Cultural Musings

The 7 weirdest things about moving abroad

Moving 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!

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  • Reply Sven 24 October 2016 at 15:44

    I think that part with leaving the comfort-zone is very important. you will really learn to understand, what you really need and what things are important for you. I was surprised that I get along that good. Many things are a challenge like the language (Oh yes, polish language is a bitch and even if you are good with languages this is a completely different story. Within that year I am here I could have learned Spanish or Italian already to an adequate level, but I am still happy when somebody is close, who helps translating when speaking with somebody, who is not able to speak one of the languages i do). Till now i was lucky enough to not be seriously sick and was struggling to tell the doctor, what the problem is. I am scared, when I go longer distances by car it might break down and then i am in the middle of nowhere without possibility to get easy help.
    Yes, you have to be kinda extroverted, cause everybody will ask the same questions, especially “why Poland” or “Polish people leave Poland to go to Germany, why do you do it the other way round. Is something wrong with you”?
    Some things are really some barrier. But then I remember the things i like here: I love my job and my team. I met great people and I love the food and also the comfort I have now about the place I live. I try not to think about these disadvantages you mentioned (I think you caught them all). Live is simply, what you make out of it. If you only see the obstacles, you will never become happy, better see the opportunities. 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 26 October 2016 at 13:07

      Hey Sven – yeah I know what you mean. I’ve had a good number of experiences this year at doctor’s offices and it’s my latest challenge. Sometimes I have no idea what the hell is going on and have to ask like 5 people what to do and I feel stupid. Then the doctor sometimes isn’t understanding and asks me question that I don’t understand because I don’t know all body words so it’s challenging. But honestly I’ve mostly had good experiences because people are really nice but it’s stressful for sure. But like you said, life is full of challenges and that’s what keeps it interesting. At least I have funny stories to tell everyone 🙂

  • Reply flight control 24 October 2016 at 16:16

    If you need to get trashed to tell if you like living here means you are adapting well.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 26 October 2016 at 13:07

      haha love this

  • Reply Basia K 26 October 2016 at 16:10

    Wylewka is screed! Screed is wylewka! Thanks Leah for introducing Polish word into ny grammar! See I haven’t been able to work this one out! It’s beyond embarrassing but i have quite the opposite problem- i don’t know Polish words for my industry – related stuff… Pathetic i know. Having trained and worked mostly abroad, sustaining technical convo in Polish is debilitating. Luckily, it tends to break the ice 😉 And makes for a prime entertainment for your friends and family (especially when you start making grammar mistakes which you’re totally convinced you are right about….).
    Public transport was a learning curve- having to wave a bus down? Am i to hitch up my skirt and stick my bare leg out to make it stop as well?!?! Bringing yourself to do it for the first time made for an experience. Also, getting patronising, loathing looks (not to mention sighing or comments) from rush hour commuters is something to behold (yes, you can stand on the wrong side of an escalator; yes, you can’t just leisurely stroll on any side of tube corridors you please..!)
    The brands thing – you’re on point there! Just goes to show what a consumer society we have become, but I’m with you on knowing my brands- and missing the ones you can’t get- thank goodness for www.
    Bikini sunbathing in a ‘centre of a city’ park. All cool now (actually I’m a big fan and wish we’d done it growing up, it only makes sense), but clocking it for the first time was defo a ‘double take/what’s wrong with them’ moment.

    • Reply flight control 26 October 2016 at 21:32

      Some say it’s self-leveling concrete and on Wikipedia they wrote screed is something else

  • Reply kaye 26 October 2016 at 16:27


    I do agree with everything what you said. Ive been here in Poland for almost 4 years and everyday is a learning experience. In my opinion if one needs to survive living abroad, one needs to have the ‘just go for it’ attitude especially with dealing with people in the government offices and at the hospital. I was always afraid to deal with them without my husband beside me explaining everything to them. Not anymore. In mix Polish and English I was able to communicate (with difficulty but I was understood). Now I don’t need to have my husband with me all the time 🙂
    So, with Poles questioning me all the time, “Why Poland?” and I say why not, Polska nie jest zły kraj 🙂

  • Reply Piotr 27 October 2016 at 15:15

    Leah, great post as always. However, it is a bit incomplete to me. You forgot about a cultural context/construct. What do I mean? If you grow up in some country, you literally absorb its rules, sense of humour, read books and watch movies. These things create your personality and a point of view. If you go abroad, you have to learn your surrounding once again. I agree that there are really much similarities between America and Europe (especially the Western part of it). Globalization era has made some impact I suppose. But there are some really important differences as well. For example, a foreigner wouldn`t understand Polish films like Miś ( the funny comedy showing absurd of PRL directed by Stanisław Bareja). Why? Because this person has never lived in the totalitarian state and has completely opposite mentality. The expats has big troubles to figure out some jokes and puns. I`m really surprised that you didn`t mention this problem. I remember that you wrote some comment about it some time ago.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 October 2016 at 16:01

      Hey Piotr – yeah you’re right that would have been a good edition. I just kinda forgot about jokes and things. I think the reason is that my husband and our friends are rather quite international (having grown up after communism ended) and I only experience this kind of thing with family on occasion. But you’re right – jokes are sometimes hard to understand and movies like Miś, forget about it. Nowadays I’ve lived here for so long I think I get it more but it’s still hard to understand. I’ll remember that next time 🙂 Thanks for giving your two cents, as always.

  • Reply Debbie B 18 December 2016 at 15:31

    I was smiling reading this 🙂 It sounds like my poor Polish gf over here! She wanted deep heat on her ankle the other day but was asking me to put it on her “knee” and got very confused when I did so! Great you can talk in Polish now and be understood 🙂
    I am getting there but it’s still baby talk 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 7 January 2017 at 11:08

      hah so she though her ankle was her knee? that’s so cute 🙂

  • Reply Dagmara 7 January 2017 at 11:02

    Actually, don’t be mad at us with: “I’m so stressed speaking to you”. It’s because of our system of education. Teachers teach us only grammar and vocabulary, but totally don’t care about speaking. And here we are, there are a lot of people, whose are scared of saying anything, because they could make some mistake. (To be honest, in my every comment, I have to write: sorry for English, I’m still learning etc.)

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 7 January 2017 at 11:09

      Ugh it’s hard not to! People talk to me in English all the time, without me asking them to, and then say they’re stressed so then I feel uncomfortable!

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