Like most millennials, I was itching to move abroad as soon as I finished the university. And probably like most young people, I thought moving abroad was going to be easy - fly there and live there. And of course, it wasn’t that simple. You have to get accustomed to a different culture, a different system, and even different food.
Although, I acknowledge everyone has a different experience when they move abroad, but nonetheless, I wish I had known these 5 things before moving to Sopot, Poland.
Believe it or not, making friends while you’re abroad is a challenge. You have to constantly put yourself out there. And that may not be something easy for most. I’ve never really had a problem “putting myself out there” but when you constantly do it, it does get tiring and, at times, frustrating. That is why I’d strongly recommend finding a roommate, then that person can introduce you to some of his/her friends. Also, don’t feel defeated when you aren’t making friends immediately. It takes time and lots of luck to find great friends.
I met my best two best friends in Poland completely differently and it took a few months. My best girl friend, Gosia - I met her because we worked at the same language school. She would often bring two sets of containers containing food, one for me and one of her. I was amazingly lucky to have met her. She was/is like an older sister to me (one who is forever 18 years old).
And Jarek - I met him completely randomly. I was lost and I was trying to find a place where I could get my passport pictures taken. I had asked serval strangers to help me, but none spoke English. As soon as I asked Jarek and responded, I was surprisingly shocked with his English level (it was perfect!). From then on, we have been friends and were even roommates.
My point is, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with strangers. One of those can become your best friend who will help you out in all sorts of situations. But don’t hold your breath, it can take a while to meet someone like that. Always be positive :)
Joining FB Pages
The one thing, I really wish I had known before moving to Poland is all the FB expat pages. They are so unexpectedly useful! In many of them you can find: housing, friends, events, advice, etc. If I had known these sort of pages existed, I could’ve saved myself so many headaches. What’s more, you can also find people that are in the same boat as you - whether that is trying to find a roommate or simply trying to get a residence permit. The people who are members of these pages are there to help you and guide you if you have any sort of problem(s). So find those groups and ask if you can belong to them. They are extremely valuable!
Learning the Language As Soon As Possible
The one thing I’m still kicking myself for is not learning Polish as soon as I arrived. Sure, you may never become fluent in the language or you may even be atrocious at it. However, if you start as soon as you arrive, the better your language skill will be when you decide to go back to your home country.
I was in Poland for 4 years teaching English. I started learning Polish on my last year. I am ashamed to this day that I don’t know as much Polish as I should know. So do yourself the favor and start learning the language.
Side note - learning a new language (if you have a great teacher) is incredibly fun! I remember going to my Polish teacher’s home (Ania) and not only learning Polish but also enjoying a nice cup of coffee with cookies. All I can say is that it was one of the best decisions I made while I was living there.
Numerous times I heard people complaining about different countries and how much bureaucracy there is. But I’ve never actually experienced until I moved to Poland. Now, it is not only Poland, it is everywhere. However, I don’t think people in their early to mid 20’s know about this. When you move to any country be aware that there will be a lot (from opening a bank account to getting your residence permit). Make sure to take with you multiple copies of everything, from your birth certificate to your passport.
There is honestly nothing more frustrating that missing one paper or having to submit multiple copies of one document and not having it. I would also recommend finding someone that can help you through any legal process or even hiring someone.
While I was in Poland I had to do my residence permit (karta pobytu) multiple times. At first friends helped me but after a few times, you start feeling guilty. Since it’s never fun to visit or make several phone calls to governmental offices. Later, I hired a company that helped me. Although, I must say it was always a hit or miss. Sometimes they would be great and other times, they were pretty incompetent.
The moral of the story is: be prepared to deal with a lot of bureaucracy. There will be times you won’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but eventually you will. So don’t give up.
Your Decisions Have Consequences
Moving abroad is one of the best things you can do when you’re young. While living abroad you are constantly learning, you are constantly becoming more tolerant, and you are constantly enriching your life for the better (I hope!). However, keep in mind that everything you do does have consequences.
From not keeping up with friends and family and losing those relationships/friendships to doing something that you never expected yourself to do. As for me, my sole purpose to move to Europe was to do an MBA. Instead, I started teaching English and have loved it ever since. Sure, I now own my own company and still absolutely love what I do. However, if I ever wanted to make a career change I am not sure how easy that would be.
Be cognizant of your decisions, they will affect you in the future. Have expectations for your own life and remind yourself of those and you’ll be okay.
What do you wish you had known before moving across the world?