Living abroad

Misconceptions About Living Abroad

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Living abroad isn’t something that many people do. Because there’s only a small group of people who can speak to the experience, there are a lot of misconceptions about what living abroad is really like. In the year and a half I’ve been gone, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about living abroad, both from people back home, people here, and other expats. While some things people think are true, most aren’t. So here are some myths about living abroad and the truth about what it’s actually like.

Living abroad is like one long vacation

This is probably the biggest misconception about living abroad. And it is absolutely not true. When people go to live abroad, they’re likely doing it because they’ve accepted a job in another country, or intend to find work while on a working holiday visa. I don’t know about you, but typically going to work every day doesn’t feel much like a vacation. Unless of course you typically work from home and going into the office provides a nice change of scenery.

While the beginning of life as an expat can seem a bit like a vacation, it doesn’t take long for the shiny new excitement to wear off. Sure, in the beginning you have a whole new city to explore. And then, an entire country! With accessible and affordable public transit systems, taking weekend trips is completely doable. But that’s no different than a Pennsylvania native taking the weekend bus to New York City for a day or two. I wouldn’t exactly call that vacationing so much as getting out and using their free time to have an experience.

Perhaps people think that living as an expat means taking one giant vacation. Sure, some expats like myself take more vacations, but that’s due to things like accessibility to public transit, low cost of airfare and accomodation, and proximity to so many wonderful places! 

Expats are putting off real life

I hear this one from expats themselves. Some people feel they need to go home and get a real job, buy a house, have a 401k. In reality, most jobs expats are working are real jobs. When I say most jobs, I can’t even think of any that I wouldn’t consider “real jobs.” 

In my case, I go to work from 9-6 every weekday. I prepare lessons, plan language camps, and teach classes. I am invested in my students’ education. While I cannot proclaim that every expat teacher takes their job this seriously, I most certainly do. I truly care about the success of my students in their English language education.  

Along with going to work every day, I also pay bills, buy groceries, and save money. I cook my meals, clean my house, and essentially I’d say that all those things are features of real life. 

Living abroad is the same as traveling

Again, not entirely true. Imagine if you live in New York and move to Arizona. Would you say this is traveling? Probably not. In the same way, moving from one country to another is not traveling. Sure, when you arrive you may venture out a bit more to get a feeling for the country, but you would do that anywhere you moved, wouldn’t you?

You will be the same person if and when you return from living abroad

We create versions of people in our mind and expect them to stay the same, especially in absence. It is easier to accept someone changing when they do it in front of our eyes. But when they go away and change, it is harder to accept. 

When someone goes and lives in another culture for any amount of time, they are going to be different. Whether it’s how they react to physical affection or their openness to other cultures, they will be different. Some of these differences will be subtle. Others will be glaringly evident in everyday interactions. Living abroad can even alter the types of foods we prefer eating and the hobbies we have!

It is important for people back home to realize this, and equally as important for expats to realize themselves how much they have changed and how that might impact their relationships. While adjustments can be made, some relationships may not survive the changes, and that needs to be both anticipated and accepted if it does happen.

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