There are a number of things I never expected when moving abroad. Well, first, when moving to Sweden, I came here only to study. And I had no idea whether I’d be staying or not. The next thing is that, I never thought I would still be living in Sweden by now! It has now been 2,5 years that I am in Sweden. So, in this time, I learnt a lot of things about life as an expat or immigrant. Things that people don’t say nor show, and things we don’t say when coming back home for holidays. So here are 4 things that expats don’t say when living abroad!
As you might have read last week, I wrote about why you should live abroad at least once, and why it is always beneficial! I do, of course, recommend to live abroad, but I believe it is important to be aware of some aspects of this new life. Living abroad is not always easy or as easy as anticipated and despite the fact that it is a great learning experience, it can be hard. What I mention below is based on my personal experience and so keep in mind that it can be different for all!
The integration is hard,
This is something I never thought I’d be writing, but well, that’s the current situation. It is also, I think, the hardest thing to acknowledge. When talking about integration, it is at pretty much all levels… Both at a global level (you’re just a foreigner living in this country), or at work. Please note that integration doesn’t come easily and the efforts should come from you. Which is something I tried to implement by talking language courses, being present and not too shy at work for instance. But, here we are again, it is soon-to-be three years in Sweden and clearly no integration.
For me, this is the hardest thing to accept as I have been studying in Sweden before and had a lot of friends. Things were happening and you were clearly integrated, at least among your friends and classmates. At work this is a completely different level, and I was not aware not prepared to face that.
This is one big and hot topic, which I am not really willing to give too much details about. For now. I will probably be talking about this topic, as one full article, later on. But this is something I never thought would be happening to me. I never thought that racism existed towards people moving from 1 EU country to another. The first time I heard racist remarks, to be honest, I thought they were not directed to me. And regardless of the country where you’re from or whether you are working (and paying taxes) or not, the remark could have been the same. You are a foreigner.
I don’t want to say that I am used to hearing word, but the fact that one is a foreigner in a country is being reminded very often. In many different occasions, something or someone reminds you that you’re not from here. This makes everything else much harder as the integration takes longer. But unexpectingly, my self confidence decreased a lot. This can be happening to anyone and anywhere…
Note; please stay open-minded when reading this. There is nothing better than making your own judgement but keep in mind that this is based on personal experience.
Everything takes time,
The administration is one thing to be included in here. For sure. But on this, I need to admit that even back home the administration is always a long process. When moving abroad, I realised that receiving any documents was taking a lot of time (it took me 8 months to be registered to the health care system here – yes). But on top of the paperwork, meeting people and having new friends takes time too. I’ll take about it in more details in the next point. Thought, it is worth mentioning that, I think, before meeting new people it took us close to 1 year. By saying this, I talk about the people which we did not know from university for instance.
The longest, for me, was, and still is, the amount of time it takes me to understand what is happening around. Any odd situation is something new, and sometimes, I feel a bit stupid to be there in the middle. The language is one of the biggest issue. The other issue comes from local habits which I am not familiar with. I have to confess that before moving to Sweden, I thought I could speak Swedish within the next 2 years. Well, as we all know, that’s still not successful!!
The lack of social life.
The most unexpected thing was this one. As weird as it sounds, I’ve always been quite good with alone time, till I moved to Sweden. And while being a student in Skåne, I’ve had a nice group of friends with whom we were meeting quite often. After this, we moved to Stockholm where we barely knew anyone. The shock, for me, was when coming back home after work and asking myself “and now, what?”. I did not expect to be home and bored so often.
Despite meeting people at work, or doing various extra curricular activities, I never – until not too long ago – managed to have real friends around. The moral of the story here, is that it takes a lot of time. But really a lot. Because you’re not a student anymore, it is harder to make friends, and I’d say that when living in the “North” the contact with others is not as easy as it could be back home.
There are, of course, many more things that can be added to the list. However, I felt like the other things, such as missing home, or the food, are rather predictable and therefore it is relatively easy to find local alternatives. These 4 things I mentioned in the article, are the ones that I was not expecting. Especially when moving and settling within Europe/EU. Even though the culture might be similar, there are a number of things that always remind you that you are a foreigner. Such things should not affect your willingness to travel abroad, but instead you should have them in mind, ready to fight them!
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