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Couple at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland | Photo courtesy of Heaton Johnson

The decision to move has been made. The flight has been taken. The honeymoon period of being in the same room with your boo has worn off. Then BAM! Reality kicks you in the ovaries.

Some people call it culture shock; I call it the What Moment. It’s that moment when you realize the gravity of the situation. You start thinking “Holy shit, what I have I done? What am I doing here? What is going to happen? What the actual fuck?”

Not enough people write about this part of moving abroad for love.

If you’re anything like me, these questions send you spiralling into the darkest recesses of your own mind. If you want to learn from me, know that this is when those communication skills I mentioned in the other post are especially valuable. But what should you be talking about? Better yet, what is time to DO?

For the romantics who have considered they made the wrong decision when moving to another country for their relationship, this one is for you.

Get yourself a job. Any job.

Hopefully you took my advice and started learning the language of your new host country. I’m sure you’ve realized how indispensable that was. Even if your partner has agreed to support you while you’re living there, it’s a mistake to underestimate the effect of feeling useful on your confidence and self-esteem. Whether you’re working as an accountant or just waiting tables at a local dive, having a place to work gives you some independence and a social life beyond that of your partner. And boy do I know about the perils of over-relying on a partner for socialization!

I am aware of at least two problems with this.

1) You don’t have permission to work. The old visa issue–you can’t legally work. Try volunteering with a registered charity. If that doesn’t fly with your visa situation, get a hobby. Look for one with regular meetings and a consistent group of people you can get to know. Bonus points if it teaches you something useful.

2) You don’t speak the language. This is a tough one. Try looking for a job that requires language skills you do have. Otherwise, try my second recommendation above. Bonus points if it involves practicing the language (like theatre!).

Have an idea of when you’ll see your family.

 

Because of my time in London, I didn’t see my friends and family for nearly two years. When my mom finally came to visit me in June, I realized I literally had not seen her face in two years (she has yet to figure out Skype). Choose a date, make a plan, and stick with it. Having that set date is reassuring and it’s only from a stable base that you can really take off in your new home.

Decide what you want to achieve.

Whether you’ve moved abroad for love or not, there comes a time when everyone starts to feel restless. You’re a bit bored, a bit over the excitement of a new place. You feel like you’ve already done everything. This is usually when people give up and go home. I promise, it’s just a phase!

Think about some goals you would like to achieve during your time abroad. Do you want to be close to fluent in the language? Would you like to be able to cook all of the country’s traditional dishes? Maybe you would like to visit X cities/museums/parks while you’re there. Once you have a specific plan, work backwards to figure out how will reach those goals. Keep this list to hand to remind yourself that your time there has only just begun.

Expect to tough it out for at least a year.

 

It took me about a year to find my stride in London. That was when I was happy with where I lived, my career, and my social life. I started trying new things on my own. I felt comfortable giving people advice about living in London. When you’re moving to a new place, there are some serious peaks and valleys. One day you’re just loving life. The next you’re having an existential crisis.

Around the one year mark is a good time to reassess. Can you see yourself staying here long term? Do you prefer this arrangement to be temporary? Talk it out with your partner so you both know where the other’s head is. Is he/she wanting to stay or willing to try living your country before deciding where to settle?

However…

This doesn’t mean you should ignore serious warning signs. It’s important to recognize the difference between a challenge and a red flag. Can’t find a job? Challenge. Partner not allowing you to work? Red flag. Difficulty making friends? Challenge. Experiencing racism/sexism/homophobia/etc.? Red flag. Got pickpocketed? Challenge. Violent political coup? Red flag. If it’s a red flag then this place is unlikely to be the place for you. Don’t give it a year if you feel unsafe, get out immediately.

Know that you will lose friends and feel guilty/lonely.

They may even be the dearest of friends. Usually it’s something beyond anyone’s control–you simply grow apart. Your respective contexts for understanding the world have changed. If you do move back, expect them to be distant because they feel you chose someone else over them. Or they fear you will leave again. It’s normal but always a surprise.

You’ll also feel guilty having left your friends and family. Every time someone you care about achieves a milestone in life, you’ll be sad you’re not there to celebrate. It feels like you’re missing out on seeing little ones grow up or helping out the people who need it.

And there will be times when you feel so alone. The people back home don’t quite understand what you’re going through; your partner may not either. It takes time before you have a true friendship in your new home. All the while you will feel very lonely. Just keep working towards your goals and reminding yourself why you did this in the first place. The feeling will pass!

Discover new things together.

 

Yes, I mean with your partner! Now that you’re living together, or at least in the same country, don’t get complacent! If it’s where he’s from, help him find new places he didn’t know about before. If you’re both new to the place (or even if you’re not), take part in a regular activity–maybe something you would both like to improve in. My partner and I took life drawing classes together in London (he did art for his A-levels but I’m no Picasso). It was meditative, made us use a different part of our brain than usual, and it got us out of our regular routine for a night. Routine is a relationship killer, especially when you have the pressure of an international move added to it.

