Unexpected things that happen when moving overseas

It’s an incredible experience to have the thing you wanted, only to feel completely overwhelmed and underprepared. I can’t even think of the number of times I’ve cried since arriving in Boston, or how many anxiety attacks I’ve had. And the feeling of helplessness, the lack of family support, the lack of roots, is something I really wasn’t expecting at all. I actually feel embarrassed at how easy I thought this was all going to be. I knew I couldn’t work for three months, but I didn’t expect the loneliness, the isolation, and the feeling that I’m not contributing to society.

The weird thing is, I did my research (as I usually do ahead of anything big). And the only thing I concluded was that it would be tough to find time to talk to friends and family back home. So, this post will serve as a warning to those thinking of moving overseas: It’s. Not. Easy. (But here are some ways it could be easier).

So, here we go.

Yes, you’ll miss your friends and family.

family

This is a no-brainer. I knew I’d miss them, I just didn’t realise how much. In Australia, especially in Sydney, we don’t often move away for college. We go to preschool, primary school, high school, and college in Sydney (unless if you’re hoping to specialise in something that another university elsewhere is known for). And why would we move? We have some of the best universities in the world right on our doorstep. And that means I’ve not only left friends and family, I’ve also left my roots and my comfort zone. And, let me tell you, the time difference between Boston and Sydney is probably one of the worst in the world. Fourteen hours sit between us, so finding the perfect time to talk is tough. It’s either going to be at 9:30pm in Sydney (7:30am here), or early morning in Sydney. Having the support of family and friends is something that I honestly feel I took for granted.

What can you do? Try to make it a weekly habit to call your friends and family. Put a time in your calendar for each friend and family member, and stick to it. And try to make it a face-to-face call. It’s nice to see their faces.

Yes, you might get super anxious.

friends

This was something I also didn’t expect. Within a few days of arriving in Boston, I had a 14-hour panic attack that landed me in hospital (mostly because I thought it was a heart attack, and partly because we didn’t have insurance set up yet). And I’m finding new reasons to be anxious each day. I’ve hung out with people, and suddenly get this overwhelming feeling of anxiety come over me. My chest tightens, my breathing becomes harsh, my head hurts, and I get dizzy. And why? Well, it’s seems like I’m getting anxious if I don’t feel a connection with someone, because it’s a reminder that I’m not in Sydney, I’m not at home, and I don’t have the comfort of my usual friends.

What can you do? Talk to people. See a therapist (seriously). The more you talk about this experience, the better. And, you might surprise yourself and find people in the same situation.

Yes, you might get super sad.

grandma

This is an interesting one. I didn’t know what expat depression was until I felt it. There have been days where I haven’t wanted to go outside, and days where I’ve experienced cabin fever. I’ve felt like a waste of space because I’m not working. I’ve been happy one second, and sad the next. And I’ve cried after hearing how wonderful my husband’s day at work has been, because I can’t experience that yet. On top of that, my grandmother passed away very unexpectedly three weeks before we left Australia, and I still haven’t allowed myself the time to grieve.

What can you do? Again, talk about it. If you’re lucky enough to be moving with your partner, tell them what you need. Give yourself a task each day to do (go to a farmers market, go for a walk, go grocery shopping, volunteer). The more of a routine you have, the better.

Yes, it’s hard to make friends.

boston friends

I have been extremely lucky in this department, but it’s still incredibly tough. I was fortunate enough to be invited to my husband’s work retreat after merely a week in the country (along with all the other employees and their spouses). We met some lovely people, and we get along really well. I also made a Meetup group and met some more lovely people, one of whom introduced me to her friends. This is not the norm. For the first two weeks, I cried because I didn’t have my usual friends, the ones who have known me for years and years. And, at my lowest, I cried because I felt that each new friend was replacing my ones back home.

What can you do? Put yourself out there. Make or join a Meetup group. Join a gym or any sort of exercise group. If you’re working, make it a goal to hang out with colleagues. It’s tough enough to move overseas and not know anyone, but it’s even more tough if you keep to yourself.

I hope all of that has given people an insight into what it’s like to move. I’m still not comfortable, I’m still anxious and sad, and I’m still finding ways to make new friends. And, to top it off, my husband got pneumonia in our third week here (we can’t catch a break). But we’ll push through all of this, and hopefully will feel more settled in a few months.

Have you moved countries? Be honest: what has been the hardest part for you?

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3 Comments
  1. Mark a year from now on your calendar. You will have good days and bad days, but you probably won’t be properly settled in until that date. That’s what I’ve always found when I’ve moved to a new place far from home. That was even the case when I moved back home to New York from Sydney for 6 months. I still hadn’t settled into a proper routine yet. You need to make your good friends, find your dentist and doctor, pick your workout spots, know where you want to shop for things. Moving is a great experience, but it’s never easy.

    1. I absolutely will mark this day in my calendar for next year. I’m sure I’ll be feeling quite different then compared to now. But god, the feelings right now are so not what I expected, and are feelings I didn’t even know I had. It’s incredible that you’ve been able to do it, and I honestly commend anyone who can move overseas and start from scratch. I’ll definitely be taking your advice!

  2. All of this is super-duper normal! It’s great to see it written down – culture shock isn’t talked about enough. Everyone thinks it’s like travelling, but it’s not.

    Keep in mind some of this is because you’re jobless (not by choice). The second you have somewhere to go during the day you’ll feel way better. What about joining a coworking space and going in to write blog posts and be around cool other people? I can look some up for you!

    Re: new friends – I like to think there is an infinite amount of amazing new friends in the world I can make. They’re not replacing anyone, just adding to my life.

    You are doing SO great.

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