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Living Abroad: Lessons I’ve Learned After One Year In

Living abroad is a great adventure. Check out these tips on how to do it wisely.
Living abroad can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be downright lonely at times. One of our editors talks about lessons she has learned after one year in.    If you’re an avid traveler, moving abroad might be on your bucket list; or perhaps it’s something you’ve never even considered but you’ve been given a great career opportunity; or maybe you’re just itching for a change. If you’re like our family, it was a bit of a combination of all three, but whatever the reason, a move abroad is a chance at a really exciting adventure, and it’s one we embarked upon when we moved from Plano, TX to Zug, Switzerland one year ago.    Whether you’re currently preparing for a move or just daydreaming about the idea, there is a lot to consider amongst the excitement. After one year of living abroad in a new country here are a few key takeaways: Lessons I've learned after living abroad for an entire year.

Join groups online

The first thing that you should do once you find out that you’re moving is to join a few Facebook groups. It is extremely likely that no matter where you’re going in the world, there is a group for “international” or “expat” families living in that country or city or even neighborhood in some cases. Here you’ll be able to get so many of your initial logistical questions answered (“what are the best neighborhoods for families”, “what are the best schools”, “what should I bring with me?”, etc.), and then later more specifics (“what’s the best takeaway?”, “where can I find brown sugar?”, etc.). Search the groups for topics and you’ll likely find the majority of your questions have already been answered. I highly recommend, of course, asking questions in our Bébé Voyage Facebook group, as well as Two Fat Expats, which is more directly focused on moves abroad. living abroad in Switzerland has been an exciting adventure for our editor, Kealan!

Bring things that matter to you 

Ok so yes, make sure to bring, like, your kids and partner with you. . . but more specifically, think about the things that they love. Their belongings of course, but what’s their favorite treat or favorite book series or toy and how easily can you get it in your new country? For my kid, it was Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. A year in, we’ve found local alternatives, but in those first weeks and months, having comfort items at your fingertips is so hugely helpful. It goes for you, too: your favorite shampoo, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, tea, scented candles, those perfect jeans or t-shirts you can only find in that one place . . . whatever it is that you are attached to, bring a supply with you. Are you a big baker or cook? Look into the availability of your favorite ingredients and spices. Again, you’ll likely find a local solution (or not! My local deodorant trials have been painfully unsuccessful.) or even a way to get the same thing in your new home, but for that transitional period when you’re just getting the lay of the land, those familiar things are going to feel like a hug from home, not to mention remove so much of the stress of having to find replacements straight away when you’re in prime moving-stress mode.

Find a village

It’s very likely that you’re moving somewhere that you don’t know anyone, and it’s really important for your mental health and your enjoyment of this experience to not be isolated. The thought of trying to make friends in a new place can seem so overwhelming, so start with the obvious: where’s your homeland? What language(s) do you speak? How old are your kids? What does your family like to do? From there, search for groups in your new community that you can explore and get involved with. For me, it was a playgroup for English-speaking parents of kids under 5. Maybe you’ll be working or your kids will be attending a local school and can meet people that way — whatever it is, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and force yourself to do the awkward “want to meet for a coffee?” ask.   Someone once told me to look at friendships like a target: the bullseye is very small, containing a small number of very special people, but the outer ring, the large part, has room for all sorts of people who can fill a variety of needs. In your first year, focus on those people! The goal is of course to make closer friendships, but even a person you can just take a walk with or take kids to the playground with is so important and can bring so much to your quality of life.  

Branch out and be curious

You’re not going to be a local right away, and yes, those first relationships you make are probably going to be with people who talk and think a lot like you. It’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to assimilate into your new home immediately, but that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to learn about your new country right away (cue Rihanna: baby, this is what you came for!), and you’ll be missing out on so much if you avoid it. If you’re moving somewhere where they speak a different language, that’s a great way to begin. Even if you’re only planning on staying a short while, why not attempt to learn as much as you can? Apps like Duolingo are great and Google Translate is a lifesaver. Work on being able to order your coffee and getting by at the grocery store first, and branch out little by little. Speaking of the grocery store, bring something home that you’ve never had before each time you go. Look into traditions around local holidays and celebrate them at home. Consider taking up an activity that is popular locally. There are so many ways to incorporate your new home’s culture into your everyday life when living abroad.   

Have something for you

If you’re moving as part of your partner’s job transfer, and you will not be working, make sure to have something for you to occupy your mind and give your days a little purpose. Whether it’s finding a job yourself, taking up or improving upon a hobby, or some sort of challenge to yourself, having something that gives you a bit of a feeling of purpose can be so helpful in keeping a sense of your identity and independence. While it’s an incredible opportunity to be living abroad in a new country, it is also a sacrifice if you are leaving something behind. Make up for that by investing time into yourself.    Above all, go easy on yourself. The first year in a new country is like year one with your first baby: the beginning is hard, you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, you have no idea why certain things are happening, and there will be tears. But slowly things will start to work out, will fall into place, and you’ll be rewarded with moments that will feel like seeing that first smile. The hardest part is getting all the pieces together to get your family into a routine and a place that feels like home, but it will happen, and if you let it, you’ll be able to give your kids and yourself an eye-opening, enriching adventure that will be worth all the headaches of those early days.  

Considering a big move to another country? You may also like these articles about living abroad from the Bébé Voyage blog!

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