5 Things Nobody Told Me About Living Abroad

Finding my way around Berlin

So you've decided to take a job or study abroad. You packed your bags, looked forward to what could be the biggest adventure of your life, and hoped that nothing will go wrong. Before you left and even after you've landed, people compliment you for being such a brave soul. But I wish somebody told me about these things...

  1. Learning the local language will make your life 10 or even 100 times easier. You're somehow lucky if you live in Amsterdam where English is widely spoken. But if you end up in Eastern Europe or pretty much anywhere in Western Europe, you have to brace yourself and get used to being ignored by the locals if you don't speak the local language. Forget that English is a widely-spoken language. I've experienced no matter how many people can speak and understand English, some will really just refuse to switch to English to accommodate foreigners. You're in their country, you should adjust. It's not easy but you'll appreciate learning a language when you start being able to express yourself and be understood despite your grammatical mistakes. Plus, it makes locals want to help you more because you are making an effort to connect with them in their native language.
  2. Racism is not a myth. It's cold and it's real. You will not know how real racism is until you experience it first-hand. I was on a bus in Hamburg and was sitting next to the window. Next to me is a homeless guy, reeking of alcohol and talking loudly to his friend who's standing right next to the door. As I got a few seconds closer to my stop, I politely excused myself. (Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Ich muss aussteigen.) The guy was annoyed that he had to stand so I can get out of my seat and started screaming expletives. He then spoke in English and said, "go back to China, you little princess!" It was so embarrassing but I was also very scared that he would hit me.
  3. You have to take care of your health at all costs. Believe me, when you're in a foreign country, there's a huge tendency that you will try to endure those little health issues. But you should not at all. Make sure that you have a first aid kit at home for those minor booboos (cuts, burns) and not so major illnesses (flu, headache, etc.). And if in doubt, go to a doctor. Screw language barrier. Get yourself checked by a specialist. You will be thankful every time you avoid a prolonged trip to the hospital.
  4. Alone does not mean lonely. During my college years, I was a complete extrovert and easily defined being alone as being lonely. But after four years of living solo in foreign countries, I realized that that is not true at all! Turns out, one can be content and happy even if you're not surrounded by people. Of course it can get lonely sometimes especially if you're sick. But it does feel good to have some quiet time to enjoy yourself.
  5. Living abroad will be one of the best decisions I'll ever make. It's scary to get out of your comfort zone and live alone in a country where you don't speak the language and you don't know anyone. But I have zero regrets and will do it again because it has been quite a learning experience. I've learned about people, cultures, traditions, beyond books (or the internet for that matter). It has changed me so much. Living abroad taught me how to be self-reliant, open-minded and be more understanding of others.