After becoming totally consumed by wanderlust in 2011, I bought a one way plane ticket from my hometown of Sydney, Australia to London. Shortly after, I packed my favourite belongings into a single suitcase and moved across the world on my own. These are the things I learnt (the hard way) along the way.
1. You will get lost. It won’t be romantic and beautiful like a Hollywood film. It will be after 35 hours of flights, three stopovers, one delay and two declined credit cards. You will possess a phone that has no reception to make a call, let alone use GPS. No one in the street will have heard of the place you are looking for and they will all stare at you like you’re crazy. After all, you’re a deranged mess with matted hair, bloodshot eyes and socks under your sandals, dragging around a suitcase. You’ll finally hail a cab, the driver will rip you off and you’ll leave your favourite book on the back seat, but you will get to your destination. Bed will feel amazing. Free Wifi from your bed will be the kind of bliss you can’t even fathom.
2. Everyone sticks to their own kind. They form communities, live in shared houses with people from their home country, hang out with their friends from back home, and go to locally themed pubs. You will soon realise this isn’t for you and you are missing out on a huge chunk of the international experience by limiting yourself in this way. You will force your way out of your comfort zone after you go to a party and run into several people from your home town, spiraling some sort of ‘why did I even leave?’ depression. It will be one of the best choices you make on your journey.
3. Even if you speak the same words, sometimes you still aren’t speaking the same language. There will be cultural misunderstandings you will laugh over, but there will also be the kind that will cost you a friendship. You’ll have a light bulb moment six months later when you finally figure out why.
4. If you go to a country where you have little to no grasp of the language, you will find yourself in a situation, either in a café, pub or pharmacy where you are desperately trying to mime to a staff member what you need. They won’t understand you and both of you will grow more and more distressed as the communication continues to break down and your hand movements become increasingly desperate. You will leave the establishment without your painkillers/beer/whatever feeling dejected, embarrassed, headache-y or thirsty and repeat the whole process over, somewhere down the street.
5. You will break down and cry because you need your mum. It will probably be in public, at a bus stop before work at 7am. You will wipe your nose on your sleeve and alarm the person next to you with your hiccup-y sobs. Sorry, it’s going to happen.
6. You will end up living in a share house with at least one person you hate. It’s probably going to be that French girl with the cool clothes that found you on Gumtree. She will have loud conversations in French in the lounge room while you and your other housemates are trying to watch Friends, she will leave plates of food on the floor of your shared bedroom, leading you to find a dead mouse in a bowl under your dresser one night while you’re looking for a lost sock. Her cool clothes aren’t so awesome strewn across your bed when you get home from a bad day at work and want to sleep. Eventually you will kick her out in the most laughably passive aggressive manner. All your housemates will pretend you are being evicted, so as to not hurt her feelings. You will even pack some of your belongings in boxes to authenticate this ruse.
7. You will miss food from home. So much so that in a moment of total weakness, you will end up paying $8 for a jar of vegemite and $10 for a packet of Timtams (must haves for any true Aussie). You will gorge yourself on the Timtams and immediately feel sick. The Vegemite, however, you will forget about after one slice of toast and not discover again until you’re clearing out to move home.
8. Strangers will be mean. That bus driver will not stop for you when you’re already late for your first day of work and the lady selling train tickets at the newsagency will rip you off when she realises you don’t understand the system. You will be robbed twice in the space of twelve months, and almost scammed numerous times. You will lose a couple of jobs over the most ridiculous things (See point number 3).
9. People of the opposite sex will want to date you because of your accent. You will be flattered and feel like some sort of exotic bird, or rare jewel. Eventually things with this person will wear thin and the two of you will be left with the shell of something that wasn’t really that great to begin with.
(Bonus) But finally, everything that they DO tell you about moving overseas is also true. Even through the frustration, tears and homesickness, it will be one of the richest and most rewarding experiences of your life. You will gain so many life skills in a short amount of time and forge the tightest bonds with the friends you make. You will step out of your comfort zone and try things you wouldn’t have dared before. Moving overseas is actually pretty wonderful.
Photo by Emily Long