I’ve pretty much just turned 21 and it’s been nearly five years now that I haven’t lived in Germany, apart from regular visits to my family. Instead, I have spent two years in a small town in the South of England, one in Spain (Madrid) and one and a half more in London. I feel, therefore, to have gained a certain insight into: how to live abroad? It seems quite daunting at first, especially if, as in my case, the primary language of the country your going to isn’t your one. Or, like when I went to Spain, you don’t even speak the language at all (and they most likely don’t speak yours…). Being in the typical “It’s nearly New Years” mood, I thought about the way I behaved when I was abroad, the things that happened, the way I felt, what went well and what went wrong. Looking back, there were quite a few things I would have done differently in hindsight. While I’m not sure whether reading a blog full of advice would have changed much (you best learn from your own mistakes, don’t you?), it might do for other people, anyways, or it might just be interesting to read.
Tip 1: Don’t be shy
I realize that this is the sort of “easier said than done” advice, but I wish I had followed it anyway, or at least tried. When you’re moving abroad, your going out of your comfort zone by leaving everything behind that you know and love: your friends, your home, your family, etc. And I can tell you, if you think a new country, maybe with a new job or uni, is exciting enough to make you happy while your there (especially a common thought when you’re there for just a limited time) – it just isn’t going to cut the mustard, as they say. Looking back, what made me most happy no matter where, were the friends I had. No matter how beautiful a country, or city, exploring the place with good friends by your side just makes it so much more enjoyable! And while approaching people isn’t easy for everyone, others aren’t always going to approach you. And after all, what do you have to lose? Remember, no one knows you (yet!)!
Tip 2: Don’t worry about the language
When I first came to England, my English wasn’t exactly great, I can tell you. And for the first couple of months I felt so insecure, embarrassed, and worried about making mistakes or people laughing at my accent, that I didn’t say much at all and preferred sticking to the only German people around instead. Now, by sticking to the people of your country you don’t just miss out on the opportunity of learning the language, one of the main purposes of going to another country for many people, you also take the opportunity to fully engage in the culture of the country away from you. My best advice is to talk to anyone that wants to talk to you, forget about your accent and remember: Your language is probably better than you think, there are lots of people around who don’t speak it perfectly, and, after all, it’s quite likely that the person you’re talking to doesn’t even speak a bit of your language.
Tip 3: Engage in every opportunity you get
When living abroad, there is so much to experience than just another language or a different landscape. There’s a whole new culture to explore! Whatever you can do that is typical for the country – do it! Be it dancing Flamenco in Sevilla, Scuba diving in Thailand, taking a Pizza-baking course in Florence, or learning how to make Tacos in Mexico. I can assure you – if you let unique opportunities pass, you will regret it!
Tip 4: Make an effort to keep in touch – with old and new friends!
Having lived abroad for nearly 5 years now, I know how hard it is to keep in touch with your friends from home. However, I also know that it’s worth it! There’s nothing quite like the friendship with those that you grew up with, and trying to keep in touch with them, by using the Internet and meeting up with them regularly, is definitely worth it. The same goes to new friends, however, – especially if you move to another country after a first time in one, or if you move back to your home country – keeping in contact with them will give a large network of friends all over the world (endless excuses for travel included).
Tip 5: TRAVEL!
No matter how busy you are with your new job/life, there’s always time to explore. Just think about how much you will regret it coming home and not having seen anything (or as much as you could have) of the country you stayed in for a year. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed my year in Madrid, I still regret not having visited as much of Spain as some of my friends did. After all, it really doesn’t cost that much and what you will remember, isn’t the 40 Pounds you spent on the bus ticket, but the unforgettable moments!
So, all I am left to say is: ENJOY! Living abroad is, in my opinion, one of the best things you can do in your life, and an experience no one should miss.
PS: Please let me know what you think about this post. Did you draw the same conclusions if you have lived abroad?