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?
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. Tom 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!
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 😉