This weekend marks my two-year anniversary in London. There have been highs, lows, sunny times, and lots of literal grey times, but overall I wouldn't change the experience of being an expat for anything.
Before I moved here, I assumed that moving abroad and living in London would be a very similar experience to living in New York, which I did for five years before I moved to the U.K.
I was completely wrong, and now laugh thinking back on my easy assumption. I didn't take into account the fact that I was entering an entirely different country and therefore an entirely different culture. London is very Americanized, but it still has more differences than you might think if you've only visited and never lived here as an expat.
Whether you're thinking about moving abroad, or are just curious as to what the experience is like, here are a few things you might need to know about living life as an expat:
YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A FOREIGNER
No matter how long you live in a foreign country, you will always come across situations where you feel like, well, a total foreigner. This is frustrating, because it reminds you that no matter how accustom you've become to a culture – no matter how great you are with lingo, a language (if necessary), and how well-versed you are on neighborhood haunts, you'll always be foreign.
This isn't a bad thing. It's humbling and will broaden your world view. Just try and remember that rather than having a breakdown in your new grocery chain when you're greeted with blank stares after asking for Tide.
LOST CULTURAL REFERENCES
You'll encounter lots of situations where no one will understand your cultural references, and that's ok. Saved by the Bell doesn't need to be discussed as often as you think it does. (Or maybe I'm just kidding myself.)
HOMESICKNESS IS UNAVOIDABLE
Homesickness. It will happen to you, and it will suck.
EXPATS ARE LIKE TEENAGERS
..or at least, I am.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your move, you may find yourself in a unique cultural experience where others aren't able to completely relate to you. "No one understands me," whines 13-going-on-29 year old you. It sounds overly dramatic, but it's partially true.
You'll always feel a littttle different from friends in your adopted city, and friends and family at home won't be able to completely relate to your experience. In my case, I live with my South African husband in London, which means that most of my friends are also South African. There are lots of things I'll reference that they won't understand, and also that my British friends won't understand. My family and friends at home also can't fully relate to my experience. Hm.
My advice? Make friends with other expats. They'll understand you like no one else.
ADJUST YOUR SHOPPING HABITS
The grocery store probably doesn't have your favorite soap, cereal, paper towels, etc. Products you recognize might also be branded differently. This is very common in the U.K, where what's known in the U.S. as Frosted Flakes are Frosties in the U.K., and the Whole Foods house brand, 365, is called Fresh & Wild. Tough life, isn't it?
I'm assuming lots of market research went into these decisions, but they still make no sense to me.
Thinking about moving abroad? I'd recommend you check yourself before you wreck yourself. But really: the move itself is stressful, arriving is stressful (new bank accounts, currency, doctors, health care system, jobs, weather, work culture, food, words, spellings, etc.), and simply living can be stressful, so make sure you're up for the challenge.
This isn't mean to scare you out of moving abroad, but merely a suggestion that you plan your move as much as possible ahead of time. Moving abroad is a lot of work, but it sure is worth it and will teach you things about the world and yourself that you could never learn at home. As a bonus, moving abroad is great for your career.
The other big plus to moving abroad?
I'll be writing about more expat guides and tips about moving abroad in the next few weeks. It really is a wonderful experience, but I want to be transparent about some of the less glamorous parts.
If you have any questions about moving abroad OR would like to see me harp on about anything else about living as an expat, let me know!