Year 1 of living abroad: The ups and downs

Living abroad experience, the ups and downs - Leah Loves Culture

My first year of living abroad was worse than PMS. I mean in terms of the mood swings.

I will forever hold 2019 in my memory as a whirlwind of mad happiness, guilt, so much love, regret, no regret, anxiety, excitement and – as you might have realised – confusion.

There were a lot of ups and downs.

I’d like to record my feelings here as purely as possible. I wished someone had done that before me and made me read it before I moved abroad – prepared me for this intense time.

So, I hope this will help you on your first year as an expat.

Up: Freedom

Moving abroad means you can leave a lot behind and live more freely. Bad things, bad people, bad places.

That’s probably the most common reason for people on this earth to start fresh in a new country – freedom of speech/sexuality/being human.

Thankfully, I wasn’t moving abroad to escape.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny that I feel an intensified kind of freedom when I’m in New Zealand, my home of choice.

Moving away from the place I was born, Germany, made me a more independent, free self.

New Zealand is the place I, with my own free consciousness, chose as my home – as the place I want to live this stage of my life.

Down: Guilt

I’m sure every expat knows the feeling of guilt for choosing to live far away from friends and family.

Does choosing the life away mean that a place is more important to you than the people you love? Does it mean you’re selfish?

These questions will wreck your brains at night – and just when you think you’ve gotten over it, the guilt comes back.

Then there is the guilt of not calling and visiting more. It’s great fun.

Up: Excitement

You get to travel, you get to explore new places, meet new people – every day. There is no denying: living abroad is exciting!

Of course it’s not all touring and travelling if you have a 9-5 job in your new home, like myself. In this case, you’ll be back to your day-to-day routine soon(ish). But still, there are the weekends and holidays to make short trips and explore.

And even if you’re working, you will experience new things all the time. You’ll learn how the culture works, immerse yourself in a society that’s all new and different.

If you are as curious as I am, that’s the most fun part about living abroad. I’ve written an article on New Zealand culture to get the fascination off my chest!

Down: Anxiety

The excitement about exploring a new culture can quickly turn into a culture shock.

Anxiety was my steady companion during my first year in New Zealand.

Even though I’m very familiar with the culture (I’ve been here before and my partner is a Kiwi), I’ve often felt out of place – an outsider – and got anxious in everyday situations.

That’s because culture is not only about knowing the language/accent, the standard way of greeting and the national sport.

It’s about references only locals understand, mentalities that are deeply rooted in history, pop culture, topics that move people day-to-day and the subtlety of language. It takes a long while to pick these things up and “blend in” with the local culture.

Up: Love

I think living away from my family taught me to appreciate them more than ever.

Living away from my first home taught me to see it in a completely new light.

Living in my chosen home – New Zealand – has taught me that a place by itself can’t make you happy, but you yourself can.

That’s why I felt my heart explode with love for all these things more than ever during my first year in New Zealand.

Down: Identity change

This is not really a down per se. But the process of changing/assimilating your identity can be confusing.

What I mean by that:

Moving abroad will change you. You’ll be so immersed in a different culture, in your surroundings, that you soon won’t be the same person. Of course you won’t, what with all the new experiences.

This is actually a marvellous thing. But it also causes you to get confused about who you actually are. Who you are away from your family, the friends you’ve known since kindergarten, the place that’s been your home for a really long time.

For me, that confusion stage lasted for about six months after I’d arrived.

Then I came to a point where I accepted my weird, multiple-personality self and all was wonderful.

Up: Being present

I’m not exactly sure if this had anything to do with moving abroad – yeah, I reckon it had: During my first year in New Zealand, I learnt to be present.

It’s always been my dream to live in New Zealand – from the first time I set foot in the country of the long white cloud.

For years, when I was living in Germany, I felt that the only thing I was working towards was moving to New Zealand. Which, in hindsight, was not very healthy and I regret that a lot. It made me see past what I had at the time.

I’m here now – where I’ve wanted to be for a long time. I’m not going to make the same mistake of thinking about the “next step” too much. I want to enjoy every single day of this experience.

That’s why I try to focus on living in the present, rather than dwelling on what the future might bring.

Read more on being present while travelling in my article about why I think travel bucket lists are problematic.

Embrace the ups and downs!

It’s not all smiles moving to a different country. You’ll go through so many different emotions.

You’ll feel guilty, selfish, anxious and lost sometimes. But that’s all part of the experience. Embrace it – because this is the life you’ve chosen for yourself.

Here is some advice that everyone living abroad would give you, I’m sure:

This is your dream, so live it!

3 responses to “Year 1 of living abroad: The ups and downs”

  1. Hi Leah,

    Great insight! I couldn’t agree more. I moved from Italy to Belgium – thus still within European borders – but my life turned completely upside down. After 7 years of expat life, I still struggle with some of the downs you mentioned – guilt definitely being the star of the show. But I would make the very same decision again and again. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nadia,

      Sorry for my late reply! Thanks for sharing your experience. It helps knowing others feel the same way. 🙂

      All the best for you,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] year, I wrote about my first year living abroad and the ups and downs of it. I want to do the same this […]


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