“Oh, I would love to do that!”, “You’re so lucky!”, “You’re so brave!”, “I wish I could do that!” — These are the most common reactions I get when I tell people I moved to Spain.
I hear from so many that they would love to move abroad but when I ask why they don’t just do it, they often look at me like I’m crazy before they reel off a number of reasons why they couldn’t possibly make the move.
But today I’d like to encourage all of you who dream of moving abroad, or those who have even just a tiny spark of curiosity about living in another country, wherever that may be, that yes, you can and should do it.
I’ve lived abroad for about 5 years now, first in Berlin and now in Barcelona and I don’t have super powers, I’m just a young girl from Gateshead with a strong urge to live abroad. So if I can do it, you can too.
Today I’m going to try to convince you that even if you:
a) don’t speak a foreign language,
b) are a person who gets homesick,
c) have children, or
d) are just understandably concerned about a radical change,
you should move abroad if you have even just the tiniest inclination.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying everyone should live abroad. It’s perfectly normal to be happy where you are and there are a host of legitimate reasons why it would be inconvenient or impossible to move. This article is aimed at people who feel they would like to try living abroad but are held back by the doubts outlined above.
With that said, let’s start!
“I don’t speak a foreign language”, “I was never very good at languages”, “It will be too hard to learn as an adult”
Moving abroad usually requires learning a foreign language. Many people mistakenly believe that because they were not good at languages at school or they don’t already speak a foreign language or they’re too old, they can’t learn a new language now. That’s nonsense. It’s never too late to start learning.
Although it does help if you already speak other languages (my knowledge of French helped immensely when it came to learning Spanish and I could use the tools and techniques I had picked up learning other languages in my studies), you can absolutely learn your first foreign language as an adult.
Some people do seem to have a natural flair for languages but I would argue that at least 90% of successful language learning comes down to perseverance, motivation and practise. Practise really does make perfect.
It’s like going to the gym. If you’ve never been to the gym before and you’re out of shape, your first days of training are incredibly hard and it may seem impossible to ever achieve your goals. You feel inadequate as you look around and see others lifting heavy weights without breaking a sweat while you’re struggling to lift the 2kg dumbbells. However, as the weeks and months go by, you start to find your training easier, you improve your technique and find ways to train harder, faster, and stronger. By flexing your muscles and pushing yourself a little further every day by daring to go outside of your comfort zone, you will gain confidence incrementally and move a step closer (however small) towards your goal.
The exact same is true of learning a language: flex that language muscle regularly and you can’t help but improve. Even if you feel you are terrible at languages, something will always sink in, especially if you are fully-immersed in it every day.
It won’t be easy and at times, you will feel vulnerable and return to a frustrated, childlike state of knowing what you want to communicate but not being able to say it, or thinking you are saying the words correctly but nobody else can understand you.
Will you sometimes make a fool of yourself? Yes. Case in point: telling the optician I had come to collect my contact lenses, “lentillas”, but confidently requesting “lentejas”, lentils, instead. However, will you get a surge of pride when you manage to crack a joke in a foreign language and someone gets it, or when you get through an entire phone conversation for the first time and understand everything? Also yes. These moments make you feel like you’ve just won a marathon and certainly make up for the times you feel like you embarrassed yourself. Also, think of the last time a foreigner made a mistake in your mother tongue when they were talking to you – you probably didn’t care, if anything it probably made you both laugh. The same is true for you as you learn with the locals.
In summary, it’s never too late to learn a foreign language. It will be difficult, but then again, so is almost anything which is worthwhile.
Top Tip: Although you certainly can move to a foreign country and start learning the language there, I would highly recommend taking at least a beginner’s language class before you move. You will feel a lot more secure when you arrive if you can do everyday tasks like ordering a coffee or doing your shopping in the local language. And once you’ve moved, although you will be surrounded by the new language on a daily basis, you should still take formal language classes so that a teacher can explain how the grammar works and talk you through any doubts – these classes are usually ubiquitous and cheap.
And remember, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be understood. The locals will greatly appreciate your language attempts even if littered with mistakes, rather than just charging ahead with your mother tongue and expecting them to adapt to you.
And for those of you who really don’t want to learn another language, there is always the possibility to move to another country where your mother tongue is spoken. As long as you are getting out of your comfort zone, you will still reap the benefits of moving abroad.
“I’d miss my family too much!”, “I’m a home bird, I wouldn’t like it”
Another common fear is that you would be dreadfully unhappy away from your family and friends. Again, this is not something that should hold you back. Don’t get me wrong, you might feel homesick at some point, but it shouldn’t prevent you from dipping your toe into foreign waters.
First of all, you won’t have much time to get homesick, especially in the beginning. When I moved abroad for the first time, I hardly slept for weeks. In between adjusting to a new job, moving into my new apartment, getting lost on a regular basis, as well as discovering Berlin’s vibrant city life with an energetic band of new acquaintances, I was so busy and excited that there was hardly time to catch my breath, never mind get homesick.
Secondly, moving abroad is a fantastic opportunity to make new friends. In contrast to your home city where you have your established group of friends you always hang out with, if you move to a foreign country you won’t have any friends, which will force you to, well, make new ones. It can seem daunting to make new friends as an adult, but it’s actually not as hard as it seems. You’ll find that being in a new situation without the warm familiarity of your usual group of friends really renews your eagerness to meet new people (and makes you more successful at it).
