A few years ago, I dreamt of moving abroad. Earlier this year, I made the drastic decision to go through it. While this wasn’t the first time I’ve lived in a country other than my birth country, it was, in fact, the first time I was the one who called it quits on a place. Before this move, my parents were the ones who packed up all my things and moved me around the globe (without me having a say) in search of a better life. And even though I’ve already experienced life in four other countries, this move has proven to be the most challenging one.
Challenging because of logistics and mental strifes.
Logistically, I had two months to sell 90% of my stuff, quit my cushy job, arrange accommodations from across the ocean, and ship my own little family overseas for a better life. Mentally, I’m finally old enough to understand the consequences of these actions and feel their impact. At 13, when my parents made their last jump, I had no idea the type of impact moving abroad could have on someone’s life. I went along for the ride, excited for the Florida sunshine after having lived in the desolate Canadian cold the previous nine years. All I left behind were a couple of friends (who I still keep in touch with).
Moving abroad while having a great life is soul-wrenching and one that most people don’t understand. One that I still don’t understand fully. I left my only family behind, a good-paying job, a nice home, a great community of friends, and great weather. Now here I am, living in the good old Netherlands after living in the United States for the better part of 20 years. To say things are different is really quite an understatement. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had to face the concept of paying to use a public toilet. Incomprehensible. Or having to commute hours by train, sometimes without having a seat to sit in. Some things have definitely proven to be quite strenuous on the mind and the body, while others have turned out to be pleasantly convenient. But that’s neither here or there.
I’m writing this post to let you know some of the challenges you might face as an introvert if you’re moving abroad.
And some of the perks of it. Because nothing is ever just good or bad, but a combination of both. I mean, you can simultaneously cry at how you can no longer use your credit cards for points or cash back, and smile at the fact that you’re only buying things you can afford. Although I’m only three months in, I think that I’m hitting the main challenges of moving abroad, especially as an introvert. I might add more to this list a year from now should I encounter other crazy phenomena.
5 Things You’ll Run Into If You’re An Introvert Moving Abroad
1. The Hunger Games Are Real
Seriously, try riding the train or the bus at peak-hours and you’ll understand what I mean. If you move to a country where having a car is as useless as owning a horse, you’ll find yourself using public transportation. And let’s face it, it’s awesome. But this awesomeness definitely has its downsides, and I’m not talking about the driver who closes the door as he stares at you running for dear life to make it. Or having to walk to a station in the bitter cold or worse yet in the bitter cold rain. No, the awfulness about using public transportation is that every day is like the hunger games. Every day you have to fight for a seat. Every day you have to fight for some personal space. People who cut in line to make it onboard are not rude, they are survivors.
For an introvert, this is pure mayhem. You have to become one with the masses. You have to sometimes be pushy in order to get what you want. And you also have to be confident about it else you’re going to be left behind. As an introvert, this was definitely a challenge I had to overcome at the beginning because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Now I know better.
2. The Language Barrier Will Test Your Confidence
There’s nothing worse than trying to learn a new language and have people literally laugh in your face at the way you pronounce things. It’s as if they forget that English isn’t their first language and that they themselves don’t pronounce things right! Except for some reason, when you’re the one living in their country, they’re allowed to be impolite. This will test your confidence. You’ll want to hide away and never open that little travel guide you carry around with you. Worse yet is when you’re actually working among the native speakers and they all choose to speak their language even though they know you don’t understand it, making you feel left out. This will test your confidence.
Keep pushing to learn the language even though you might not use it regularly. It’s for your own benefit. As an introvert, it’s already difficult to put yourself out there, so seeing someone’s negative reaction to your genuine effort makes you internalize it. You need to make sure to not put too many dents in your confidence shield because you’ll need it long-term.
3. You’ll Be Angry At Losing Ground
You’ll most likely feel as if you’ve taken a huge step backward. If you owned a home in your previous country, you’re most likely renting one out now. If you had a great job, you’re most likely struggling to even get an interview. Or if you owned your own business, you’re probably facing some financial setbacks now. Whatever the case may be, you WILL get angry at the situation you find yourself in because you’ll think that the grass was greener on the side you were actually on. You’ll catch yourself saying “Why did I ever leave the green grass!?” You’ll see everyone you know progressing with their lives, while you’re back to square one trying to figure out where to go next. All your friends back home will be throwing parties, while you’re dying to find one human to connect with.
Remind yourself that your mind and soul are going through such tremendous changes that at some point you’ll benefit in the grandest way possible. You just have to be angry first. This is even more pronounced for an introvert because we work really hard to get out of our comfort zone and achieve great things, so when we feel like we’re losing everything we worked for, it’s just that much more frustrating to start over.
If you’re NOT starting over because you’re moving with a job, I’m pretty sure there will be things you’ll feel like you’re taking a few steps back on.
4. Making Friends Will Be Excruciatingly Difficult
Speaking of friends, it’s already a challenge to make them as an introvert. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t click with a lot of people. And it doesn’t help that I’m super picky with who I spend my time with. Having to make friends in a whole new country? It’s like climbing Mount Everest. It’s excruciating, and it takes a lot of time and effort. If you’re lucky to have a job, hopefully, you meet some people there. If not, then you’re stuck with joining meetup groups or ex-pat communities. As a last resort, you can find people on the street. At least, that’s how I made my first real friend, and she’s honestly saved me from myself.
Whatever the case may be, prepare yourself for how difficult it will be. The locals might take you in, but chances are that they are so ingrained in their own community that they are not interested in adding more people to it. Another thing to keep in mind with the locals is that they most likely think you’re passing through so they won’t invest in building the relationship. Prepare yourself mentally to get out of your comfort zone (more than usual) if you want to make friends in a new country.
5. You’ll Never Be The Same Again
Who are you again? No seriously, you’ll shed the old you to make space for the new you to emerge. You won’t even know when the transition happens but the moment you visit your old home, it will be prominent for everyone to see. A string of moments and experiences here and there will make their mark on you. You’ll be newly encultured, and a new way of thinking will make its way through. You’ll hold on dearly to your old ways, and your old beliefs, but the more you walk around, and the more you blend in, you’ll notice new thoughts springing out of your mind. New ground will be broken.
This is absolutely terrifying for an introvert. I’m personally a creature of habit, and I like things to be a certain way. Being consistently pushed out of my comfort zone to get to this new ME is frightening. But I can already feel like there’s no going back. As time goes on, you’ll love this new you, and you’ll keep looking for more ways to grow and improve. The process, while terrifying, is exhilarating. Unfortunately, you also have to be ready for conflict with the people in your old life. That’s probably the biggest challenge you’ll face.
I’m sure there are other things to add to this list that come with moving abroad but start by tackling these first.
The honest truth is that it could go either way. You might find yourself being the most miserable you’ve ever been in your life, or you might find a new joie de vivre. Sometimes it all depends on your attitude, and sometimes it just depends on the circumstances you find yourself in. Either way, know that it’s not forever, whatever it is you’re going through in this new life. You can always go back, or you can move forward to another place. The opportunities are boundless, especially when you go through such an experience. It will prepare you for many more. As long as you’re open to it. And above all else, be kind to yourself. There will be days you’ll break down and cry, and feel utterly lonely. It’s part of the process. Oh but what a beautiful process it is.