back to top
Travel

Here's What It's Actually Like To Move To Another Country

America the far away.

Posted on

Raise your hand if, at some point in your life, you've dreamed about packing up your belongings and moving halfway around the world.

Well, here are 14 Americans who did just that — and want to share their experiences. These adventurers have wise, honest observations to pass along, observations only experience can teach you. The basic headline: Living abroad is a wonderful, strengthening, enlightening, and life-changing experience — but it also doesn't come without its difficulties.

Read on to hear all about the true adventure of life overseas.

Advertisement

1. Grant Lingel, 32, Vitória, Brazil

The last time Grant lived in the U.S., he was 28 years old and working as an organic farmer and mountain ranch caretaker in Northern California. "But I wanted to learn Portugese, so I moved to Brazil with no real plan other than a strong desire to learn the language and eventually open a hostel," he told BuzzFeed Travel. When he arrived, he met and married a Brazilian woman from Vitória — where he now owns and operates a hostel. (Dream!)

What he misses most about life in America: "Plumbing, multi-lane interstate highways, peanut butter and jelly, Home Depot, diners, seeing deer and squirrels, and my favorite hometown pizza shops."

What he loves most about life in Brazil: "The truth is, I'm the most comfortable in new places where things are different, and the language barrier is a challenge."

Biggest lesson he's learned overseas: "People around the world are more similar than we think. Sure, customs and settings vary, but we all want to love and be loved, follow our passions, and dream big."

2. Ali Gaffey, 30, Australia

For the past six years, Ali worked as an instructional coach at a public high school in New Orleans. While she loved her job, she had a burning desire to travel more — so she decided to take advantage of Australia's work and holiday visa, which allows Americans (and others) under 30 to live and travel abroad. Her 30th birthday was fast approaching, so she knew she had to just do it.

What she misses most about life in America: "Mexican food and burgers. Being able to walk into a CVS, Walgreens or Target and pick up beauty products and toiletries. And Amazon — I haven't found a replacement for it here yet."

What she loves most about life in Australia: "Thinking about how things are similar and different from the States, and getting to explore new places."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "People in other countries generally know more about the issues in the United States than we know about their country."

3. Ian Roderick, 31, Berlin, Germany

After five years in New York City, Ian needed a change. He decided to move to Berlin because he wanted to spend more time abroad, he wanted to go to grad school and actually be able to afford it, and he'd met a significant other who was from there. "I didn't expect to stay here permanently, but then the two of us suddenly became three, and I had my own little family in Berlin — which changed everything," he told BuzzFeed Travel.

What he misses most about life in America: "Calling my buddies and asking them to meet at the bar after work, Thanksgiving (it's just an ordinary Thursday in Berlin), and the insane patriotic displays around July 4th. It sounds kitsch, but I miss it."

What he loves most about life in Germany: "It's affordable, Germany has really good support for families, and Berlin is a great city for kids. Also, as a foreigner, I've got a cool ability to view German culture more objectively than Germans do. I can also look at America more objectively than I used to, but the downside is that I sometimes feel caught between two worlds."

Biggest lesson he's learned overseas: "It's true that we're all global citizens, but the reality is that nationality matters. Culture matters. Place matters. I'm an outsider in Germany. I don't understand all the jokes, I don't know the same stories, and I don't share the same heroes. Germany is not my 'home' in the sense that home is where you're from, and it never will be."

4. Nora Walsh, 34, Mendoza, Argentina

Nora met her husband, Guido, in New York City, but he's originally from Mendoza (land of Malbec!), and had always expressed a desire to go home at some point. "I speak Spanish and have traveled much of South America, so I was open to the idea," Nora told BuzzFeed Travel. In 2013, she quit her full-time job to move to Mendoza with her husband, where she's been working as a freelance writer.

What she misses most about life in America: "Living near the ocean, easy access to fresh seafood, a stable currency, the ease of daily life in familiar territory, and New York. In 1953, John Steinbeck wrote in the New York Times, 'Once you have lived in New York and made it your home, no place else is good enough.' I’d have to agree."

What she loves most about life in Argentina: "Total cultural immersion. And learning how to slow down, trust the process, and be present."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "How to gracefully bow out early in a late-night culture. And how to have faith and believe in yourself in the face of challenges and uncertainty."

5. Tommy Shiekman, 31, Shanghai, China

Tommy first experienced life in an Asian country when he was 16, on a cultural immersion trip to Thailand. "By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to study Chinese and start my career in China," he told BuzzFeed Travel. He went on to major in East Asian studies in college, and spent his junior year abroad in Beijing, where he fell in love with a Japanese student at his school. Right after graduation, he moved to Shanghai to be closer to her and start his career, and hasn't looked back.

What he misses most about life in America: "Family and friends. Everything else in the world is replaceable."

