You just can’t concentrate at work anymore. You spend most of the day on Instagram scrolling through travel pictures. You’re job doesn’t light you up and you spend most of the day wondering if you’ll ever break out of the soulsucking rat race. Your commute is beginning to feel like torture.
If you’re being honest, there’s probably at least a tiny part of you that wants to just drop everything and move to a new country. Set sail and travel full time. I get that. Life is short and we live on a beautiful planet. It would be a tragedy to go through life and only see a small sliver of all the beauty this world has to offer.
That’s why I moved to Budapest, Hungary when I was 22.
Unfortunately, at the time, expat coaching wasn’t really a thing and I didn’t have anyone to offer me honest advice on how to move abroad.
The reality is, moving to a different country is hard. Even in the best of circumstances, the culture shock, language barrier, and stresses of everyday life can have a SERIOUS impact on your mental health. I know it impacted mine.
That’s why I’m writing this blog series to give you all of the information I wish I had before I showed up completely alone in a country I had never been to before.
Looking back, it was nuts of me to do this without any help. Luckily, you don’t have to.
1. Ego Calls vs. Soul Calls
Some people feel the call to travel, some people don’t. If you are feeling the call, before you uproot your life, you need to figure out where that call is coming from. If you are inspired to travel by the Instagram models you follow, if you imagine this journey is going to be easy and glamorous, and if you fantasize about showing off how cool and exciting your life is, it’s probably your ego that wants to travel. If that is the case, you aren’t going to have the stamina that it takes to move abroad full time. When shit gets hard, your ego is going to get bored real fast.
On the other hand, you might be experiencing a call to travel that comes from deep in your soul. You will feel this call throughout your entire body. Your desire to travel comes from wanting to see more of this gorgeous planet we live on. If your soul is asking you to travel, it is coming from a desire to expand and grow. It is only with this growth mindset that you will be able to overcome the literal and emotional hurdles that come with long term travel.
2. If Your Call is Genuine, It Isn’t Going Away
Soul calls come to us for a reason and ignoring them will not make them go away. You may be too afraid to quit your job and move abroad. That’s normal, but that doesn’t mean your desire is going anywhere. If you have a soul call to travel (or to do anything really) you need to answer it in earnest. The good news is that if it is a genuine soul desire, the Universe will move things around to make it happen, as long as you take the leap and make the effort.
Before I moved abroad, I was sick with nerves. Each day I got closer to the move, I felt sicker and sicker, but I knew my desire to see the world was bigger than my fear of change and airplanes. I took the leap and the Universe opened doors for me, both in my career and in my personal growth.
3. You Need Help
When I moved to Budapest, I did not have the help or support I needed. I actually didn’t even have that when I studied abroad in college. It wasn’t until I had been living in Budapest for almost two years that I learned there was an industry supporting expats with everything from coaching, to accounting, to in person events.
Living abroad is wildly stressful at times. Simple things waiting in line at customs and going to the doctor sometimes make you want to give it all up and move back to safety. But getting yourself the support you need will make this experience so much more viable and save yourself unnecessary suffering.
4. You Need to Study the Language
Note that I didn’t say you need to learn the language! Learning the language is great and will seriously improve your career cred, but it’s not totally necessary. It is necessary to study the language and do your best to use it in everyday life.
For one, it’s just good etiquette when you move to a new country, but it goes deeper than that. Studying the language will help you acclimate more to living in a new place. But it will also open you up for richer experiences.
Locals know learning a new language is hard, and they will so appreciate your efforts, even if they laugh at your mispronunciations. People will be kinder and help you more which makes all of the study well worth it. And nothing can beat that feeling of accomplishment when you are finally able to negotiate with street vendors or order in a cafe in a new language. If you can manage it, start studying the language before you get there. Even if you only know a few words, it will ease your transition.
5. Transplant Shock is Not Just for Plants
Transplant shock is when you move a plant from one spot to another and no matter what you do, it just can’t thrive. This totally applies to humans as well. (Note: I’m kind of stealing this idea from Venessa Rodriguez of the Wildly Rooted Podcast).
When you move to a new place, your system is going to be in shock for awhile. Your circadian rhythm is going to have to adjust. It’s actually normal for women to miss their periods when they move to a new country, I always do. The new foods may be hard on your digestive system. And you may find yourself depressed, homesick, and emotionally fried. This is a normal part of the process, but there are ways to diminish these symptoms. (link to other article)
6. There Are Options
A lot of people have preconceived notions about what their career is going to look like when they move abroad. Some people think their only option is to teach English. Others envision a remote job or working locally. There are pros and cons to all of these work options but try to keep an open-mind. There are more options that you are capable of seeing right now, so remain open to seeing the benefits of these different career paths or even trying multiple options at the same time. Not every job you have is going to be your dream job, but with the right mindset, every job can be a step towards living your dream life.
