I remember when I was a young, ambitious languages student at uni. I was full of hopes and dreams and idealism. I thought if I could just move abroad, my life would be so much cooler. I’d be care-free like the ladies on Sex and the City. I’d go out for cocktails all the time, laugh a lot like those girls in perfume adverts and wake up every day with a zest for life.
Well, some of that stuff came true. But mostly, the same sh*t happens abroad as it would at home. I don’t mean to deter you at all from living abroad (I still love it), but it pays to remember that you can’t escape the mundane and downright irritating things in life. Here’s my list of sh*t things that still happen when you live abroad …
1. You still have to pay bills, rent, etc.
Believe it or not, when you move abroad, you’ll still have all the usual boring expenses that you had to pay back home. Before I can even think about buying something for myself, I have to make sure I have enough for rent, internet, my monthly phone top-up, Netflix, Skype (to call family back home who don’t use WhatsApp), Amazon Prime, my student loan and anything ‘extra’. When I say extra, I’m talking about those times my landlady tells me I’ve underpaid my utilities and have to pay her X amount of zloty. You know, things like that. And those moments always sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it. For example, today I opened a letter from my previous company asking me to pay them back 300 PLN because they overpaid me! I absolutely resented paying my old company money back for their mistake but hey ho, that’s the beauty of this life, right?
My advice to you: Keep your monthly essential expenses in mind when you get paid and ALWAYS assume something unexpected but obligatory will come up. Also pay your bills; it’s tough but just do it.
2. You still have to go to work
Now I’m not complaining about this at all. After all, without a job, I couldn’t afford to live on my own and I’m so glad I’m not studying anymore. Now I work a job in a field I’m interested in and I get paid for it. I can buy my own food or treat myself to a holiday now and then. But when I was so caught up with the glamour of moving abroad, I never stopped to think about the reality of the day-to-day life I would have when I arrived. Spoiler alert, it turned out to be exactly the same as at home. A normal working day for me is: I wake up, I get dressed, have breakfast, go to work for 8 hours, come home, eat fish fingers and chips, and watch Netflix. The thing is, after a while, I started to resent this routine (OK I varied the dinners a bit). I started to think: “I’m living abroad, shouldn’t my life be more interesting than this?!” But no, young Kristina, oh no. A 9-5 job is the same wherever you live, whether it’s in London, Paris or New York. Everyone has to do their job at the end of the day to get paid so they can do cool things at the weekends. Working full-time kind of gets overlooked when you’re planning to up sticks and adorn your mask of the mysterious foreigner in some far-off country. But, yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, but even expats have to work!
My advice to you: Find a job you enjoy and/or that suit your profile. If you’re interested in your work, it’ll feel more fulfilling than if you aren’t. But regardless of whether you like your job or not, be proud of what you do. Someone somewhere appreciates what you do, whether you’re the UK Prime Minister or working in a fast-food restaurant. Everything we all do counts!
3. You still get sick
In all the excitement that comes from moving abroad, you can perhaps forget that your body isn’t by any means invincible, especially as you get older. I swear I’ve gone to the doctor more in the last two years while I’ve been living abroad than in my entire life! I put it down to the stress of starting the 40-hour week in a foreign country, which was a completely new experience for me. Also, don’t quote me on this, but I feel like as you get older your body just isn’t as strong anymore. You get the flu or a cold much easier, maybe some acid reflux, migraines, maybe a strange skin condition, etc. Honestly, if you’re sitting back questioning what’s wrong with you, don’t worry, I’d say it’s completely normal. I mean, I’m no doctor, so please go see one for your issues. But if you’re feeling down in the dumps because you have a health problem that just won’t quit while you’re trying to enjoy your expat life, babe you’re not alone!
My advice to you: Try not to let health issues affect how you enjoy living in your new abode. When you have a problem that just won’t bugger off, I know it can get really annoying. But say to yourself: “F*ck that [insert health problem]! You shall not stop me enjoying myself!” Obviously if you have a cold, stay home and rest. But if it’s something that means you’re otherwise healthy, go with the first option. It’l be OK in the end, and you will feel better dammit!
4. You still have to buy your own food
Only when you live alone, do you realise just how much food costs. Honestly, it’s shocking! I almost feel guilty for the amount I spend on food. But the cost of living is getting higher and higher wherever you go. It’s just obscene to be honest. If you thought your shopping bill was huge in the UK, it’s not really any cheaper in Poland (well, I don’t think so anyway). I can’t speak for every country, but trust me, when it’s you buying the monthly food shop and swiping that credit card at the till, you will suddenly become very aware of how much food costs. And it’s not only the cost that’s an issue, but carrying the shopping home! When you live by yourself and pop to the shop for ‘a few bits’ and then come out with four big bags, you soon regret not ordering online. You see, when I was planning my move over to Poland, I imagined myself eating in the nice restaurants on the market square; I didn’t really imagine myself lugging bags and bags of shopping home from the supermarket. But there you are -the glamour of adult life, eh?
My advice to you: Order online every now and then, especially for things like big bottles of oil, tins, cans, bags of flour, etc. You can thank me later.