What he loves most about life in China: "Being so unequivocally different. Everywhere I go, there's no question I'm an outsider, and the reactions I get from locals are still a thrill. I also love the friends I've made. There's a constant migration of foreigners moving in and out of Shanghai, all of whom were willing to give up something at home and come to China. So it's an extremely diverse, brave, and open-minded community."

Biggest lesson he's learned overseas: "So many people want to see the world and experience something different. Americans and Europeans move to China for a unique experience, and Chinese youth want to move out for the same reason."

Advertisement

6. Sara Olchowski, 31, Sydney, Australia

After Sara graduated from college, she moved to Auckland, New Zealand to be with her now husband, a New Zealander she'd met during her junior year studying abroad there. One year later, he got a job offer in Sydney, Australia, so they moved there together, not knowing anyone else. She landed a job as a recruiter, and they've lived there together ever since.

What she misses most about life in America: Our genuinely friendly, hospitable culture. "Growing up, I always found it easy to criticize our culture — but living abroad has allowed me to appreciate how friendly and selfless Americans can be. In America, 'a friend of yours is a friend of mine' is genuinely how we live, but in Australia, people hardly introduce you at parties!"

What she loves most about life in Australia: "It's simply that I chose this place. Following my heart and my gut led me here. I also feel proud of having built a life from scratch, with no reliance on existing networks or family ties. It feels like an achievement, and it has given me confidence that, if I need to, I can do it again."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "Overconfidence can be a killer. It's great to think positive, but it's silly to underestimate how hard it can be to live in a new environment and a new culture. Manage your expectations, and make room for frustration and tears. It's not all fun, but finding your niche is incredibly rewarding."

7. Dave Schwerin, 31, San Sebastián, Spain

Five years ago, Dave was living a sweet life in San Francisco, working as a staff director for a nonprofit and sailing on the side. "But I was actually so happy that I decided I'd better try living abroad before getting swept up in Bay Area life forever," he told BuzzFeed Travel. A friend told him it was easy to find work in Spanish Basque country, so he applied for and got a job as an English language assistant — and now he's starting his own language business.

What he misses most about life in America: Ethnically diverse food. "The food is fantastic here, but not really open to outside influence. It's Basque food for Basque people. Looking at recipes from American publications was so frustrating that I've pretty much stopped."

What he loves most about life in Spain: "Someone told me once that one year abroad is as good as three at home, and that's the way I feel about my time here. It's worth more. Living abroad, simple things like meeting new people or trying a new dish have this newness and strangeness. "

Biggest lesson he's learned overseas: "Humans are social creatures, and they're meant to explore."

8. Alexis Levine, 31, Barcelona, Spain

An entrepreneur, Alexis runs an online advertising agency which focuses on luxury destination events. "My fiance and I both had opportunities to run our businesses overseas, so we moved to Barcelona this year because there's a real opportunity to create here — and the festival scene in Europe is bustling," she told BuzzFeed Travel.

What she misses most about life in America: Our work ethic. "The efficient work ethic and expertise instilled in America's culture is unparalleled. Taking concept to creation anywhere else has demonstrated that America just knows how to connect business, experience, and efficiency in a streamlined way."

What she loves most about life in Spain: "I'm able to work with different types of people. And the food and weather's not too shabby!"

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "Philosophies about work ethic, priorities, social interaction, and innovation are vastly different wherever you go. Creating a successful work/life balance is all about adapting to those differences."

9. Sasha Savinov, 30, Bali, Indonesia

Six years ago, Sasha and his now wife were living in Nashville, working "crappy" part-time jobs while she looked for a gig in the music business. Fed up, they decided to move to Beijing, China to teach English. "We were both done with being down and out in the U.S.," he told BuzzFeed Travel. After five years in China, they recently moved to Bali, where Sasha is enrolled in a program about Indonesian language and culture.

What he misses most about life in America: Live music, sandwiches, and IPA. "My wife and I met at a music festival and got engaged at a Phish concert, so it’s always hard on us when we have to miss out on those. And this might sound funny, but I really miss making sandwiches. Rice and noodles are great, but boy do I miss going to a good deli, loading up on supplies, and making an epic sandwich. IPA, too — the beer in Bali is terrible."

What he loves most about life in Indonesia: "Experiencing life in a new, totally different place. Every day is a challenge, but every day is also exciting and unique."

Biggest lesson he's learned overseas: "It's just so important to make an effort to learn a bit of the language and culture in a new place. Learning how to greet people, how to say thanks, and how to avoid the cultural taboos goes such a long way. There's nothing worse than being the idiot abroad."

10. Sara Lyle Bow, 38, Singapore

About a year ago, Sara was working as a freelance book editor in New York City, and expecting a child with her new husband. But then her husband got a job offer in Singapore, and, six months into her pregnancy, they moved across the world. After she gave birth, she was approached by Singapore's largest media company, and landed a job as editor of The Finder, a magazine for all people living abroad in Singapore.