Yep, you read that right. Transplant shock isn’t just for plants!
If you aren’t a gardener, transplant shock is when you uproot a plant and move it somewhere else, where it fails to thrive. In some cases, the plant will even die.
Like plants, we humans are rooted into our environments. Our roots may be less literal, like our social networks, family, and habits, but it doesn’t mean we are any less deeply rooted. Just like plants, our bodies have also acclimated to the environment around you and the food you are eating. A move can have physical and emotional impacts on your wellness.
When you uproot yourself and move to a new country, the shock can be just as traumatic as it is for plants. For me, it was almost tortuous to go from the Sunshine state to Eastern European winters. Wow, talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder!
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
What I am saying is the a move takes foresight and strategy. If you want to thrive in your new home, you need to make the effort to do so.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to help people like me avoid the mistakes that I made when I moved abroad. So if you want to really commit to your wellness and making your move successful on all levels, I seriously recommend follow these tips.
1. No Trips Abroad for 3 Months
So I know you moved abroad because you want to see the world, but when you first move to a new country, you need to focus on settling down first to avoid transplant shock. In other words, you need to let your roots ground in so you can thrive in your new home long term. Taking trips to other countries right away will not only be disorienting, but will also get in the way of forming an intimate relationship with your new city. Depending on your visa situation, you may not even be able to leave the country for the first few months anyway. Focus on really getting to know your new city and don’t leave until it has started to really feel like home.
2. Time in Nature
One of the most important things you can do to diminish transplant shock is to get out in nature. I believe every country and every city has its own energy. When you’re moving out of one energy and into another, it may be a shock to your system. Going exploring in nature will not just help you fall in love with your new home, but I believe the subtle energy of plants has profoundly healing effects. Get out into nature anytime you’re feeling homesick or disconnected and you will acclimate much more quickly.
3. Move in Summer
If you’re moving more than a few time zones away, your circadian rhythm is going to be totally fucked. This impacts people to different degrees, but for me, it’s an absolute nightmare and it can take weeks before I feel like a normal human again.
One of the best ways (maybe the only way!) to align your circadian rhythm and get your sleep schedule back on track is sunlight. If you are moving to a place that experiences winter, you should really move in the summer. Otherwise, you will not have access to the kind of sunlight that will align your sleep cycles. This can cause insomnia, fatigue, depression, and MAJOR transplant shock.
When I was in graduate school, I spent 6 weeks in the US for winter break and traveled around the US while I was there. This was such a big mistake. It disrupted my process of settling into life abroad and totally fucked up my circadian rhythm. When I got back to Hungary it was the dead of winter and there was almost no sunlight. I got sick, depressed, homesick, and exhausted. And I don’t mean a little sad or a little sluggish. I mean full blown depression and an inability to get out of bed and go to class.
I totally understand the desire to want to go home and see your family over the holidays, but it can set back your process of acclimation back in a lot of ways. It may be worth it to skip your first year or to have them visit you instead.
4. Study the Language
Not only is this a practical tool that will make your life easier, but I believe that each language has its own vibration. Practicing the language will help you acclimate more to the energy of the country and help you form that intimacy you want with your new home.
5. Limit Contact with Friends Back Home
I know this makes me sound like a hardass, but it is totally necessary. I don’t mean you should ghost all of your friends, but you should be mindful in your contact when you first move.
When you have those difficult moments, you’re going to want to reach out to something familiar. But the more you rely on your network back home, the more you are going to want to go back.
Right now, you are trying to make a new home for yourself, so it is vitally important that you push yourself to develop a local support network as soon as you can. This is where having an expat coach can really help you. It is someone familiar you can turn to when you need support, but not someone you had a pre-existing relationship with that is going to distract you or tempt you to give up.
6. Connect with People Before You Move
Friendship might be the biggest tool towards helping you feel more rooted in your new home. Connecting with people and organizations before you get there will help you a lot. Join local expat organizations for events and support in finding an apartment. Join local Facebook pages and post in the groups introducing yourself. Having someone you can reach out to to ask questions before you get there and knowing you will have chances to socialize as soon as you move will be such a balm for your anxiety.
One group I’m a part of Women of Budapest, is a support network for Hungarian and expat women living in Budapest (obviously). They host social events, travel together, post jobs, and answer even your most embarrassing questions (where can I find an English speaking doctor that does paps?). Having a support network like this before arriving will change your experience.
7. Get Your Own Space ASAP
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is taking too long to find an apartment. You should have all of your basic research on apartment hunting covered before you even move. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend signing a lease before you get there, but you should already have showings booked. The longer it takes to get into your own space, unpack, and start to build your nest, the more stressed you’re going to be and the less it will feel like home.