Glorified travel pictures and bloggers do not always a true story tell. What many people fail to share is the dark side of living abroad. It’s easy to see the glamorous side of living in a new far away mystical land, not really wanting to face how tough the same can be (the grass is always greener syndrome). Personally, the journey has been as challenging for me as it has been beautiful. It has taken a massive amount of patience, courage and persistence to build a new life from scratch which does not involve regular anxiety attacks or loneliness. Some of the ugly realities I have had to face and still do are as follows:
Carving a new identity: Personal
While this is a definite upside to many people, it can be entirely challenging to explain to all the new people you meet where you’re from, what you did the last few years, who are your friends and family, what are your hobbies or what makes you, you. Sometimes you just miss the comfort of being with people who know almost everything about you, and that you don’t need to explain your actions or thoughts too. You miss the familiarity of people who have always felt like home.
Carving a new identity : Professional
I have to admit this is one of the hardest things I have had to work towards. Giving up a somewhat solid career back home which would have ensured me a very comfortable life in India for a new country where no one knows you or believes in your credentials, where you don’t even speak the official language is certainly not a stress free life. I am constantly in a dilemma of whether what I’m doing here is really worth leaving my career in India behind or not.
Distance from loved ones: Uncertainty
The hardest struggle is not having your family and loved ones to support or help you as and when you need them. They are thanks to technology, virtually present, but is that ever really enough? Not knowing when you can schedule a call due to time zone differences, missing major family events, friends’ weddings or birthdays all begin to add up one by one. Not knowing when you can plan a trip home is certainly an unpleasant feeling and one that no one enjoys living permanently with. I have a more detailed post on the things I miss about India here: 3 things I miss about living in India
The struggle of not being understood: Language Barriers
Some days, you just can’t force your brain to think in a third language(in my case). Although I’m very proud of how far my german has come in a short span of time, I’m still about 10,000 words away from fluency and that’s not by any means an easy prospect. Even at my most fluent, I’ll never be as good as a native and that makes life much harder on a day-to-day basis. I chose this challenge for myself and my life is definitely more enriched by the same, but when you’re stuck in some situation and you’re not sure how to go about it in a foreign language, you really do miss your homeland.
For example, a simple task of getting a haircut from a new salon where I have to explain terms like – “split ends”, “medium length from chin to shoulder”, “deep conditioning”, “highlighting”, “layers” in German makes it all that much harder to even get one. I often have to learn 10 new verbs and nouns before I interact in such a setting because I feel unless I try I will never really be able to learn. If you want to find some tips on learning German fast, you can refer to my article here: Easy ways to learn German for beginners
If you move across similarly developed countries you’re perhaps in for an easier journey. My move from India to Germany cost me 3x more which also means I have to think 3 more times before I spend a penny (or cent to be more accurate) as I would back in India. This can be particularly challenging especially when you know you could live a life back in your home country where you’d almost never have to think twice for mundane things such as daily expenses. (Owing to established professional networks, a steady income stream and knowing shortcuts aka Jugaad). Unless you move strictly for work, and your firm takes care of relocation, you will have to adapt to a lot more financially frugal measures.
One thing that I have definitely become better at is budgeting my expenses and living without excessive consumption. But, it is not a task everyone can easily undertake. When you start to do the math of the opportunity cost of not having a full-time job for X years VS. what you spend abroad in X years, and the uncertainty of whether or not you will recover this amount, you will most certainly have a negative outlook on moving abroad.
However, nothing revolutionary in life comes easy. And if living abroad to work, study, volunteer or freelance is something you have always dreamt of doing, let not these challenges set you back on that path. No matter what else I might have accomplished in my life, nothing has been more challenging to try to do than moving out here to Germany. But I’m much the better for it. And I’m much happier than I was lets say a year ago, sweating it out in Bangalore 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and spending an hour extra in traffic to go home which was 1 km away having no time for myself or even to go for a walk. Lets just say, it’s all relative. You lose some, you win some. Pick a side and don’t look back!