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  • Writer's pictureThoughtsandThings

Living Abroad: Expectation vs Reality

With the current travel restrictions and life in a pandemic, it could seem kind of crazy to entertain the thought of moving to another country right now. Even though it seems like it's not the best moment to start planning your move abroad, the pandemic as we know it will not last forever (although at times it feels like it) so if moving abroad has been on your mind for some time - why not start the planning process now so that dream can become a reality post-pandemic?

If moving abroad is something you'll be doing in the near future, it's only natural that your mind will come up with a few expectations of how it will be. Now, I'm not here to rain on your parade, but I am here to get real with you about the expectation vs. reality of living abroad because it won't always be a fun experience. It will certainly always be worth it. Going into your living abroad experience with more realistic expectations can save you a lot of frustration, heartbreak, self-judgment, and disappointment so you'll have more energy to be present for each moment of your journey. Without further ado, let's dive into three expectations I had about living abroad.

Expectation: I will learn Spanish (at an advanced level) in 1 year.

Reality: In my case, this expectation was extremely unrealistic. I’d like to start by saying that if you move to a country where no one speaks your language (or no one speaks your language wherever you are) - in a year your language skills may be quite advanced. For me - this wasn't the case as I moved to an international city, taught English classes for the first 8 months, and all of my friends spoke English. Basically, I was living in a different country speaking English all the time.

It wasn’t until I changed jobs and started working at a Chilean digital marketing agency that I started to learn Spanish from the ground up. For me, at the year anniversary mark I had advanced listening skills but still struggled with speaking. The thing is, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and language learning calls for lots of mistakes so all of my time spent overthinking, and avoiding situations in which I would "look stupid" held me back big time from learning Spanish.

Making mistakes is inevitable in language learning. In fact, when you learned your first language you most likely made grammatical mistakes for the first 5-6 years so why would a second language be any different?

You'll see a notable difference if you force yourself to speak as much of the language as possible, and are not too hard on yourself for your mistakes in the process. Like many great achievements in life, the path is bumpy so naturally, you'll fall quite a bit (or say Estoy caliente instead of tengo calor, side note: estoy caliente means I'm horny in Spanish, tengo calor means I'm hot as in temperature), amidst other face palm worthy mistakes.

It took me a while to navigate the complexities of Spanish, and after 4.5 years I still am. I would say that I felt confident with my Spanish skills at about 2-3 years. My advice is to not put a strict timeline on yourself when you need to become “bilingual” - but rather try to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone, speak up, make mistakes, laugh at yourself, and be proud of yourself for trying (it's no small feat).

Expectation: My life will be super exciting and I will travel all the time.

Reality: Living abroad is not mundane, but the common misconception is that it's a constant adventure, glamorous, or that we're always traveling. (I blame movies, TV, & Social Media!) The truth is that unless you're a travel writer for your job, or you're moving abroad to be a digital nomad - life will be a lot more routine than you would expect.

Yes, there is a novelty of living abroad (i.e. different language, culture, hemisphere, etc) but there is also a lot that would be the same if you were back in your home country. I have worked a 9 - 6 ( sadly, 9 - 5 doesn't exist in Chile) for the vast majority of time in Chile and a good chunk of my time is spent "adulting" aka cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries & household supplies or spending time with my boyfriend, friends, colleagues, working on side projects, & epic phone conversations with friends and family back home.

Did you see epic adventures in there? No, you didn't. I'm not saying that I haven't had epic adventures - it's just not a part of my routine. I most definitely have been to some pretty spectacular places in Chile (more on that later). It also helps that Santiago is surrounded by the Andes Mountains, creating a close escape from the hustle & bustle. But for the most part, due to a limited amount of vacation days & budget for travel, it's more of a couple of times a year kind of thing.

Again, this really depends on why you're moving abroad. Are you moving abroad for an international professional experience? Are you moving abroad to tackle another language? Are you moving abroad to conquer your bucket list? Are you moving abroad to be a digital nomad? Your why will greatly impact your day to day activities and there is usually always a give and take. If you want that killer international professional experience - you might have to sacrifice some destinations on your bucket list. At least for the time being!

Expectation: I will have lots of friends.

Reality: Oh, how little my young twenties self understood about adult friendships. I'm nearing my thirties and I still haven't quite mastered the art of adult friend-making. Although I've only really "adulted" in Chile, I assume that making friends as an adult anywhere is hard. Add on a language & culture barrier and it just gets a bit harder. I also expected that I'd have a lot of Chilean friends, while in reality most of my friends are fellow foreigners.

Objectively thinking about this now, it makes a lot of sense. We are all going through the same experience of living abroad so there is an immediate connection to bond over. On the other hand, making friends with Chileans is a much slower process that at times felt impossible when compared to how quickly I would bond with a another outsider. To be fair, throughout the years I've made a fair share of Chilean friends - they just aren't the type of friendships I expected them to be (aka the bestest of best friends).

At this point, you may be thinking "does this girl have any friends" or a panicked "will I make any friends?". My answer to both of those questions is a confident yes! I've met so many interesting people (both Chilean and foreigners) and a handful of them have turned into deep friendships, while some have naturally fizzled out as many friendships do. Making friends with fellow foreigners is a lot easier as you have a shared experience to connect over that wouldn't exist if you'd met in your home country.

You will in no doubt make friends, but it won't be the same as your friendships back home. If you have friends that you've known since elementary/middle school, you've spent 10+ years getting to know each other, and becoming friends. Learn a lesson from my mistake, and acknowledge that you're starting from scratch with friendships abroad, and so it will take time, and consistent effort to cement those friendships. Put yourself out there with the locals, but don't take it personally if those friendships don't come to fruition!


  • Expectation: I will have advanced knowledge of the language in one year.

Reality: This will be really hard if you're moving to an urban area, with a lot of English speakers. On the other hand, if you move to a rural area with little to no English speakers, it's very possible to have advanced speaking skills in one year. The main takeaway: You might have advanced language skills in a year, or you might still be a solid beginner. That's okay! Everyone is different. Move away from deadlines, just try your best each day and you'll get there in your own time.

  • Expectation: My life will be super exciting and I will travel all the time.

Reality: Again, this depends on why you're moving abroad. For me, I moved abroad to learn Spanish and get international professional experience - so unsurprisingly I have spent a lot of my time working, and learning Spanish. This isn't to say that I haven't traveled at all - it's just not as part of my routine as people back home probably think it is. The main takeaway: Before moving abroad, get real with yourself about your why. If the driving reason is to travel more, then actively seek out remote work activities. If you're why is to get international work experience, get to know the culture and language, accept that jet setting off every weekend won't be a common occurrence.

  • Expectation: I will have lots of friends.

Reality: Making new friends is not something that happens overnight, but rather with consistent effort and patience. Making friends with locals is more difficult because of language and cultural barriers amongst other barriers. The main takeaway: Be open-minded about your friendships abroad. They will look different to the best friends you have in your home country, but that's okay and totally normal! Making friends as an adult is challenging anywhere, so be patient with yourself and make sure you're putting yourself out there.

Are you interesting in living abroad or have you lived or studied abroad in the past? Leave a comment below to let us know what some of your expectations, struggles and realities were!

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