5. You still question your life choices
Just because you appear to have sorted out your life – moved abroad, got a job that pays somewhat decently and got a little apartment – it doesn’t mean you’re not going to QUESTION EVERYTHING. In fact, I think I question my life choices even more because of the fact I moved to Poland. First of all, I never planned to move to Poland. I actually came here for a job offer in the field I was interested in. So there you go; isn’t it strange where life can take us? So because I did the unexpected, my brain is always panicking, asking: “WHAT NEXT? OMG, THIS IS THE WORST! WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO NEXT!?” Now I ignore my brain when it goes down this path and I embrace the choices I’ve made. I believe everything happens for a reason. For example, If I hadn’t come to Poland, I never would’ve met my lovely boyfriend! So if you’re sitting in your cute apartment in Barcelona freaking the f*ck out about your life choices, take a chill pill. It’s all good.
My advice to you: There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ life path. Things happen and that’s OK. Actually, it’s better having a blank page than a full-on detailed landscape painted out for you! Know that you can try different jobs, you can move to different places, have a baby even if you didn’t plan to for a few more years, not have a baby even though you planned to, get a tattoo just because you can – this is your life and you deserve the freedom to do what you want with it. Just don’t do anything tooo stupid. And don’t freak out. It’s just life.
6. yOU’RE STILL BROKE
If you’re in your mid 20s and panicking about the fact that you still haven’t started saving for retirement (just me?), don’t worry. When I first got my job offer to move to Poland, I imagined myself living it up on an amazing salary, going out for cocktails all the time, buying the premium products from the top shelf in the supermarket and generally not having any money issues. Well, it turns out managing your finances is not that easy! Saving money for a rainy day is hard, and using your credit card for that random purchase is all too tempting …
So your finances don’t look that great right now, it’s cool. They’ll eventually look great! And who will be the one remembering those times you only had £20 left in your bank account and feeling the benefit? You will! You see, there’s a silver lining to every poor and broke cloud. Financial worries is something that plagues everyone, even expats! Honestly, if you just bring up the topic with your friends, there will be at least one person who will understand what you mean.
My advice to you: when you first start your job in your new country, experiment with your budget for a couple of months to get an insight into what you can afford, what you can save, etc.Try to pay your credit card bill ASAP and try not to use it unless absolutely necessary (trust me on this one, credit card debt SUCKS). Pay your rent as soon as you get paid and also transfer a bit of money into your savings account. Oh yeah, and set up said savings account. And just use your common sense; if something feels too expensive or a risky move, don’t buy it yet. Oh and one more thing, do not let your money situation get you down. Literally everyone has this worry; don’t let it eat you up!
7. You still have to clean
You know that cute apartment in Barcelona you just moved into? Yeah, you’re gonna have to clean that sh*t. I remember being so happy to finally have my own place that I forgot about the annoyance of having to constantly clean it. I mean, hoovering/vacuuming isn’t too bad, nor is cleaning the bathroom because that’s a once every couple of weeks situation. But I absolutely despise doing the dishes. I have a dishwasher and I despise doing the dishes. I feel like it’s a constant rain on my parade. Just when I’ve given the kitchen a good sort out and all the dishes are clean and the sink is empty, I have to cook dinner and the cycle starts all over again. I bloody hate it. But it’s life, my friend, and living abroad won’t save you from it. Fun fact, I only recently learnt that you have to clean the filter of your dishwasher. Wow, Kristina, good one. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by cleaning your own place all the time on top of coping with the other stressors that come from living abroad, you’re not alone. Just think, even expats in the most exotic places like the Bahamas or the Maldives have to do their chores. And if you’re an expat in such a tropical destination, at least you’re in the tropics!
My advice to you: Don’t feel guilty if you can’t be asked to clean your house. Leave your dishes until the next day or clean the floors tomorrow. If you live alone, the only person who’s going to know you didn’t do it is you. So relax! I find it helps to spread the chores out over the week so you don’t feel exhausted after a day of cleaning. I remember when I was a student and I first learnt how to clean the bathroom, I used to spend 2 HOURS cleaning the bathroom. Seriously. Now I can do a thorough clean in 20 minutes or less. It’s no big deal. Normally what happens is: I spot something while I’m in there doing my makeup or whatever, and I think to myself: “Oh, I’ll just give the sink a wipe down”. Then 20 minutes later, I’ve cleaned the entire bathroom! But I’m so quick at it now, it’s really no big deal. But the dishes … OMG! I hate them sooo muchhhhhh …
So that’s my list of sh*t things that still happen when you live abroad. I don’t want to scare anyone from becoming an expat. Honestly, apart from the above-mentioned things, living abroad does bring so much joy to my life. I get to experience a different culture in my spare time, different food, different architecture, different weather. It really is great. But I just wanted to write this list as a reminder to all that moving abroad doesn’t take you away from the mundane issues that all adults face. But to every dish we clean, every hour we work, every bill we pay, there’s a new place to discover, new foods to eat and a new foreign language to learn.
Love to all my fellow expats,
Check out more of my rambles …
- I have a podcast now!
- 2020: Has Anyone Actually Had a Good Year?
- Green smoothie
- Healthyish chocolate smoothie recipe
- Going home and then coming home