Moving away from family and adopting a ‘second family’ abroad: ask yourself these 8 questions first


The first time I was moving away from my family, my mom threw me a surprise party with the entire family just before I left. It totally took me by surprise even though I’m not fond of surprise parties. 

It made me miss my entire family and friends a lot more and I had to remind myself that I was only gone for half a year before coming back.

In this article, you and I will look at the benefits and drawbacks of moving abroad and away from family that I have noticed during my time as an expat. We’ll also look at specific questions you can ask yourself to see if you are ready to go abroad along with ways to deal with the drawbacks.

The pros and cons of moving away from family

There are many pros and cons related to moving away from family and I’ll cover some of them here, but surely there will be some that are unique to you and that you have to take note of for yourself. 

Moving away from your family and abroad to a foreign country is a rollercoaster ride to say the least. The positives and the negatives we know from home are similar but feel stronger because we don’t have the comfort of what we know. 

But in the end, we tend to grow way more than we would’ve ever been able to back home and it will become one hell of a good story when you get old. 

With regards to that, I’m one of those who believe that the worst thing is to regret not doing something you dreamed of doing, rather than actually doing it and not having a good experience.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the advantages of moving away from your family and to a foreign country.

car side mirror with a reflection of sun

Pros

1. More room for personal growth

This is such an important point that it had to go first. If you aren’t interested in personal growth at some level, living abroad will probably be challenging. That’s not to say that it can’t be done or that every expat is a crazy personal growth guru. But let’s face it, whether we want to or not we have to deal with a different culture, language and people, and even if it looks similar on the surface, you’ll discover that there is a difference sooner or later.

No matter where you are from and where you move to, there tends to be some level of daily annoyance if you let it get to you. That’s just how it is to grow up with one culture and move to another.

Since the environment we are in shapes us, we have the opportunity to try other environments to learn how they’ll impact us. If you are particularly ambitious, you might use the opportunity to mingle with people that have similar ambitions and see how that affects you (it makes a world of difference).

2. You’ll appreciate home more

In Denmark, we have a saying that “out is good but home is best”, suggesting that going away makes us feel a special way about home simply because we are not there.

That’s exactly how it feels when we live abroad and come back home on holiday. Everything from people to candy is just so much sweeter and everyone tends to be more excited to see you.

My mom always says that when we travel, a big part of the trip is the anticipation of what’s coming. I’ve found it to be true especially because when I go on impulsive trips, I don’t enjoy it as much and the only difference is that there has been little anticipation in advance. My point is that the anticipation of going back home on holiday when we are abroad makes it a much better experience than to live there.

3. Someone else might be inspired by your example and do something they’ve always dreamt of

Maybe it’s me coming of age but it took me quite a while to understand how much I appreciate helping others and how amazing it feels when someone achieves their goal because of a suggestion or advice they asked you for. It can’t be described, only felt, and it is such a cheesy thing these days that I was considering not to include it.

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who’ve been going abroad and had a terrific experience because they noticed I have had a good experience. Just like I did it because I noticed friends who were planning their own move or had already done it. 

In fact, I was terrified to go abroad alone and my first attempt was to join a university on a partnership program because my friend was going, so I wouldn’t be doing the entire thing alone. That failed miserably (that’s a story for another day) but led me to a situation that changed my life forever. In fact, I now think of my life in two sections; before and after this experience.

That failed attempt led me to another university where I, by sheer chance, got grouped together, for all classes, for the entire semester with a guy who later told me he wanted to go to Malaysia on semester exchange.

At the time, the only thing I could respond with was “uhm, where is that?”

I had no idea, I just knew it was somewhere far away and probably (maybe) in Asia but it was a guess.

Lo and behold, he somehow convinced me to apply and that following semester, sure enough we arrived at KLIA — Kuala Lumpur’s airport outside the capital of Malaysia.

Now it’s been almost ten years and I wouldn’t change that experience for the world. It opened up my life to so many new things that I couldn’t even begin to imagine and being able to offer that to another person when you know the value, is an amazing feeling.

Those were a few of the good things. Next, let’s look at some of the disadvantages.

Cons

1. The guilt whether our own or others’

This one isn’t necessarily experienced by everyone. In fact, I haven’t felt it much personally but I do notice other expats feeling guilty for moving away from family, so it’s worth pointing out.

We might feel guilty for moving away from our family and feel as if we should stay home and take care of our parents. I don’t consider this leaving them behind as some may, since the vast majority of people around the world don’t want to move and many don’t even want to travel much either.

So what is a dream to you and me, might be a nightmare for them. Most of my family doesn’t travel much and would surely hate having to move. In some cases, our surroundings drive us away because we want a change. I’ve found that for personal and career growth, a change of surroundings can have the most impact of all.

That brings me to the next point which is unreasonable guilt trips from family members. As harsh as it may sound, I can’t pick a single situation where someone guilt tripping us is alright. It is extremely egoistic behavior and something that ought to drive us away. To me, guilt trips from others helps me make the decision easier as less of that can only be a good thing.

