So I guess it is not really a ‘one year on’ post anymore because life has just got in the way these past few weeks. However, I really wanted to jot down a few notes about living abroad now that I have been calling Vienna ‘home’ for the past year.
Whilst I was so ready for a new beginning and living in this wonderful new city has brought me many new joys, it hasn’t always been that greener field on the other side of the fence. There has been a fair few anxious spells and a lot of new places, people and situations to get used to. However, if I have learnt anything from a lot of life’s experiences so far, it is to celebrate the highs and to learn from the lows. Whilst I don’t always follow this idea through completely (it’s not easy to see just how much can be celebrated and it becomes very easy to get caught up in life’s woes) I am definitely getting better at it.
In starting this blog and, in doing so, meeting some inspiring and creative individuals I have gained many tips and tricks for staying positive, one of which includes reflection. Therefore, I started looking back at everything I have learnt over the past year of living abroad and managed to create a full list of all the things I thought would be useful to anyone starting their ‘living abroad’ journey (or for anyone that is currently living abroad to relate to!)
10 things I have learnt in my first year of living abroad:
- Care packages are amazing! Who thought getting tea bags and sweets from your home country in the mail could be so exciting. Myself and my best friend in Canada also like to send each other ittie bittie birthday gifts. They tend to consist of little bits of everything and it means so much more than any expensive gift. I love seeing the ideas she had for each item and reading the little notes on top requiring me to ‘use when it all gets a bit too much and relax’ (it was face masks) or ‘open first, and reminisce about the good times’ (it was notebook filled with little quips and quotes to remind me of a trip we took together the year previously).
- Make it feel homely. Whether you are going on exchange for a semester or moving abroad for an unlimited length of time, do what you can to make the place you are living in feel cozy, safe and welcoming. Hang pictures (or just stick them to the walls with blu tack), get a couple of throw pillows and make sure there’s a good few books on the shelves. These were all the first few additions I made to my room and it made such a difference. Plus, anything can be brightened up by a few strings of bunting and fairy lights.
- You’ve made your new digs homely, but the place you live in still doesn’t completely feel like ‘home’. Moving to a new place can seem incredibly daunting, but that does change. Start of small; find the necessary places in your local area like the grocery store, the bank and post office and learn when they’re closed ie on a Sunday in Vienna. Get to know the transport system; take it a few stops and then come back. I remember the first time I took the tram in Vienna by myself. I thought I was Wonder Woman and even sent a message to my Mum because I was so proud of my achievement. As you build up your knowledge of the area you’ll start to find your ‘go to’ cafes, you’ll no longer have to give yourself ‘extra time to get lost and find your away’ and you’ll start to find the hidden gems and short cuts that the locals have known about for years.
- You are there to live, not just for a holiday, so don’t feel like you have to see everything in your new city/town straight away. Just like the above point, get used to an area first, then make a list of all the places you want to visit and take your time in exploring. I have a long list of everything I want to do in Vienna and I’m about half way through. Sometimes I want to spend my days off wandering through one of Vienna’s many tourist attractions and other times I want to catch up on sleep and read a book at home. It’s about balance.
- Unless you speak the language before you get there, chances are it’s going to take a lot longer to learn to speak it than you imagine. There will always be exceptions to this however; where you move to, the people you are surrounded by and how much you attempt to use the language. Vienna is a very multi-cultural city and pretty much everyone here speaks English. This, combined with the fact I live and work in an international school in which we are trying to support the students’ development of English, has made learning German, for me, slightly more difficult. However I am lucky that Vienna has multiple options for language schools. Do your research and see what is available in your area, but don’t be too worried if you don’t pick it the local lingo straight away.
- Conversations with friends and family are strange. They constantly have to be arranged and when deciding upon a time to chat, it has to be clarified whose time zone it is set to. “Are you free to chat tomorrow?” “Yes, I can do 9pm?” “My time or you time?” “My time.” “Okay” (When it comes to calling Canada at least one person has to do the primary level maths and either subtract or add on six hours.) There will also be loads to say in the first few months as everything is still so new, but you’ll find the conversations will become more regular again; talking about what you had for dinner, moaning about how tired you are and excitedly telling the other person about the new cupcake shop you just found (or is this just me?!)
- You’ll acquire a lot of stuff. You’ve moved to a new country and, like me, you probably moved with a few suitcases that contained just enough clothes for each season, a few photos, one or two books if you’re lucky (I wasn’t, they were the first things to come out when both my suitcases were overweight) and the odd keepsake that you can’t go anywhere without. It always seems so much stuff when you have to squeeze it all into suitcases, but then it looks like you have brought almost nothing when you are unpacking and you have to decide which one of the many shelves to put your meager belongings onto. So you find yourself aquiring piles of books to fill them and you buy extra jumpers to get you through the Viennese winters. Now, a year later, you’re wondering where you’re going to put it all and how on earth you’re going to get it back into those original two suitcases!
- You’ll constantly be planning hypothetical trips with your friends and researching how much it will cost them to visit you in your new ‘home.’ Skyscanner becomes your best friend and you’ll find yourself making itineraries of what you’re going to do when they ‘might just come and visit’. Yet sometimes all that planning becomes a reality and suddenly they’re sending you a message saying “I’ve bought my tickets!”
- If you move abroad alone like I did, it can sometimes feel as if you are never going to get to know anyone. You have been so used to having people around you that you get together with regularly or are up for a chat if you’re feeling a bit low, but now you’ve moved to this whole new city and you don’t know anybody. It feels like you have spent months doing things by yourself or going for coffee with various people you have met through social media groups like Women of Vienna, but you still don’t feel as if you ‘know them know them’. This does change, but you have to realise that it might take time. I finally feel as if I have got to a point that I know a good group of girls here that I can call friends and whilst it might not be completely uplifting to realise that friendships are not going to be formed instantly, I promise it’s worth it. I have also become a lot better at being my own company which I was completely crap at before (nothing was really fun unless I had others around me) so that is a bonus in itself!
- Finally, after living in Vienna for a year the concept of ‘home’ is dwindling even more. When the New Year rolls around and I have to start thinking about what to do once my contract is up in July, one of my main criteria is definitely going to be “Is there an option to stay living abroad or to move somewhere new?” Obviously this may not be entirely feasible (if the right job/studies comes up in the UK then that is where I will go) and the idea of planning the future once again is terrifying. However, this time around, I’m not nearly as worried about packing up all my stuff (if I can get it all in!) and exploring somewhere new.