What Nobody Tells You About Living Abroad

What Nobody Tells You About Living Abroad

Short-term travel experiences can teach you many things, but what about actually living abroad? Here’s what you should know to prepare for your stint overseas.

Travelling to other countries is a dream for many. Every travel experience will have its own unique challenges to face and overcome, and I’m sure that we can all attest to that. However, living abroad is a vastly different experience that nobody really seems to talk about.  

Imagine being able to come here as and when you like!

In July, I arrived back in Singapore after spending six months abroad in Paris for my student exchange programme. It may not seem like a long time as compared to those who have lived abroad for years, but it was long enough to throw me deep into the throes of everyday Parisian life, and it made me realise that nothing I’ve heard or read could have prepared me for it. Here are some of the things that I realised during my stay abroad.

1. The honeymoon phase wears off faster than you think

Here’s a little story. I flew into Paris with notions of a city of lights and romance, armed with little knowledge of the French language. Two days later, a French woman working at the cashier in a supermarket yelled at me and openly mocked foreigners along with her colleagues.

See, when you live abroad, you will rarely come across the aspects that make a vacation in that country magical. Instead, you will be thrown almost immediately into the deep-end of everyday life, and certain things you come across might quickly shatter the illusion of a perfect stay abroad.

2. Don’t worry too much, it WILL get easier

Exhibit A: Me, eating all my worries away.

That’s not to say that it will always be hard. As you gradually settle in and find your footing amidst this whole new world, you will slowly find your way. It just takes a little time. Be patient with yourself.

3. Homesickness can hit you at the most random times

Seeing pictures like these sometimes made me feel even more homesick.

There will definitely be days where you find yourself missing home like crazy. One of the things that triggered homesickness for me was seeing Instagram posts of my friends celebrating Chinese New Year (I’m not even Chinese). It was the little random moments like these that reminded me of the distance separating me from my loved ones back home. At these moments, I really wished that I was at home instead of feeling lost in a foreign place.   

Chances are, you will have instances of feeling this way, and that’s perfectly fine. Call your mum, ring your mates up, or have a meet up with your fellow countrymates. Just make sure to take care of yourself.

4. You’ll learn to appreciate the smallest things about your home country

Taken after my return to Singapore. It was then when I truly began to appreciate how beautiful the country can really be.

You’ll realise that you’ve taken some things in your home country for granted, and that includes the smallest things imaginable. In France, the cashier won’t bag your groceries for you after you’ve paid for them, and they won’t give you free plastic bags like they do in Singapore. So you can imagine my horror when I realised this the first time I went grocery shopping!

Luckily, I had a bag that was big enough to keep everything that I bought. I might sound incredibly spoiled, but it truly made me realise how differently things in France and Singapore were run, and it made me appreciate how things were done back home. You might find this to be the case for you, too.

5. You’re never truly alone

Living overseas will truly make you feel that distance from your family and loved ones. You can’t round your pals up for a spontaneous night out, meet your mum for dinner whenever you like or call up your best friend to meet you when you’re feeling down. Since this is the case, you’ll find yourself reaching out to the people around you at almost every opportunity. Introverted or not, we humans are inherently social creatures and we strive for social interactions.

You’ll find yourself striking up a conversation with the friendly old man at the bus stop, or befriending the lady at the bakery next door. Perhaps you’ll chance upon a fellow countryman, and get SO EXCITED (“Wah eh this thing damn cheap! “…Hey, I don’t mean to be kaypo but are you Singaporean by any chance?” “Omg yes!”). Whatever the case is, and no matter where you are, there will be so many opportunities for you to meet new people. You may be far from your pals back home, but you’ll find your way to make some new ones wherever you are.

6. You’ll learn to be brave

Who knew I’d survive six months studying in a foreign country?

I don’t think I’m a particularly courageous person. I’m not a Gryffindor. I hate horror movies, haunted houses, and roller coasters. I like my safety and security, thank you very much. However, looking back, there were so many things I did that required a significant amount of courage. Taking that big step into living in a foreign country? That’s one. Braving the swarm of scammers and pickpockets who lurk in metros and touristy areas? That’s another.

See, you might not think that you’re a brave person. You might think you don’t belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart. But throughout the course of your stay, you’ll find yourself doing stuff and weathering through things you might never experience back home. You will find the deep reserves of courage buried deep within yourself, and it will come pouring out.

7. You’ll change

I was probably the happiest I’ve ever been after that six months.

Everyone says this about travelling, but people underestimate the magnitude of change that occurs when you live overseas for a time. You’re basically a blank slate when you begin your sojourn overseas – you’re free from the burdens back home, you don’t have any expectations to live up to, and no one can tell you what to do because they’re not there. Basically, you’re given that rare opportunity to reinvent yourself in whatever way you like.

When you return, you might hear people tell you that you’ve changed, and it’s something that you can’t deny. In reinventing yourself, your experiences would have shaped you to become a different person, and you will come back home with new outlooks on life and different beliefs and values. You may or may not have regrets about embarking on that stint overseas, but whatever the case may be, you will learn new things about yourself and return a changed person.

About Author

Farzana Fattah
Farzana Fattah

Farzana is a student at Singapore Management University who’s currently wondering what on earth she’s doing with her life. When not nerding out over the latest superhero movie or scrolling through memes on Tumblr, she is almost definitely researching random places across the globe and daydreaming about the next holiday destination. She is inspired by the variety of cultures in the world and hopes to travel to at least fifty countries in her lifetime to experience most of them.

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