Becoming a temporary expat and living abroad in your 20s is a bold move and one I encourage every 20-something to make. It’s a time for clichés – it’s a chance to grow, lose yourself, and figure your shit out. And it definitely works.
I made the move to Canada back in 2015 after 3.5 years of my 9-5 adult life and realizing I was already bored. Every day my mind would wander to faraway lands, and my spare minutes would be filled with endlessly Googling how to get there myself. But like most youngsters who want to travel, I thought I couldn’t afford it. Eventually, I stopped making excuses and made the jump.
Since leaving the UK for Canada, and from my current expat life living Down Under in Australia, I’ve learned a lot. Living abroad in your 20s is, and should be, a learning curve, but I’ve come up with four rules based on what I’ve learned.
GO WITH AN OPEN MIND
It seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many expats move abroad expecting something completely different. Of course, you fantasize and imagine what your new life will be like, but when it doesn’t turn out as expected, it can be disheartening and can completely ruin your first few days/weeks/months as an expat.
When I first moved to Whistler, Canada, I was so excited I didn’t stop to think about how to handle it if I didn’t like it. My new living conditions were not what I expected and after living alone with my then boyfriend in our cozy little apartment, I wasn’t prepared for being somewhere that didn’t feel like home. Sounds stupid, I know, but I just didn’t think it all through.
On top of that, it wasn’t the cleanest apartment to move in to and we had to share with another couple! I was pretty upset for the first hour or so because I was so worried my new life wouldn’t be as good as expected, but once I remembered how amazing an opportunity living abroad was and to keep an open mind, I calmed down and found ways to make it feel like home.
DON’T STAY IN YOUR EXPAT BUBBLE
The whole point of living abroad is to experience new things and get to know new people, no? When moving to a new country it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, and I can be pretty bad for this myself. Join community pages on Facebook, sign up at your local gym and chat to people at the classes, or check for local meetups. Whether it’s a morning yoga session on the beach, a weekly games night or a park run, there’s always something happening in each community.
Having said that, you’re not always going to make friends straight away, and sometimes that’s OK. If you’re doing a season somewhere, it will be far easier to make friends than if you just move to a small town. But don’t put yourself down if you haven’t slotted into your new expat life as quickly as you’d hoped or expected.
DON’T LET FAMILY AND FRIENDS DICTATE YOUR FUN
Taking the first step and moving away from your family and friends is the hard part, and it doesn’t get any easier the longer you are away from them. For some people though, feeling homesick becomes too much and they can let it affect the good times away without realizing. Whether that’s by saying no to an invitation because you don’t think they’re ‘your kind of people’, or not letting yourself be open to new friendships and experiences because these new people simply don’t ‘get’ you like your best friends and family do, it’s important not to shut down opportunities to grow in your new life.
Luckily, we’re pretty good at technology nowadays and catching up via FaceTime and Skype are just a click away. I’m very close to my Mum so we have weekly FaceTime chats and although it’s never the same as having those chats in person, it makes me happy knowing we can still feel as close to each other, even when I’m on the other side of the world. It means I can get on with my new life and enjoy it knowing I have that part of my ‘old’ life each week to look forward to.
This one closely relates to my first rule but is more about not letting the ‘bad’ times abroad drag you down. I know what you’re thinking: “what could be so bad about moving and living abroad!?” I’ve come to realize that actually it’s entirely possible to be incredibly sad, feeling alone and for some people, even depressed, when living abroad. It’s a slightly taboo subject but one that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed.
For some people, myself included, there can be tough times when your mental health is challenged. It’s easy to be happy when you’re in a new country, traveling and seeing the world, right?! Wrong. Even if you’re not traveling solo, moving to a new country and becoming an expat can often be some of the loneliest times. For whatever reason, it’s easy to end up feeling deflated, lost and find yourself stuck in a negative phase of life with a negative outlook to go with it. Although easier said than done, especially if depression is something you’re suffering from, it’s important to remember why you made the move in the first place. Write a list of reasons you became an expat – both good and bad – and try to stay positive. Most importantly, remember that while things may seem bad, they will always get better.
Of course, you’ll never stop learning and that’s the beauty of travel. Lose yourself on a hike in Northern Thailand, or on a safari in South Africa. One thing’s for sure, you’ll always find a new meaning to life.