Start saying yes.

You’re in a new place and you’ve settled in. It’s time to start saying yes! Some old university friend is on a business trip nearby and wants to meet up? Say yes! A coworker invites you to a knitting club? Say yes! Came across a nice place to live in a part of town you weren’t looking in? Say yes!

You already said yes to a huge challenge: moving a new country. Look at the great things that have happened since you answered in the affirmative. Open yourself up to new opportunities and magic will happen!

Final Thoughts

Moving abroad for love can be hard–and not just on you. It’s difficult for your friends, family, and even on your partner. But you get out what you put in, so give it a proper go, alright?! Regardless of what happens, you have done something that not many people you know would be willing to do. That makes you one of a kind 😉

27 thoughts on “So You’ve Moved Abroad for Love – Now What?”

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience Alyssa! What a great article! I’m from Japan, but I lived in Canada last two years for my exchange program. Now, I’m doing a long distance relationship with my french boyfriend who I met in Canada. Since we both are not in Canada anymore, I’m thinking on moving to either UK or France for love. Because we both can only communicate in English, it’s very hard to find the place and make a decision. You really encourage me lots and gave me some idea of moving abroad for love. Thank you again!!

  2. I smiled when I saw this article as I have recently moved to New Zealand (from the UK) with my partner, Ben (who is a Kiwi).

    Ive only been here 8 weeks so great tips!

  3. Great piece! I moved abroad for love in 2005 and after about 5 years, it started feeling like home. It’s been 11 years now and my sweetie and adopted kitties and bought a house! Having goals and building friendships outside of the relationship are so important, even if the job you get isn’t your ideal at first, even if you don’t really get people right away… after a while you find your niche.

    1. I’m sure people will be happy to know it can work out! You get a definite #relationshipgoals for that one 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  4. Wow I really needed this! Came to the U.S. for love 7 months ago now. Thank you so much for writing this! Very insightful and I know now I’m actually doing fine :).

  5. I moved to London for love, too, and coming up on the one year mark. I agree with everything you said, especially about how you can’t rely on your partner for your social life. And I feel guilty all the time for leaving everyone. It’s not easy but it’s not supposed to be I guess!

  6. I moved abroad for love to, now im leaving here for 21 years, ive done a degree in Nursing and Im working in one of the locals hospital.

  7. Hey Alyssa,

    what a great post!
    We’re a couple in distance and we have many challenges to take and we’re just waiting until the day of moving together will arrive. But no, of course we haven’t thought about the challenges that will follow after the moving. On one site it’s sad to know that it won’t stop but on the other side it’s great to know about it, to be prepared!
    Life is about challenges! Small and big challenges…
    I really like the part about the friends… I even experienced the same when I traveled for one year and came back home. Getting deep into another country another culture change you a lot but we have to expect that it changes friendships as well.
    But would be boring if there aren’t any challenges to take 🙂
    All the best for you

    Cheers Jess

  8. Such great points – wish I had read them 10yrs ago when I moved for my love. Still with him tho, and still abroad, so must have done something right 😉

  9. This was exactly what I needed to read! You write so well Alyssa, almost as if you’re having a heart to heart in the same room so kudos to you! I met my partner 7 months ago whilst visiting a friend in the Canary Islands, met my beau and well, now the rest is history! I’m going to be moving for love this summer and in truth, whilst there are lots of exciting things about this (not least being with my man!); equally I’m actually crapping myself. So in short, really good tips Alyssa that make me feel normal for having some doubts (a healthy but not negative bout of realism!) and I’m really thankful for the awesome suggestions you’ve made throughout- definitely food for thought! Xx

    1. Thank you, Jayne, that’s so kind! Enjoy this time, the anticipation and nerves means you’re doing something life changing and that you care! Best of luck 🙂

  10. Hi Alyssa,
    thank you for this article. I moved to Berlin in August because of my boyfriend. I have up and downs… The first month was really hard, we almost broke up. Before the moving we were in a longdistance relationship for 2 years. It wasn’t easy, being and living together again was not easy either. After the first month it started to be much better between us, but sometimes (nowadays quite often) I feel lonely or bored, … My boyfriend is working a lot, he’s often tired and he is not a sociable person, so he does not need to go out too often… On the other hand I’m at home most of the time. I’m preparing for English examination and I’m trying to focus on this. Of course I would like to work as soon as possible, but first I have to finish this than start to study German… It seems that it is a long-long and difficult way…

    1. Hi Teri,

      I can see how things are challenging for you now. But you’re in major luck: Berlin is a wonderful, vibrant city! Girl, get out of the house, go to a meetup, join a club, have a life of your own. Start to enjoy yourself and maybe your boyfriend will join in on the fun!

  11. Dear Alyssa,

    What a great blog. Everything sounds farmiliar. I want to thank you for being so open about the challenges you have had. This is what makes your blog so interesting also!

    Thanks again for sharing!

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