Living abroad can be bizarre sometimes. If you’ve never done it, it’s hard to imagine the problems you might encounter. Although it can be a frustrating experience, it’s definitely something I think everyone should experience at least for a few months. So if you’re thinking about moving abroad, here’s a few things to prepare for.
1. You can’t assess whether something is good value for money. This makes shopping really hard when you first move somewhere. Generally when you shop, you try to assess which item is a decent price. The prices of things from dollar to złoty are not 1 to 1 as many people think. You have to consider sales tax is higher in Poland as well. A decent tube of toothpaste in Poland costs like 7-10 zł and in America like $3-4. But a bag of chips is like 3-4 zł and in the States it’s $2.50. So it’s not always the same difference. In my opinion it works like this, healthy stuff is more expensive in the States and junk food is more expensive in Poland. Strange, but true. Also, things look like they cost more in złotys because the number is higher. I wouldn’t be freaked out by something that cost $50, but 200 zł? That number looks scarier and it feels like much more.
2. You don’t know brands. Of course some brands are exactly the same, e.g. Lays or Heinz, but there are many items which don’t have a familiar brand like, I don’t know, tomato sauce or cheese. You look at those things and literally have no idea which one is better or worse. So the best plan is just to wing it and take the one which is maybe not the most expensive but pretty close.
3. People are often uncomfortable if you’re in the vicinity. This is one thing that makes me crazy. When you’re me, people don’t want to sit next to you or they tell you “I’m so stressed speaking with you”. It’s not exactly pleasant. Or when I see my students or other people I know in public, they look terrified.
4. You learn words in your L2 which you don’t even know in your L1 – plants, vegetables, birds, etc. What’s wylewka in English? Still don’t know that one.
5. You lose friends. The long-standing friendships you have, lasting more than a few years, those will stick. You don’t need constant contact to keep those friendships intact. But tragically many of the others will just disappear. Some of those disappearances will shock you and it’s absolutely devastating. Others will be expected, even mutual. It just happens sometimes. This is one of the worst things about living abroad. Those people who you really loved but who break contact with you. It’s hard to shake.
6. Greeting people becomes dreadful – kiss once, twice, 3 times? hug? shake hands? you never have any idea. In America it’s either a handshake if you don’t really know each other or a hug if you do. Pretty simple.
7. Being different all the time. You’re always that person. If you don’t like being in the spotlight, don’t move abroad. You’ll always stand out and feel exposed. This is not good for introverts but it is good to be pushed out of your comfort zone. People will always ask you questions about yourself, your experience, and your feelings. It’s hard to answer the question, “do you like living in Poland?” I feel like I need more than a couple drinks in order to answer this question properly. “Well yes generally, living in Poland is cool but I feel guilty because I only see my family once a year and bureaucracy is a bitch and sometimes I feel embarrassed cause I can’t express myself well but I have a cool job and nice friends and you know the weather kinda sucks here most of the time but yeah I like it.” Of course it comes from a good place but it’s hard to put those feelings to words or express them to someone you barely know.
For those of you who have experience living abroad, do you think there’s anything I missed? Something interesting that you would add to the discussion? If so, let me know in the comments below!