Family usually look at our move through the lens of safety rather than personal growth and if we change, our relationship might change with them (and people don’t like change).

There is only one thing worse than guilt and that is the regret of not doing something you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time!

2. You’ll miss out on stuff at home 

I’ve found that many expats tend to spend one holiday per year going back home. It can feel frustrating if you have a limited number of holidays and want to stay home longer or want to go home less and explore the new area where you live.

Either way, eventually you’ll discover that you are missing out on things at home. Sometimes it’s an event like a funeral, birth or someone’s birthday. Some find it a relief because they now have a legitimate excuse not to attend everything while others move back home because they just can’t stand to miss out.

If you live abroad for long enough, the interesting thing you’ll discover is that the more time passes, the more you’ll realize that you aren’t really missing anything and that many things feel novel and new but aren’t really. Things pretty much stay the same in the grand scheme of things.

With a basic overview of the general pros and cons of moving away from family out of the way, I’ve prepared specific questions that you can ask yourself to help make your decision. 

Expat questions I wish I had asked myself before moving away from family

These are questions that I wish I had asked myself before I moved abroad as they would’ve made things easier. At the time, I simply didn’t know so perhaps this can help you better understand why you really want to go abroad and what you’ll do in certain situations.

Some of these situations are probably not going to happen but I’ve found that having to make important decisions in the thick of it–in the middle of a crazy situation–can be challenging, so it is best to have a basic idea of what you’ll do in advance.

Keep in mind that if you look at these questions and feel “too lazy” to answer them for yourself, you might not be as interested in moving abroad and more looking at this as a reactive plan to solve an annoyance that just happened. If that’s the case, moving abroad might not be the best idea as you’ll come to realize that the problem will follow you there too. 

With that in mind, let’s move to the questions you can ask yourself.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you are ready to move abroad

  • What do you want your life to look like? What do you dream of accomplishing that you think can be done abroad?
  • When major family events happen, what will you do? (funeral, wedding, birthdays, etc.)
  • What are you going to do about logistics? (visa, money transfers, bank account, etc.)
  • When are you going to visit family and friends?
  • Are you willing to go out of your way to build a new group of friends abroad? (Even if you don’t know how–this blog can show you)
  • Are you living your life or someone else’s? (e.g. doing what your parents want)
  • What’s the worst that can happen? (you can always go back)
  • What might I be idealizing about life in X country or city?

I do recommend writing the answers down in a document even if it’s just for you. It tends to help clear our minds.

man in the middle of the road

Solutions for those “I’m not quite sure” questions

Now let’s look at some basic solutions for some of the general concerns about moving abroad. You might find even better ways to solve the uncertainties and confusion, so consider this a way to kickstart the process.

How to effectively stay in touch with family and friends at home

Before leaving for the first time, it’s easy to feel stressed out and wonder what you’ll miss when you leave and want to stay in touch with home all the time. But what many of us find when we actually do leave is that we get busy with all the new stuff and simply have less energy to worry or miss home.

It is challenging to stay in touch with EVERYONE at home, especially if you are in a different timezone. A good place to start is to call your close family (e.g. parents) each Sunday, so it doesn’t build up to these all nighter-type calls when you haven’t spoken in a while and they want to hear how things are going.

With close friends I’ve found that a fixed monthly catchup with a fun theme works well. A fun theme might be to drink a couple of beers or wine together and discuss which ones you brought. Sporadic messages here and there and group chats with mutual friends tend to work well too.

The biggest growth is ahead of you

When things aren’t going as planned it’s easy to lose sight of why we are doing this. Reminding ourselves why we are moving abroad and what kind of life we dream of can help. Ramit Sethi’s “your biggest growth is ahead of you” is a great way to look at it.

moving away from family - biggest growth

A different way to look at moving: if you have a dream that you’d like to do something about but feel stuck, changing your environment (surroundings) is perhaps the most powerful way to work towards that dream… and moving abroad is one hell of a way to change your surroundings.

Don’t beat yourself up

There are many frustrations to living abroad and a surprisingly common one is the frustration of the frustration itself. Sometimes we wish we were as cool as a cucumber and didn’t get bothered by small details.

If that’s you, practice recognizing when you feel that way and work to tweak what you tell yourself from “I shouldn’t be annoyed by this…” to “everyone struggles with this”. If a friend came to us with that, that’s probably what we would tell them anyway.

You will feel shitty sometimes–plan for it

The biggest and most common expat trap I’ve noticed is that people don’t make friends at first because they are busy getting settled. One thing leads to another and suddenly months have passed by and they wake up one morning wanting someone to hang out with–a close friend–but they have none.

This is as predictable as night and day. It is also impossible to fix when you need it simply because friendships take time to build and that can’t be done overnight.

Now that you know it, you have a chance to do something about it in advance starting with this guide on how to make friends in a new country.

Takeaways

  • Don’t move abroad because something bothers you and you’d like to run away. Fix whatever that is first
  • Plan for what might happen abroad – it sure sucks to have to make important decisions when you are in the thick of it
  • Changing your surroundings is the most powerful way to go after your dreams and grow as a person that I know of

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