1. It’s never as you expected.
As it turns out, living and working in a foreign country is not at all like traveling. When you’re traveling, you’re living in this lovely tourist bubble where you sightsee by day and party by night with other travelers, and when you’ve had enough you simply move on to the next city. When you’re living in a foreign city, suddenly you have to sort out things like cell phones and paying rent, and actually getting up for work on Monday morning. And maybe your job isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, or in my case, doesn’t pay as much as you were told. And it’s harder to find a cool place to live, and instead of getting this dope pad with cool roommates, you have to live with an old lady who has a pet turtle because you can’t afford anything better. As much as you prepare yourself for a new life abroad, it never really works out exactly the way you think it will.
2. You’re constantly adapting.
When living in a foreign country, literally everything is different. A lady in a bakery yelled me at because I didn’t know the croissants were self-serve, but you have to ask to be served the cupcakes. Sometimes at convenience stores you go inside to pay for things, but on certain days they serve you through a window to the street. And don’t even get me started on the grocery store, where everything you look at is entirely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and just figuring out how to buy bananas is a new and challenging experience.
3. Navigating is exhausting.
The streets in any new city can be confusing, but once you leave the comfort of North American navigation, it’s a whole other world. The cities of Europe or, in my case, Latin America, are hundreds of years older than the ones we have come to know at home, and they weren’t built with the same meticulous thought and preparation that newer cities are. So no, there is no downtown grid system. Sometimes one street name ends where a new one begins, or a diagonal road will just run through the middle of what you thought was your destination. Public transportation is totally different. In Buenos Aires, they have a really great subway system, but their busses don’t have schedules. So you just have to sit at the bus stop and hope that one comes by eventually. The streets are crowded with more people than you might be used to, everyone in traffic is trying to kill you (I’m convinced they’re out to get me personally), and you’ll arrive at your destination sweaty and disheveled with coffee down your front nine times out of 10.
4. Learning a new language is actually, like, really hard.
No seriously. I moved to Buenos Aires with little to no exposure to Spanish. Coming from Canada, it’s not even really offered in school as an option. I have been studying Spanish and taking classes, but functioning normally and comfortably in a new language is incredibly difficult and can often feel quite lonely. Not only is it challenging to understand what’s going on around you and accomplish the most basic tasks, but you feel so limited when trying to express yourself and live your life as the fullest version of yourself.
5. Ballin’ on a budget ain’t easy.
As obvious as this point is, it’s my reality. When you’re living in a second-world country where you’re paid lower than minimum wage but charged a “tourist rate” for almost everything, you’re gonna realize all too quickly that you’re broke. I had this vision in my head when I arrived here that I’d be going out to dinner every night, traveling to nearby towns on the weekends, and shopping for all the coolest local fashions. I can safely say I haven’t purchased a single item for myself, I usually only allow one or two dinners out a week, and there has been little to no traveling around here. I just can’t afford it! It’s not like vacationing when you know you can spend a little more because once you get home, you’re back to work and can pay off that credit card in a few weeks. Unfortunately, this is my work.
6. Making friends will be harder than you thought.
I’ve been fortunate lately, as I have been slowly expanding my network, but the truth is, making friends has been hard. When I first arrived, I expected my new job would offer more team building events or social gatherings, but it just hasn’t happened that way. I also expected I’d be living in a cool house with a group of bohemian types that would welcome me in, but it didn’t happen that way either. I often see all these kids on study abroad programs with a built-in group of friends, or couples working abroad together, but in my case it just hasn’t been that way. I’ve been lucky to have met some of the other teachers on my own terms, and have been able to arrange some group get-togethers, but it really does require effort. Joining clubs, talking to strangers — you have to put yourself out there. Even if that means struggling through conversation after conversation in awkward Spanglish.
7. Meeting other travelers makes you want to travel too, but you can’t.
And on that note: a lot of the friends you meet (because they speak your language) are fellow travelers who are here one week and gone the next, on to the next destination. It will pain you to hear about their past adventures and the things they have planned next, while you have to stay put and get to work. While your new friends are updating their Facebook pages with posts from Machu Picchu, Mexico, and Nicaragua, you’re stuck in this once-exotic foreign city, which has somehow become your new home. Also, referring back to point 5, you couldn’t afford your next big adventure even if you had the time!
8. Being away from home for a long time can be really hard.
I’m not the type to get homesick, but typically when I travel it’s only for a few weeks or a month at a time. This time around, I know I won’t be home for quite some time. I’m still not necessarily homesick, but I’m very aware of what I might be missing while I’m away. My best friends are all in quite serious relationships which likely means I’ll be missing out on some upcoming celebrations (if you know what I mean), my cousin and his wife are going to have their first child this year and I won’t be there, and my grandmother is getting older every day and I’m not there to help her or spend time with her. As much as I miss Tim Horton’s and Shoppers Drug Mart and the Rocky Mountains, the hardest part about being away from home is missing those special moments in the lives of your loved ones.
9. Dating is actually probably even worse than it was at home.
Let’s face it: single people all travel with one thing in the back of their mind. Maybe this time, this trip, I’ll find the one, and I’ll actually live the fantasy of meeting a foreign lover abroad and falling in love and staying forever. And we’ll raise adorable bilingual babies and live a perfect happy life. No, it’s not like that. On top of the language barrier, there’s also a cultural barrier that is so subtle you almost don’t notice it until it’s too late and your heart has been shattered. The men in foreign countries just don’t operate the way that we’re used to, and as much as I often condemn Western men for their often-chauvinistic behavior, most of them are good guys, and at least we understand the game. Here in Buenos Aires, I have no idea how to play the game.
10. You can never really go home again.
Whenever I embark on a new adventure (which is more often that not these days), my mother always tells me that no matter what, I can always come home again. I appreciate it so much, and I suppose that it is true. However, once I’m home, I realize more and more how much I’d rather be anywhere else. Because after months of cat calling and crammed subways, and crazy traffic and angry bakery ladies, a normal life at home will always be missing something. After months of barely speaking the local language and getting lost almost daily, life at home just seems too easy. After these past few months, which have been some of the most challenging in my life, I know that when I return home I’m going to be stronger for it. After these past few months, in which I’ve experienced some of my highest highs and my lowest lows, I know that, no, going home again simply just won’t do.