Women move abroad for many different reasons. Some live abroad for fun, others do it for love or family and some do it their careers. But regardless of the ‘why’, there will always be some bumps in the road. As it it turns out, a lot of women find that the bureaucracy and logistics of moving overseas is in fact the easy part. For many the challenges begin after their flights have landed and they find themselves having to build a new life from scratch in an unfamiliar place. We surveyed women in nearly 200 cities in order to better understand the challenges they faced when living abroad.
1) Losing touch with friends back home
59% of the women in Girl Gone International communities found that the biggest challenge to living abroad is that they have lost touch with friends from back home – and it’s not due to lack of effort! Even with all of the social media channels and messenger apps that are available, an international relocator can find that her friends back home just aren’t as responsive anymore.
Sometimes you lose contact due to scheduling conflicts (time differences are a real hurdle) or after major life events. For many people the thought of change can be scary and perhaps those friends aren’t sure how to relate to you once you’re no longer in the same city. And there are also some friendships that drift away naturally and would have done so regardless of your location. Just remember that no amount of distance can break a real bond, and moving to a new country will give you lots of stories to share with your friends back home while also opening you up to new friendships.
2) Finding a sense of belonging
49% of our respondents have a hard time feeling like they belong in their new country, which is totally understandable given that starting over is hard no matter where you are. Add in the complexities of being in a new culture and perhaps not even speaking the same language and it’s easy to see why you might feel like a fish out of water. Even something as comforting as humor doesn’t translate from one culture to the next!
Adjusting to a new place takes time and some things that could help you strike a sense of normalcy are: finding a local community, developing a routine, and experiencing your new city in a new or different way – say, exploring it by bicycle if it’s not what you’re used to. Moving abroad can be a disorienting experience, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you find that it takes time for you to feel comfortable in your new surroundings.
3) Not feeling like a part of the local community
47% of GGIs felt isolated from the local community upon their arrival and one way to prepare for this is to plan ahead. For example, our local Girl Gone International communities are open to women all across the world and you don’t have to wait to move abroad to join them! And the best part is that we are open to local women as well, so no matter what city you end up in you can always find a GGI to serve as a sort of local ambassador who can show you the ropes. But don’t stop there.
If you want to feel like part of the community, you need to support the local community. Seek out local markets and support local businesses, and keep an eye out for local festivals and events so that you can get the full experience of living overseas, including participating in traditional and community events. Homesickess is totally normal, but with some planning, the rewards of living abroad can more than make up for those feelings of loneliness.
4) Friends move away a lot
Sometimes the shoe is on the other foot, and instead of you being the one to move abroad, it’s your friends that have decided to leave. 45% of women have experienced this more times than they can count. And after they’ve spent months – even years – finding a community and building a life in a new country, learning that a dear friend is moving away can feel like a huge blow. This can happen quite a bit if you live in an international city or are in a career that relies on international workers, such as teaching.
The best you can do in this scenario is to be supportive. Remember how you felt when you were planning to move abroad? The stress, the fears, the excitement? They’re feeling that too! And they’re going to want to feel supported in their decision. So invite them out to celebrate and do your part to keep in touch.
5) Missing out on special events
We all have responsibilities and we all have things we want to do – if we’re lucky these things will overlap into a spectacular Venn diagram of our lives. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. For 37% of women living abroad one of the most difficult aspects of living away from friends and family is that they miss out on special life events.
Weddings, births, birthdays, graduations – in theory we’d like to be there for all of it. But sometimes it’s just not possible. Visa issues and the cost of flights are just some of the factors that can create a logistical nightmare for a woman living overseas. The most we can do is manage the expectations of our loved ones and find new and creative ways to participate (Zoom birthday party, anyone?).
Living abroad is not always the stuff of diffused Instagram filters. It’s not a non-stop influx of delicious foods, fun adventures or romantic escapes. It can be a messy, overwhelming and scary process and when you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle that has experienced the same, it can feel incredibly lonely. But guess what? You are not alone! Thousands, nay, MILLIONS of women have been where you are, and far too many to count are eager to help you along the way.
By Vianessa Castaños
Vianessa is a producer, actor and culture & lifestyle writer whose love of history and gastronomy has propelled her to travel the world…until she eventually landed at Girl Gone International where she serves as Deputy Editor.