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Living abroad is an incredible opportunity and I feel very fortunate to have been able to make it my reality. There are certain aspects of life abroad that you can only truly understand if you’ve lived abroad yourself. If you’ve ever moved away from your home country to experience a life abroad, you will certainly be able to identify with many of the realizations and truths on this list.

blond woman wearing blue turquoise teeshirt and jeans, looking out over the Canal Saint-Martin on a summer day in Paris

1. How moving abroad took intentional effort

Most of us can’t just up and live in another country. Before moving abroad you need to research visa options, put together paperwork (ugh, French bureaucracy!), save money, find housing, look into health insurance options, etc. As all of the planning comes to fruition, you also need to tie up loose ends in your home country. This includes sorting and getting rid of things, packing your life into a couple of suitcases, changing your address, etc. A lot of effort and organization goes into making a move abroad possible!

2. How life abroad is just real life

Some people equate life abroad to a permanent vacation and/or an idealized world. It doesn’t help that a lot of Instagrammers out there really love to glamorize life abroad.

Without a doubt, there’s a lot to explore when you first arrive in a new country. But the truth is, after you’ve been living abroad for a while, you’ll form a regular routine just like you would anywhere in the world. When I’m not sipping an espresso in a beautiful Parisian café, I also have to go to work, pick up groceries, do laundry, and wait on hold with the Internet company, just like everyone else. Most days, my life in Paris is pretty darn ordinary! 

bright red flower decorations over the red awning of a Parisian café in the 9th arrondissement
Be honest: Does the Vélib parking station in front of the café make it a little more “reality” and a little less “Instagram?”

3. Our irrational fears of seemingly mundane tasks

There’s nothing quite like living abroad to make you question your capability of mailing a package at the post office or scheduling an appointment with a doctor. All of sudden you’re wondering what the expected protocol is and if you have all the required vocabulary. Even the simplest of tasks can feel intimidating when the culture and/or language are different. 

4. The fact that learning a language doesn’t actually happen via osmosis

That moment when someone discovers that you live abroad and they want to know if you speak that country’s language fluently yet… 😬

No, in fact, you have not learned how to speak a new language fluently just by virtue of being in that country. It does not work that way!

Read more: Why You (Still) Can’t Speak French and What to Do About It

5. When we sometimes just want peanut butter

It could be a specific brand of peanut butter, a rectangular pillow, or the luxury of spending a few hours wandering around Target. Replace peanut butter with whatever you are craving from “back home” and I’m sure you’ll agree.

It is completely normal to just want something that reminds you of home. Furthermore, missing creature comforts does not mean that you don’t appreciate your new life and the new culture that surrounds you.

6. The power of a good VPN

Blocked from accessing a website due to your geographical location? VPN. Want to stream your favorite show that’s only available back home? VPN. Interested in sneakily checking flight prices to get a better deal? VPN. Connecting to public wi-fi at the train station but you want to secure your connection? VPN. 

I definitely didn’t discover all the practical uses of a VPN until I moved abroad and got one.

7. The joy of connecting with other expats

Who understand the trials and tribulations better and simultaneously won’t make you feel guilty about complaining when life abroad is less than glittery?! It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who has immigrated from the same country as you. Anyone who’s chosen to move abroad, away from home, will just “get it” without judgement.

These are people you can lean on when your support system is far away. You have automatic commonalities, like dealing with the horrendous préfecture in France!

people sitting out and talking on the terrasse in front of a café in Saint-Ouen

8. Our exhaustion from acting as an official rep of our home country

As you mingle with the locals, you realize that you become an official representative of your home country. When people ask you about aspects of life in your homeland, it can be difficult to provide an impartial answer without also speaking on behalf of all your countrymen. Additionally, some people might have preconceived ideas about what it’s like where you’re from. Debunking the same old tired stereotypes over and over again can be exhausting.

Not to mention, if you do something weird, people might write it off as a(n) *INSERT NATIONALITY* thing. And then you’ll be to blame for a whole new host of stereotypes.

9. How “home” becomes a strange concept

Living abroad often entails learning about another culture, embracing new traditions, and creating memories. Shifting your life to your adopted country can cause uncertainty and confusion. With one foot in two places (or more!), defining where “home” is can be a challenge.

Is home where you live currently or where you grew up or where you were born? Can you have more than one home? And how the heck are you supposed to answer that awful question, “Where are you from?”

10. The dilemma of traveling “back home” or going on vacation

Our finances and time are both finite. Picking and choosing where you’ll spend your limited time off from work is inevitable. You might feel guilty about traveling to a new destination for vacation instead of buying tickets to go “back home” to visit family and friends for holidays, events, and just to catch up. It’s a common challenge that most of us face when living abroad. 


Which one of these did you identify with most? Do you have one to add to the list?

10 Things You’ll Only Understand if You’ve Lived Abroad
10 Things You\'ll Only Understand if You\'ve Lived Abroad10 Things You\'ll Only Understand if You\'ve Lived Abroad10 Things You\'ll Only Understand if You\'ve Lived Abroad

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