Furthermore, when you move to a new country you will see that there are many more opportunities to naturally meet new people. Moving abroad normally means you will have to ask people for help. Don’t know when you have to take the bins out? You’ll have to ask your neighbour. Unsure how your metro ticket works? You’ll need to ask a grumpy security guard (that you’ve mistaken for a supervisor). These everyday minor inquiries can often lead to longer conversations.
Hearing and/or seeing that you are a foreigner, people are often curious about where you are from and why you are there. I’ve found that this often provides an excellent conversation starter which can lead to some beautiful friendships. For instance, I met my friend Karola when I moved to Berlin and didn’t have anywhere to stay for the first few days. She offered to take me in during this time, explained how things worked in Berlin and taught me a lot about German culture as well as taking me on precious trips to her house at the Baltic Sea.
Moreover, even without trying you will probably meet other people who have moved abroad and are in the same situation as you, and the friendships you make whilst discovering a new city together are often long-lasting and deep. Who knows, you might even meet the love of your life.
Finally, making new friendships doesn’t mean forgetting your friends and family back at home or that they’ll forget about you. With modern technology, it’s never been easier to stay in touch, and flights are much cheaper than they used to be. Also, whilst you might not see your friends and family at home as much as you used to, the time you do spend with them will be a real treat. And without a doubt your loved ones will be excited to visit you in your new home abroad. Just wait for your sofa or guest room to become almost constantly booked!
To summarise then, you won’t miss your friends and family as much as you think you will, you will make new friends and still have your old friends, and when you do see your loved ones you will appreciate it more than ever.
“I have kids, I can’t pack up and leave”
If just moving across the street can be stressful for a single person, thinking about moving abroad as a family might seem insurmountable. Even if you are just a childless couple, one of you might find a great job and integrate well while the other struggles to find rewarding work and fully adjust to the new environment. Add kids into the mix and it becomes a lot more challenging to keep everyone happy. Children, like adults, can form very strong friendships and leaving behind their best friends, their house, room and perhaps even a pet can cause them terrible heartache and distress.
An important factor in determining how difficult the move will be is your child’s age when moving. Generally, the younger the child, the easier they will find the move. Before they are of school age, children adapt quite easily to a new environment but once they’re at primary school, things can get a bit more complex as there will likely be more apprehension and lots of questions about their new home. They will also have to change schools and say goodbye to family and friends. For teenagers a move is even more disruptive as they are more likely to have an established group of friends and often don’t adapt to new surroundings and friendships as quickly as younger children.
Despite the difficulties, many families do move abroad and have a very successful experience. My fiancé’s family is a good example of this. They moved a few times with their children, the first time from Paris to London with a 4 and a 2 year old and the second time from the UK to France with a then 7 and a 5 year old. They have three very well-adjusted, multilingual children with no (evident) signs of trauma from the move, so I asked them for the tips they would give parents who are considering moving abroad with their children. This was their advice:
- Have a positive and calm attitude (even if you don’t really feel like that) – the parents’ attitude plays an important role in turning the move into an overall negative or positive experience.
- If possible, spend some time in the new country before the move, so that the children get an idea of what their new environment will be like.
- Allow the children to bring their favourite toys/possessions. Having familiar items they have an attachment to will help them to ease in to a new environment. If you are bringing pets with you this can be an added bonus as you can tell the children the animals need taking care of and need help relaxing into the new home. By calming down their animals, they will have to keep calm and serene themselves.
- Highlight the positives. Maybe you’ve moved from the city to the country and now your kids can play out more or finally get the dog they have always wanted. Maybe you’ve moved to the coast and they can finally take those surfing lessons they’ve been asking for. By highlighting all the positives you can turn a potentially stressful move into something to look forward to.
In summary, moving is never easy at any stage of life, but children generally adapt quickly to different food, the climate, making new friends etcetera and will probably find the move easier (and more fun) than you do – so they shouldn’t be your main source of worry. Moving also brings several benefits as your children can grow up speaking another language, they will be exposed to another culture and will find it easier to adapt to change in the future.
“I’m just scared!”
Ultimately it’s very normal if despite all the reassurances in the world you still feel afraid. Any change is scary because there are uncertainties.
In these situations I actually think it’s reassuring to think about the worst-case scenario. If you move abroad you might have an awful time, get lost, make a fool out of yourself, miss your friends and family and maybe have a little cry about it. But that’s it. Nothing is permanent. You can always move back if it doesn’t work out. You still will have learnt valuable lessons and will return with fresh perspectives and ideas, deepened empathy and an increased appreciation for your home country as well as having satisfied the urge to spread your wings.
On the other hand, you might move abroad and learn a new language, broaden your horizons, make amazing new friends, meet your soulmate, and generally have a fantastic time. It would be a shame to let your fears hold you back from this.
It’s often said that the things you regret most are the things you don’t do. I think this is probably true. Surely it’s better to make the move, even if you ultimately don’t enjoy the experience, because you won’t be left with a nagging doubt about what could have been if you had gone.
So yes, moving abroad can be scary. It can also be exhilarating, life-changing and may well turn into something beautiful.
But whatever the outcome of your living abroad experiment, you will always be grateful to yourself that you took the leap of faith.
Obviously moving abroad is a big feat, but I hope today’s article has helped you to cast aside some doubts and fears and encourage you to make the move, even if it’s just for a short time, because if you don’t go, you’ll never know.
Sending you sunshine and positivity from Barcelona!
If you’ve never lived abroad before, can you imagine doing so? If you’ve lived abroad, are there any words of encouragement you would give to people who are interested in living abroad?