There are countless clichés about living abroad—usually quite optimistic, but very, very vague. Nearly two years after moving from the UK to Switzerland, I thought I’d share how the following clichés have panned out for me.
“It’s a challenge.”
I don’t think anyone could disagree that moving abroad is a “challenge,” but what does that mean? And how long does it stay that way?
For me, the “challenging” aspects of living abroad can be divided into two categories. There are the initial, getting-yourself-sorted challenges (finding somewhere to live, getting all your admin done, etc.), and then there’s the longer-term stuff.
I’ve been in Switzerland for nearly two years, and I still feel like my life is turned up several notches on the “difficulty” setting. Though I have enough high German to work or study here, I am often caught out by dialects I don’t understand (these vary hugely from high German and within Switzerland). There are lifestyle changes, like having to book my laundry sessions a month in advance (#SwissProblems). And, perhaps this is more unique to British people used to the NHS (our National Health Service: funded by taxes, free at point of use, no insurance forms to fill in before you can see a doctor—I miss you so much!), but I have yet to adjust to a health insurance system that winds me right up.
“You’ll meet amazing people.”
You meet a lot of people when you move abroad. So, statistically, some of them are bound to be awesome. But bear in mind you’ll also meet a lot of fairly standard people, and, unfortunately, some who are quite nasty, hostile, or rude. Not everyone is thrilled to see you in their country, and some will make that quite clear.
Humans are a mixed bag right across the globe. I don’t think people are likely to be any nicer or meaner just because they live in a particular place. But I do think that by putting yourself out there in many different contexts (and facing a few mishaps along the way), you will come to really value the good in the people you meet.
Since moving abroad, I also find there are extra qualities I look for in a person. For example, growing up surrounded by people quite similar to me, I never fully appreciated traits like openness, which means so much to me now. I hope I project that openness now, too.
“You’ll find yourself.”
Yeah, maybe. But not in the serene, rose-tinted way you might expect. You don't find yourself during the "cool" parts of living abroad—the sightseeing; the scenery; the amazing people we talked about just now. You find yourself in the cracks in between, when it feels like it's all falling apart and you just want to go home. You'll find out what you're really wishing for when you wish things could be "better"—and then you'll start to pursue it.
You don’t find yourself during the “cool” parts of living abroad—the sightseeing; the scenery; the amazing people we talked about just now. You find yourself in the cracks in between, when it feels like it’s all falling apart and you just want to go home.
I would say this particular moving abroad cliché has affected me the most. My understanding of certain societal issues has morphed from hypothetical, to anecdotal, to a real, visceral understanding of how it is to live in a different way to someone else, or from how I grew up.
Let’s take feminism: I was raised to believe I could achieve anything a man could; that my gender should in no way influence my career or lifestyle choices (thank you, Mum and Dad). I had some amazing female role models, and, while I knew feminism was A Very Good Thing, it never quite felt like the pressing issue it does for me today.
But now I live in a country where women didn’t get the federal vote until 1971; where people put their marital status and their children’s dates of birth on their CV. Cultural differences like this highlight some of the rights and practices I took for granted in the UK. They encourage me to consider how certain policies might allow people to be discriminated against—not just in Switzerland, but in my home country, too. I try to recognize when I’m about to make an assumption about someone before hearing their story; and, if I think someone else is being unfair, I’m way more likely to call them out on it now.
To sum it all up
The moving abroad experience is full of clichés, and, to use another one, it has definitely changed me. We often only hear the rose-tinted version of others’ adventures abroad, but I think it’s the things that aren’t so fun to go through at the time that end up being the most beneficial. And admitting that time spent abroad won’t always be easy or perfect doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.Add this article to your reading list