It should go without saying that living abroad is not the same as vacationing abroad. But I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say something like, “Italy is so amazing, I think I want to move there.” After all, what could be better than spending your days strolling down millennia-old cobblestone paths while searching out the best trattorias and gelaterias and hearing shopkeepers call out “ciao bella” to you as you pass by? I totally get it. I adore Italy. (And France. And Switzerland. And pretty much all of Europe for that matter.) But vacationing in Italy and actually living there are going to be two totally different experiences.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of people moving abroad. In fact, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. But there’s definitely a lot to consider before making the leap to quit your life back home and packing up and moving someplace else.
And a little secret: living in a country will quickly reveal all of its flaws. In fact, you might become completely disenchanted with the country you once found so charming. I’m not saying that it will happen, but it is entirely possible. I have experienced it and I know of others who have as well. There is no perfect country, no matter how quintessential it might appear at first glance.
Here are a few things to remember next time you are on vacation and fall in love with a destination and want to move there:
Life on vacation is always going to be good
When you are on vacation you don’t have to get up and go to work each day. Plain and simple that is one of the best things about vacation, if not the very best. It almost doesn’t even matter where you are at the moment. Getting to sleep in and not having to worry about battling traffic in the morning is always going to make for a good day. And if you get to sleep in and you are in Italy? Even better. But all around you are countless Italians getting up and going to work each day (ok they might not be getting up early…). And if you move there you will be just like them. No more spending your days traipsing around museums and galleries and tourist traps. You will be battling the morning commute along with the rest of them. Unless of course you are independently wealthy in which case this post isn’t going to help you at all.
No place is perfect
As mentioned earlier, anytime you spend a significant amount of time in a place, you will quickly start to discover all of its dirty laundry. Every country has dirty laundry. Maybe there is significantly bad corruption in the government or school system. Maybe the crime rates are staggeringly high. Maybe the country is overwhelmingly racist. Maybe the culture makes it entirely permissible to be abusive to women. I’ve lived in countries that had all of that. Let me tell you, the polish comes off really quickly when you discover that your new home is, in fact, very imperfect. It’s easy to find yourself saying “that would never happen back home.”
Working in a new culture can be very frustrating
Depending on the company you work for, your situation may or may not be very annoyingly difficult. Some companies do a fabulous job of placing new expats and helping them adjust to the new culture around them. Others just dump you in the middle of it all to let you muddle your way through. It’s important to know a bit about the work environment before you go. What are the expectations? How does advancement work? Time off? It can, and most likely will be, completely different from how it works back home.
Depending on where you are from and where you move to, your life abroad might be 180 degrees different from the life you are used to
Literally everything can be different. The way clothes are washed. The way appliances work in the kitchen. The way maintenance issues are dealt with. The way shopping is done in grocery stores (yes, even this). The way you stand in line or don’t stand in line. The things that are culturally inappropriate to do. The way you greet people. Even the entire language around you. Which brings me to the next point.
The language will most likely be completely different
It might be fun to walk around Italy greeting everyone with “buon giorno” and asking “quanto costa” when making a purchase, but is your level of Italian really good enough to live there? To ask the plumber exactly when he will be able to fix the leak that has flooded your entire kitchen? To ask the mechanic what exactly is wrong with your car and why it is making that horrible sound?
These are just a few of the things to consider about transitioning to life abroad. Making the leap to move overseas was one of the best things I ever did and I am so thankful that I did it. You should do it, too. But considering the above points and mentally preparing yourself for not being on vacation while overseas but for actually living and working there will help the transition be an easier one.