What she misses most about life in America: "Friends and loved ones, mostly. It's a 23-hour flight to go back, or ask people to come here, so we don't get to see people as much as we'd like. Skype helps somewhat. I also miss the grid in NYC! Singapore's roads are designed to prevent gridlock, so as a relative newbie, I'm constantly lost."

What she loves most about life in Singapore: "The diversity, both amongst the Singaporeans, who, collectively, have Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian and Eurasian roots, as well as the foreigners, who are from all over the world. I hope that our son is able to grow up around so many different types of people."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "Be flexible, and prepare to change your mind. A lot. Also, fish eyeballs are surprisingly crunchy!"

Advertisement

11. Heather Mancini, 33, Barcelona, Spain

Right after Heather graduated from college, she moved to Italy to delay the seemingly inevitable corporate job, and also to be with her now husband, whom she'd met during her junior year abroad. She hasn't lived stateside since, living in Florence first for school, then London, where she worked for a global education company, and now Barcelona, where she's on maternity leave. She and her husband are raising two children, three years old and three months old.

What she misses most about life in America: Family and friends. "When I was still single and living abroad, I got back to the States once or twice a year. Now that I have a family, and many of my friends and family have their own families, two or three years may pass without seeing some of my siblings or closest friends."

What she loves most about life in Spain: "I learn something new every day. It could be a new word in another language, politics in another country, or how to prepare a cultural dish. Also, my kids hold three passports and will grow up with an international mindset, speaking four languages. I'm not sure what others think, but to me, that's pretty cool."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "You can belong anywhere. Sometimes I've felt lonely because I've felt like I belong nowhere. But then you meet others who've had similar experiences, and you realize that you're part of a bigger community, and that you really belong anywhere and everywhere you want to be."

12. Romie Stott, 35, Pescara, Italy

Five years ago, Romie and her Italian husband Ciro, both filmmakers, decided that they'd move to Italy in five years to work on movies together, and they followed through with their plan. They chose Pescara because it's a comfortable size for newcomers — not too big or small — and it's charming.

What she misses most about life in America: A sense of community. "When David Bowie died, there wasn't the same level of communal mourning in our area as I sense there was in the English-speaking world, even though he's famous here, too. For my husband, it was isolating to feel grief over a stranger that wasn't being shared (though I'm not as nostalgic, perhaps to a fault)."

What she loves most about life in Italy: "Figuring out how to do something that initially frustrates me. I'm so proud when I know how to ask for an onion at the market, but I wouldn't feel that way about something so simple in the U.S. It's like getting to be an adult and a kid at the same time."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "I've found that although Americans tend to be worried about coming off as 'ugly Americans' and believe that Europeans hate us or envy us, we're normally seen as smiley, creative people who work hard and show up on time. Less master of the universe, more ideal employee."

13. Cristina Gonzalez, 31, Berlin, Germany

Just one year ago, Cristina was living in New York City, working as a radio producer. But she felt limited, and wanted to change her life in a big way — so she applied for and landed a transatlantic fellowship in Germany. "It became quite clear that Germany's importance in the world was growing, as was its economy, and I wanted to learn more about it and be a part of it," she told BuzzFeed Travel. Now, she lives in a tiny apartment in the heart of Berlin.

What she misses most about life in America: "Air conditioning, clothes dryers, and the English language!"

What she loves most about life in Germany: "There's such a great international mix of people in Berlin, with speaking multiple languages. It opens you up to many more cultures, and I've gained a new appreciation for all the different ways societies operate."

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "Patience, both with myself and others. Life doesn't move as quickly here. I'm coming to appreciate this — you realize that life won't end if you don't get that email response TODAY — but it certainly is an adjustment."

14. Susan Dalzell, 40, Tokyo, Japan

When Susan was 30, she moved abroad with her husband, 31, because he serves in the military. "We met before he joined the military, and we both agreed that we wanted to have the experience of living in other countries," she told BuzzFeed Travel. They began their life overseas in Cambridge, England, and now live in Tokyo with their son, where she's a freelance writer.

What she misses most about life in America: "The ease of simply belonging. I can't make friends with locals the same way I would if I were living in an American city. Life is just easier at home in the U.S., where I don't have to work so hard to complete simple tasks and make connections."

What she loves most about life in Japan: "I don't get bored, because even a mundane trip to the grocery store can reveal wonderful little gems—who knew there were so many kinds of tentacles?"

Biggest lesson she's learned overseas: "I've learned to relax. When I had to travel distances as a tourist, I always wanted to cram in as much as I could with the time I had. With the luxury of living abroad, I've discovered how nice it is to slow down."

Do you live abroad and want to share your story, too? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

CORRECTION

Heather, in #11, worked for an education company in London. An earlier version of this post misstated the job's location.

Promoted

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss