My senior year of college, I decided I wasn’t ready to “grow up”, “settle down”, or take part in the “real world.” I wanted to see what else the world had to offer before I settled into a 9-5 routine and became a boring old adult. At the ripe age of 21, bachelor degree in hand, I moved from suburban Connecticut to Ireland to work as an au pair for a year. It’s been six months now since I took that leap, and I’ve learned more than I could ever condense into one article. Moving to another country alone allows you to see new parts of this amazing planet, meet interesting people from all over, immerse yourself in new cultures, try new things, gain new skills, and overall better yourself as a human being. You know that, though, because there are approximately eight million online articles outlining the benefits of travel. What they always fail to mention, however, is that not every moment of your journey will be awe inspiring, life changing, Instagram-worthy magic. While there are a plethora of those magical moments, let me drop some truth bombs on you.
1. There is SO. MUCH. PAPERWORK.
So you’ve decided to move to another country? Great! Now you just need to sign your life away to two different governments. Getting a work visa was the most frustrating, time consuming, redundant, and expensive ordeal. The process included very specific guidelines, a lot of fine print, a lot of fees, a lot of poorly maintained websites, and a lot of long phone calls to various offices (where I received all sorts of contradicting answers to my questions). It was the biggest relief of my life when I received that big Manila envelope, though. The UPS man did not understand my tears of joy and relief, or my attempts to hug him…
2. Long distance is hard.
At this point in time, I think everyone and their mother knows that long distance relationships aren’t easy. While this is painfully true, what no one ever tells you is how difficult long distance friendships can be. When you’re living on different continents, there won’t be any of those wine, chocolate, and life-chat kind of nights. That type of comfort can’t always be felt through a staticky Skype call. You’ll lead very different lives in very different places; your daily gossip will no longer coincide. The people with whom you once shared every detail may become the people who only “like” your Facebook statuses, but never ask about your day. Don’t forget that though they may not have moved across the world, your friends are on their own journey. Ask about their day.
3. You can’t escape yourself.
People always talk about how much traveling changes you. I think people often forget that no matter how far away you go, you can’t escape yourself. Moving far away doesn’t guarantee a dramatic transformation. If you’re hung up on an ex in Illinois, you’ll be hung up on him in Italy. If you have crippling anxiety in Minnesota, you’ll be anxious in Morocco. If you hate being alone in Georgia, you’ll hate being alone in Germany. Moving abroad will change you, but you can’t expect it to solve your biggest problems. Being alone in a new place forces you to face yourself and your problems head on. Moving abroad isn’t a simple solution for the deeper problems plaguing your mind. Even if you were to move to the moon, you always take yourself with you. As a fortune cookie so insightfully once told me, “No matter where you go, there you are”.
4. You still get sick.
Nothing makes you feel more like a helpless child than sickness. Being sick while your mother is on the other side of the world is simply unfair. I’m 22 years old and supposedly a fully formed adult, but when I’m sick I still want my mommy to make me soup and clean up after me. My mother is now a seven hour plane ride away, which doesn’t exactly make it practical to go home and be taken care of when I’m sick. Therefore I must make my own soup (read: microwave store bought soup) and clean up after myself. Adult life is rough sometimes.
5. Life at home goes on without you.
Moving to another country requires sacrifice. You’ll miss holidays, birthdays, your brother getting a puppy, and Friday happy hours, just to name a few. You’ll be off having your own adventures, and hopefully having the time of your life. Sometimes, though, you’ll see that one picture on Facebook of all your friends at your favorite bar, and your heart will shatter. You’ll realize that everyone’s lives don’t actually revolve around you, and that they are all carrying on without you. Life is moving on, and you’re missing a chunk of it. You’ll be missing in the pictures, you’ll be on the outside of the new inside jokes. In this age of social media, it’s impossible to avoid reminders of what you’re missing back home. Some days it won’t affect you. Some days a simple Snapchat can send you into a chocolate-binging cry-fest of homesickness.
6. No matter how you plan to avoid it, you do grow up.
One of my main reasons for running away to Ireland was to avoid growing up. Somewhere along the way, when I wasn’t looking, I grew up (and I guess it wasn’t as bad as I expected). I may have avoided the 9-5 “real world” for now, but I’m a fully functioning adult out on my own in a very real world. This whole process forces independence and responsibility on you. Your mom and dad and roommate are on another continent, in another time zone, (probably) not reminding you to clean your room and eat your vegetables. There’s no one to nag you until you wash your dishes, and you’ll have to buy your own toilet paper no matter where you move. You’ll figure out all the subtleties of adulthood that they never teach you in school (that’s what the Internet is for, right?), and you’ll realize that maybe being an adult isn’t the worst thing. Moving abroad is not always a vacation, but it is always a journey. It certainly has both its positive and negative aspects, but living abroad will change you and your life in the absolute best way.