The good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with moving abroad
I always wanted to leave my hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and as a child I would bury my head in books about life afar.
Fast forward several years to about 7 months ago, and I was still living in Canada, happily engaged to the love of my life. We had been talking about moving somewhere that would allow us to travel more easily and affordably, so we decided to start applying for jobs in Scotland, where he’s from. I jumped in with both feet, and immediately applied for a visa. I also started building a new website in preparation for moving my photography business overseas. These things all take time, however, we had a few stagnant months. Then, almost out of the blue, my fiancé was offered a job — we found out that we were moving in six weeks. That’s when reality set in.
It’s easy to say you are tired of the city you live in when you have no firm plans to leave. It doesn’t take any effort to say out loud that you would have no problem settling down in a new place, and it’s painless to say that modern technology will allow you to stay in touch with the people you love. Saying all of that is easy, but doing it is less so. Moving abroad was an exciting idea I had in my head for as long as I can remember, but I don’t think that I ever truly believed it would happen. And now, it actually has. Here are some of the things I’ve learned 6 months after moving 7,584 miles away from home to Scotland, starting with the tough stuff:
Guilt. After you break the news, you will slowly start to realize how it affects the people around you. Your parents will start saying little things like, “We’re sorry we made plans this weekend, because now we only have a little bit of time left with you!” Your boss will say, “How will make it through our busy season without you?” Your friends will say, “I can’t believe you won’t be here for my 30th next year!” Not easy to hear coming from the people you love the most. As our move drew closer, the reality of all of the things I would miss set in, not just the big milestones but also the small things, like Sunday coffee with my parents, cocktail dates with my neighbor, and afternoons at the park with my friends and their kids.
Goodbyes. Everyone knows that goodbyes are tough, but I didn’t expect them to be so emotional. I’m a big believer in being honest about how you feel, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Before left I wrote all of the people I was closest to a letter thanking them for their friendship and telling them how much I love them. I wrote three dozen heartfelt letters to family, friends, and coworkers, and I’m so glad that I did. But it was incredibly tough, and I spent many evenings pondering whether this adventure was worth giving up all of these wonderful people while pouring my heart out into tear-soaked notecards. How do you say goodbye to a boss who helped you through some of the darkest times of your life? To a friend you’ve known since you were 6 years old? To a neighbor and kindred spirit who you were only just getting to know? Saying goodbye is the hardest thing about moving far away, and it doesn’t matter that you’re coming back for a visit in a few months, or that you’ll come every second Christmas — they know (and you know) that you are creating a new home now, thousands of miles away from them.
Paperwork. You can’t just decide to move to a new country, pack up, and go. You need a visa to move to most countries, which will cost you a small fortune and is quite a process to acquire. I applied under an ancestry visa, so I needed long-form birth certificates and marriage certificates for my dad and grandmother, and a long list of identification for myself, all of which cost money and time to obtain. From there, I had to fill out a lengthy application form. Then, I had to go to a special passport office to get fingerprinted and hand in all your information. There wasn’t one where I lived, so I had to take a trip to do it. There are often surcharges along with your passport — for the UK it’s a health surcharge of $1500, which I had to pay even though healthcare is also free in Canada. All in all, the application process cost me $4000. If you have a pet, there is more paperwork and more expenses to add to the bill. To bring our dog, we spent hours arranging paperwork and visiting the vet, and spent another $3500 so he could come with us.
Credit. Once you arrive in your new home, there’s a good chance that your credit score won’t count, and you’ll be starting from scratch again. It will be difficult for you to get a bank account, credit card, mobile phone, or even a place to rent as you have no address history and none of the credit you have built will count. These are the things I always took for granted, and were incredibly frustrating to deal with when we arrived in Scotland.
Letting go of material things. When it comes to belongings, most of us have more than we need. Over the years we collect things; some have special meaning, some have monetary value, some sit in boxes in the basement. You don’t realize how much you have until you are moving overseas and can only bring a few of your treasured items. At first it seems so hard to let these things go; you become nostalgic, and you start to think that everything is special. As you start making your piles marked “donation,” “maybe,” and “keep,” you realize that things don’t matter — memories do. Slowly, you come to the conclusion that in reality, you don’t actually need that much, and that is an incredibly freeing feeling. We sold all of our furniture, and about 80% of our belongings. We packed up the essentials and donated everything else and I can honestly say I don’t miss any of the things we didn’t bring. Minimizing what we had was an important life lesson for me. In reality, we don’t need much at all to live our lives, and “things” can really weigh you down. Now that we are settled in our new home, we are living a much more minimalist lifestyle than we did back in Canada, valuing travel and experience over physical belongings.
Getting out of your comfort zone. This is probably the greatest benefit of moving to a new country, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Relocating is incredibly exciting, but you will realize very quickly that it also entails giving up pretty much all feelings of comfort. I spent the first 29 years of my life living in the same place, and the last 10 in the same neighborhood. I was well known in local pubs and restaurants, and was hard pressed to go out for an afternoon without bumping into someone I knew. Arriving in Scotland, I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have a favorite restaurant or coffeeshop, and I wasn’t a regular at any pub. I didn’t know where anything was, or how public transport worked or even what the rules of the road were.
As a very outgoing and social person, I never considered that I would feel awkward ordering a coffee or nervous about getting on a train. That was all new to me, and while I may have listed this as a downside in my first few weeks of arriving here, I quickly realized that it is actually the biggest bonus. Comfort breeds complacency, and it’s tough to expose yourself to discomfort unless you’re pushed into it. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me, and I look at things with a much more open perspective. I have become aware of the unique things about my hometown, both good and bad, and have realized that people in general are really not that different. I learned that I can be nervous, and unsure of myself when pushed into unknown places and that that’s okay. Most importantly, I learned that the only way to grow is to get out of your comfort zone and embrace the unknown with open arms and an open mind.
I have a whole new world at my fingertips, and while I still have days where I feel a little homesick, they are becoming fewer and further in between. There are good, bad, and ugly things about moving to a new country, but I can honestly say I’m okay with all of it, because as Neale Donald Walsch says, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”