mind and just be willing to learn and unlearn. Get involved with what the locals are doing, this will help you adapt easier. Have fun and keep a note of all the stories worth telling!

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About Me

About Me

Hi and welcome! My name is Mbalenhle K but everyone calls me Mbali for short (say: mm-bah-lee). I am a freelance copywriter who loves all things art, experiences and aesthetics (big time Pinterest gworl 🧚🏽)! I am the founder of Budding Regardless where I talk about mindfulness, self-development and self-nurturing for creatives. Read More

Mbalenhle K.

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