The Expat's Guide: 6 Things You Need To Know Before Moving Abroad

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.

The window view from my first second floor flat in London

 

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. 

 

GET ORGANIZED

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?

TRAVEL

In my two years in London, I've been to Paris, the South of France (twice), Budapest, Amsterdam (twice), and Devon, England

Nice, France

Nice, France

Weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland, just before my move abroad

Weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland, just before my move abroad

Devon, England

Devon, England

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! 


An American In: Amsterdam

Amsterdam has been at the top of my "must-visit" list for years (or at least since 2008 when this song came out). And ever since I moved to London, which is closer to Amsterdam than you think, I've been trying to find ways to get over to that gorgeous city of bikes, canals, and tulips. 

So post Christmas, post trip home to Georgia, post my sister and her husband visiting us in London, we all packed up and took the train through Brussels to The Netherlands. Turns out, Amsterdam is now one of my favorite cities: it's friendlier than most, quieter than most, and its smaller size makes it much approachable than a London, Paris, or Rome. 

Here's what we got up to:

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

Strolled through a few of Amsterdam's 165 (!) canals...

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

(Side note: Aside from being breathtakingly gorgeous, Amsterdam has a certain peace that you don't find in most other cities. The roads are mainly used by tram services and bikes, so combine that with the abundance of canals and there's very little noise pollution from cars. The residential areas alongside the canals are also kept mostly free from commercial activity - so you rarely see ads or corner delis selling ice cream, but rather just old sidewalks, awesome wooden playgrounds, and cute old couples strolling around.)

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

Saw some cultural stuff, including the incredible Rijksmuseum which re-opened last April after a ten year renovation...

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

And took plenty of pictures (sometimes in huge coats)...

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

Visited a local market where we saw tons of bikes, tulips, and, most importantly, pancakes...

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

Travelled to the center of town on the Metro to see 19-year-old-boy-type things, like the Red Light District...

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

And took time to ring in the New Year and relax in our gorgeous Airbnb flat...

An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat
An American in Amsterdam - Second Floor Flat

And now we're all counting the days until we can go back. See you next time, Amsterdam!

 

Photos by d.watterson.iii


An American in Paris: What I Bought

Back in London today after my first trip through the Chunnel after moving to the UK last year. Of course, I'm in love with France and have plenty of photos, sound bites and stories that I'll put up later.

While I'm unpacking and listening to Edith Piaf, I wanted to share a couple of my purchases - all of which I am OB-SESSED with. 

 

 

A blue leather handbag, purchased from an adorably awkward old man at a leather shop in Nice. Between the two of us, what with our broken French/English and shy manners, there were enough red faces and apologetic smiles to last fo' days. 

Anyways, love the bag:

This cream from Maison du Savon de Marseille is my new favorite. After my friend and Brooklyn-based travel companion purchased it in Nice, I went on a hunt to find it once we had returned to Paris.

Obviously, I had to buy soaps to go with it, in addition to my already-purchased (and super well packaged) Monsavon soap + lavender face cream. (Am I French yet?)

 

 

One of the biggest highlights of the trip was our visit to Le Comptoir Général  which will get its own post later.

Also, a little paper baggie from awesome/insane Monaco. 

More to come! I'm off to drink wine and eat an 8-hour old pan au chocolat that I just had to bring with me.