Photo: Ke Atlas

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving Abroad

The Olsen Twins set some unrealistic rules.


Ever since I watched Passport to Paris, my nine-year-old self decided that one day I would live abroad. Five years ago, I finally packed up my belongings and moved from Scotland to Berlin. And while I’m living my best life, it doesn’t really feel like one big holiday (thanks Mary-Kate and Ashley for setting unrealistic expectations). Here are the eight things I wish I knew before moving abroad:

Culture shock is a real thing

Moving a mere two-hour plane journey away from home, the thought that I would experience a culture shock didn’t even cross my mind at all. It’s still the same continent after all, how different could it be? The answer is very different, I soon learned after being shouted at by an old lady for accidently jay walking. Years later I still feel like I’m committing a crime as I crack open a beer in the office on a Friday afternoon (perfectly acceptable behaviour in Germany), still feel weird that people here don’t hold the door open for each other and will probably never over that tampons with applicators don’t exist in mainland Europe.

You have to put yourself out there

Of course, life isn’t really like in films where you can just meet new people in the street (I don’t think old ladies at shouting at you for crossing on red counts as a real social interaction). You have to put yourself out there, and it isn’t as scary as you think. Other immigrants are going to be happy to make friends who are in the same position, while people from the place you are living in are probably going to love having a new foreign friend who they can learn about different cultures and places from. By approaching people, you will gain new friends as well as a whole lot of confidence.

Dating is going to become very different

Dating in a different country is a whole adventure of its own. Trying to navigate your way through the dating world in these times of ‘ghosting’ and ‘breadcrumbing’ is confusing enough but throw different cultural norms into the equation and things get even more complicated. From splitting the bill to flirting, I didn’t realise that dating etiquette differed so much from country to country.

Social media is going to become your best friend…

When you move away, social media will become more than just a thing that you use to stalk your ex and look at memes. If it wasn’t for social media I probably wouldn’t have made a single friend in my new city. Reaching out to strangers online will begin to seem completely normal, if not a survival tactic. God bless Instagram, tinder and Facebook groups for letting me have a social life once more.

...But it can also be your worst enemy

Life back home will carry on as normal without you there. You will see all the group photos that you aren’t tagged in from fun nights out and parties you weren’t invited to, and no matter how much of an amazing time you are having, you are still going to feel a bit left out.

You don’t need as much stuff as you think

I don’t think there is anybody out there who enjoys packing, and when you are forced to do it multiple times in a year, just getting rid of everything you own begins to seem a lot more appealing - there is a reason why minimalism is so trendy right now. Having a capsule wardrobe starts to feel much better than having multiple closets full of clothes – a bold statement from an ex clothes hoarder.

You are a strong independent woman and…

You don’t need no man. Or woman. When you first move to a foreign country you have no one to help you when you need it. This will make you feel really alone, but after moving your entire belongings from one side of the city to the other via the underground or filling out a twenty-page tax document in a language you don’t know, you will soon realise that you can do pretty much anything if you try. And it will feel so good afterwards knowing that you did it all by yourself!

You will feel like you don’t fit in anymore

Every time you go back to your home country, you will start to feel more and more foreign. You won’t recognise the latest celebrities or be able to join in conversations about new TV programmes, and the once familiar supermarket shelfs will be packed with new products and brands you don’t know. Your accent will start to fade and you will have a more complicated relationship with the word ‘home’, but all the new experiences and stories you have will make feeling like an alien worth it.


Next up, dealing with the melancholy of big city life.