A part of me didn’t want to write this blog post. Why share something that isn’t great when waiting until the tears have dried out, the wine’s been drunk, and then you have no choice but to smile is always an option? Because, hey, the world’s a bit rosier after rosé. Just kidding, of course. It isn’t warm enough for rosé.
All jokes aside, I like spreading positivity, but this week, I’ve honestly been finding the whole “let me pack up my whole world and move” thing a bit tough. I’m not complaining because my life right now’s pretty great (all things considered, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic after all), but I did want to share an honest picture of my experiences.
Especially since I get asked what it’s like to move abroad on a daily basis.
So here’s an image. Today, I’ve had chocolate, ice cream, pizza, and wine. Yes, all within a span of six hours because that’s the kind of day I’m having. Fridays are supposed to be days that I like, but instead of work ending on a high note, it ended with my head slammed against my shut laptop.
My job’s great. It’s me I don’t like that much right now.
After 1 year, 6 months, and 20 days of living in the Netherlands, here are some things that have started to become difficult. Or still remain difficult. It isn’t always tough, but right now it is.
Thing #1 that’s tough about moving abroad: You can make new friends, but your old ones aren’t here. This is so obvious that it feels like I shouldn’t even have to write it down. Welcome to 2021! There are numerous ways of connecting with people all over the world, and yet, we are isolated and lonely.
As I write this, I am on my couch, watching Friends because no one told me life was gonna be this way. And I miss my lovable old Italian roommate from when I lived in Philadelphia. I forced him to watch the show with me, and it quickly became our ritual. We practiced and practiced until we could BOTH get the clapping in theme song right.
Even though the pandemic didn’t make it easy, I have friends here, but some people just aren’t replaceable. It breaks my heart knowing that years later, I may not know these friends of mine as well as I once did. It’s happened to me before since I’ve moved around a lot. But moving in your mid-20s is a whole other thing. I’m actually a reasonable person now as opposed to a half-baked 19-year-old pretending to play grown up.
Thing #2 that’s tough about moving abroad: As much as you can love cultural differences, and even be good at pointing them out, the fact is that they still exist.
And the award for spelling out the most obvious of things goes to…
Here’s the thing, my background has equipped me to understand and navigate through cultural differences fairly easily. Also a thing, making sense of these differences and living them are so not the same. I finally understand my girlfriend’s struggles from when she lived in the US as an extremely cute Dutch person. Yes, I know only the “Dutch” part’s relevant here.
Recently, I’ve been obsessing over the number of ways in which the things I say could be interpreted by the person I’m taking to. Of course I had misunderstandings with my friends and colleagues in the US too. The difference is that I could pretty easily guess what went wrong almost immediately afterwards. And life moves on.
Here, not so much.
I can say something to a group of people, and then I don’t get the facial reactions I’m expecting. I pause. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF POSSIBLE REASONS WHY THE REACTION I WAS EXPECTING AND THE REACTION I’M GETTING DON’T MATCH.
The rest of my day is then spent mulling over what I said and how I said it. Does this resonate with any of you?
My inner Yoda has now awakened after two glasses of red (disclaimer: I’ve never watched Star Wars—or is Yoda from Star Trek?). Yoda speaks, “we all make mistakes. You need to let that shit go.”
Thing #3 that’s tough about moving abroad: Being in an unfamiliar situation can give you more reasons to doubt yourself. Just because that’s normal doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.
Last month, I went to the supermarket and couldn’t find Tahini. I asked someone working there if she knew where I could find it and she told me she hadn’t heard of Tahini before.
I thought grocery shopping was one thing I had figured out, but guess I was wrong. The fact that I “forgot” to scan my receipt to escape the store yet again this week is further proof that no, I DO NOT have this down. The security guard did not appreciate me trying to pry open the doors with my bare hands.
Indeed, sometimes these missteps can be so frustrating, and other times, they’re part of the experience. All part of the adventure of living abroad.