When I meet new people, their first question is: what brought you here? My standard response, “Well, we moved here for fun!” And it's true. Michael and I moved to Germany with the intent of traveling Europe. NOT because of a job. NOT because of really, anything, other than seeing the world. Sure, it's had it's ups and downs, but it's been a wonderfully awesome experience. I want to share the eight things I wish I knew before we moved abroad.
This is the craziest, wisest decision I've ever made. Now, how do I say I need a drink in German?
Europe always seemed like a fairy-tale to a girl that grew up and never moved out of her hometown in Dallas, Texas. But I knew that I needed to fulfill my dream of moving abroad and immersing myself in a culture that I was totally unfamiliar with.
I've always been itching to move abroad. But I was scared. I am married with two dogs, my parents less than 10 miles from my house, and a mortgage payment. How can I make sure a drastic change?
Today I'd like to share with you what I wish I knew before moving abroad. Full disclosure: I did this without any support. We have no jobs lined up, no family or friends that live here, my husband and I just picked up and shipped out to a country we've never stepped foot in: Germany.
1. Finding a place to live is REALLY hard.
I own my home in Texas and moved briefly to Nashville, finding an apartment relatively easily. I thought renting a flat would be a piece of cake. I went ahead and made tentative reservations at a hotel for a week while I looked for a flat. Wrong. So wrong.
To find a place to live you can find a real estate agent (which is expensive), check classifieds (just make sure you can read the language!), reach out to other expats in Facebook groups and online forums, or knock on doors.
Desperate, and without a home based for 3 weeks, I went directly to apartment companies places of businesses. This seemed to help, since the language barrier was lessened and I was able to describe the living situation I preferred. For us, we found it difficult to find a place because the market was just so crazy with people ready to lease apartments straight away. Of course, that wasn't our most difficult challenge as we struggled to even secure a visa.
However, the best thing I learned? Understand the customs of the community. Where I live in Germany, it's normal to just outright say you are ready to sign a contract, even if others are standing with you, looking at the same apartment. This culture difference is why I lost out on the first few places I looked at. Boldness was key for me, and it might be different depending on where you go.
2. It's Okay to Question Why You Did This
One of the best parts about living somewhere brand new is that you will discover new things about the place you live, the culture, and even yourself. This is good and you should embrace it. Sure, you might take public transportation to the totally wrong place. You might not understand the directions of the man with the thick foreign accent (or better yet, he might not understand you), and you will have feelings of complete lost.
You will miss your friends and family and the comfort of your home life. You will question why you decided to make this crazy decision. You'll wonder how you ended up here and what you're really doing with your life?!?! But then, you will have moments of complete clarity and bliss that will make all the chaos worth the struggle.
3. Everything will feel out of your comfort zone
It could be the newness of it all, the culture, or just a language barrier, but things will be very different. The customs of the culture and community are so different and it takes some getting used to. For me, I live in Germany, and coming from Texas I was told people are “cold” or unfriendly. One thing that I've learned is to embrace it. Try your best to understand “their way” and learn their set of rules. For example, Germans NEVER cross the street at a stoplight unless they are told to go. This is hard for someone who's just ready to go-go-go! But following their traditions helps me to assimilate into their society. See what else I've learned about Germans since moving to Germany.
I know it can feel scary and different, but try new things out. Taste the food, try the wine, learn the language, and of course meet new people. A great way to do that is by joining “meet up” groups. I'm a fan of InterNations and MeetUp. They put together events and outings for small and large groups. People from all walks of life come, and you learn about so many different people. It's a totally different approach to making friends and so far, it's been one of the coolest ways to get to meet and interact with locals and expats.
Look up local holidays. This will help you navigate the cultural landscape of wherever you live. Having a list might even warn you about impending days off, time changes, and even whether or not you can park your car on the street.
Yes, you can do your research beforehand, but until you're immersed in it, you will really feel like life is totally different. And maybe that's a good thing.
4. Pack light
When I moved abroad I only packed two suitcases. My whole life was encased in a suitcase that held up to 50 pounds of my stuff. I thought, “wow, I am REALLY downsizing!” Looking back, I wish I would have just left the socks and sweaters behind, these can all be replaced. It's truly freeing to get rid of your stuff and start fresh. After all, you really only need the essentials.
If you're planning to come back within a few years, store what you can't part with. Purge the stuff that takes up room, chances are you can find it in a store or online for a small price. Get rid of your furniture, kitchen, clothes, and other items; I suggest hosting a garage sale to make some extra cash for when you do more. Check out my Ultimate Guide to Packing Like a Travel Blogger.
5. Go with the flow
I am an orderly person. I like to make to-do and checklists. I learned quickly that it's necessary to roll with the punches. There will be plot twists and things that come up that are out of your control. Just remember that they make for a great story. The unknown is something you're bound to face as you meander this brand new world. The more you go with the flow, the happier you will be and the less stress you'll endure.
You also get a free pass to cry once in a while. Not saying your shouldn't get mad or sad, just realize why you started this epic adventure in the first place and it will help to ease your mind.
6. Find time to get lost
When you first arrive there is so much to do: set up your phone, find a place to live, get internet access, figure out transportation… the list goes on. And you probably want to hit the highlights of your new city and see all it has to offer. But don't forget to take some time to yourself to just explore.
Walk down alleyways and find corners you've never heard of. Walk aimlessly and discover something new. Find what others haven't yet, and venture off on your own. It will help you gain an understanding of your new city and it will give you perspective.
7. You will miss, and be missed
Making this life decision means that you're going to miss some big things at home: weddings, funerals, graduations, you name it. The people that care about your will understand why you can't make it. They are the ones that will miss you and keep in touch with you. Others won't understand why you can't be there for them. Some of your relationships will become tense. Just know that you have to make the right decision for you.
Sometimes, it will hurt your feelings. Even if people were once close to you, you won’t be asked to be a groomsman or bridesmaid because your presence can’t be guaranteed. Getting invited at all will be a bonus. Just know that you are missed, but just like you have to live your life, they have to live theirs. Don't forget to extend invitations for friends to come visit you. You might be shocked at who shows up!
8. This will change your life in more ways than one.
Whether you want it to or not, moving abroad changes who you are as a person. It widens your perspective and helps you view the world in a different way. You are getting a brand new dose of culture, experience, and life. Embrace this change and let it teach you about the world around you, and yourself.
It changes and tests your relationships and often can make it stronger. I know that my husband and I feel closer than ever before. It's been a wild ride, but I can't wait to see what's next!
Are you thinking of moving abroad or have already? Leave me a comment below and let me know what you wish you'd known!