- Calli Zarpas
6 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Moving Abroad
Moving abroad can be some of the scariest, most unsettling, and most incredible year/years of your life. But, it is a huge decision and like most huge decisions it comes with huge benefits, but also some huge risks. Will you find a place to live? Will you make friends? Do you speak the language well enough to communicate with locals?
Since moving abroad almost a year ago there were a lot of moments where I wish I'd been a little bit more prepared (see below for how I lost $415 my first day in Paris) or had had some advice from other people who had made a big move. So if you've decided to move abroad and you're not sure if you're ready, here are a few tips I have for you!
1. Save, Save, Save all your pennies. Everything seems to go wrong when you first move abroad. I don't know what it is, but Murphy's law works to an extreme when you're out of your comfort zone.
In 2016 in the few weeks between starting my studying abroad program and finishing up being an Au Pair I was supposed to fly to Germany to meet my Mom and grandparents. But after a series of unfortunate events (aka a series of unfortunately strong drinks and a slept-through alarm) I missed my flight to Frankfurt and had to pay $550 for a new one. Then, when moving to France I arrived at my hostel in Paris for them to tell me my reservation didn’t go through and that the hostel and all other hostels were booked leaving me to pay $415 for a hotel.
Moral of the story: you never know what's going to happen. Whether or not its your fault things can go wrong so even if you've already saved for your plane ticket, visa, rent, etc. always have a little extra for those unexpected expenses. And when a few bumps in the road occur...
2. Don’t worry when things go wrong! Getting out of your normal is going to come with out of the ordinary problems - suddenly you go from flat tires to missed flights, $30 parking tickets to $90 metro fines, and a lost drivers license to a lost passport. But somehow those problems don't matter when you’re living in a beautiful place, drinking coffee al fresco every morning and living the life you’ve been dreaming of for the past who-knows-how-long. So sit down and relax. When the unpredictable comes along just try to remind yourself why you're here in the first place and that there are always people who are willing to help in a time of need (family, friends, coworkers, even strangers!). Life always keeps moving so just teach yourself to keep on moving with it.
3. Research the city/country you’re moving to as much as possible and not just to find the best tourist spots — I’m talking best neighborhoods to live in, how it works to rent an apartment in a foreign country (Do you need a guarantor? How much will a deposit work? Are there any special taxes or fees?). Looking up blogs/reddit feeds that are specific to your city can be really helpful! Also look for Facebook pages. I follow a page called "Americans in France" and it's nice because everything they post about is really relatable.
In France you usually have to pay the first and last month's rent, and fees to the rental agency, but every country is different. Also look into what sort of financial help the country offers with things like rent, transportation and health insurance. In France they offer something called CAF where the government will help you with rent if your salary falls under a certain amount.
4. Reach out to people who you know who have lived abroad. You probably already know that people who have studied abroad love to talk about it (even if it was 30 years ago in Barthelona). So don't be shy and ask literally anyone you know their advice. It's really helpful to ask people you know questions because everyone's experience is different so the advice they give will vary!
5. Be patient. The beginning is always the hardest. Seriously, even if you're excited it can be really unsettling to move to a new place. Don't compare yourself to others or think everyone is having fun, but you. Pretty much every time I've moved to a new place it takes me a month or two to feel comfortable and probably three to four to actually feel like the life I'm living is my new normal. It's hard to make friends, figure the administrative side of living in another country, and just getting used to all of the cultural differences between your new home and your old one.
6. Get out of your comfort zone! If you want to make friends sometimes you have to put yourself out there more than usual. The easiest way to make friends is through mutual friends, but if you go knowing no one the easiest place will probably be at your job/school. I met most of my best friends through the teaching program I am a part of, but a lot of people also make friends through language exchanges in town, by tutoring college/master's students, by being friendly in bars/other social atmospheres and getting involved in their towns.
Does your town have a sports team? Go to games and invite people you've met. Can you find any non-profit or volunteer organizations in the area that could be fun to join? Book clubs? Try frequenting the same cafes/bars you like. You can usually make friends that way! Either with the servers or with the other regulars. It sounds cliché, but just keep trying and don't stress too much about it. You'll be settled before you know it. Just don't give up before the 3 month mark!
I hope this helped and leave any comments if you have more questions!