travel

Why Living Abroad Isn’t Perfect

A summer in France?  Ugh, I’m so jealous!  You’re going to have so much fun!  My summer is so boring compared to yours!  Yes, I’m #blessed to be spending three months in such a beautiful country with a rich culture, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it’s not perfect.Version 2

I never anticipated it being perfect, but no one could’ve prepared me for the change I’m currently experiencing.  I’ve taken French for five years and did well in my classes.  I’d be okay, right?  It’s the 21st century, so we have FaceTime, Skype, iMessage, Facebook and ample more ways to communicate.  We’d keep in touch, right?  I knew people had problems in France; I’m not stupid or naive.  I’d visited France before and loved the culture and vibe.  I thought I knew what I was doing—well, as much as I could.

But the first week was not a piece of gâteau.  It’s one thing to visit a country and order in the native language, to tell someone “have a good day” or to ask where the bathroom is.  It’s a completely different thing to live there totally separated from your home culture.  You may know how to order a café au lait, but can you explain that you’re too jet lagged to hang out?  You want to be with people, but at the same time, that means speaking in a different language.  And you don’t know how to express what you’re feeling or simply don’t have to energy.airplane france travel culture shock

Don’t get me wrong: I love France.  The coffee here is fantastic.  The macaroons are unlike anything I’ve tasted.  The people are kind.  Even the streets are quaint and the architecture breath-taking.  The pace of life is slow; people aren’t glued to their phones.  It’s no nightmare.  But herein lies the problem: it’s not horrible here.  So, why am I conflicted?

I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb.  I may be able to dress and eat like a French woman, but the moment I open my mouth, you know I don’t belong here.  Foreigner.  Stranger.  And the moment you find out I’m American (or most likely gather that from my accent), you have to ask what I think of Donald Trump.  Oh là là!  Talking about politics in English is complicated enough.

I called Starbucks to ask if they were open.  The woman said yes, they were.  And I responded with “hello, thank you.”  Why did I say hello in the middle of the conversation?!  In America I’m awkward too—hey, we all are!  But not like this.  It was a 30-second conversation; why can’t I even do that without a social error?

I wanted to send some letters to friends and family in the States, so I went to the post office.  Simple, right?  Wrong.  There were glass cases with cellphones for sale inside and a bank on one side of the room.  Huh?  Where’s the post office?  I pulled out my phone to google it, but an employee came up to me and said something in French.  I didn’t understand him and asked him “what?” in French.  I tried to say I wanted to buy stamps, and he responded in French and directed me to the desk across the room.

It’s daily things like these that you never thought twice about at home, but these encounters make me feel so insecure.  When you move abroad, you say goodbye to your confidence.  In America, I’m very extroverted and like to lead conversations.  I’m definitely not shy and don’t mind talking to new people.  But when you plop me down in a foreign country, just ordering a cup of coffee takes so much courage.  I feel awkward simply being.  It’s a humbling experience to say the least.garonne river france culture shock travel.jpg

My pictures may be showing off my fancy cappuccino or nice view of the river, but know that life isn’t better or easier.  Honestly, it’s harder.  Yes, there’s an appeal to all things foreign, but it comes with unfamiliarity and with unfamiliarity, insecurity.  For those living abroad and experiencing this culture shock, give yourself the grace to be and to adjust.  Take lots of deep breaths, and don’t beat yourself up.  It’s very easy to get frustrated, but don’t fall into that trap too soon.  My friends and family remind me that these feelings are normal, but the journey is still difficult.  But these moments are ones I could’ve never experienced in America.  It’s hard now, but I’m excited to return a woman who’s experienced much growth and culture.

Bises,

Kristin

{What’s difficult about living abroad?}

24 thoughts on “Why Living Abroad Isn’t Perfect”

  1. Thanks for your honesty! Many years ago I lived in Germany for 6 months and went through some of what your experiencing but by the end of the 6 months, my German was almost perfect and I hardly spoke anymore English…I was reading novels in German and the newspaper! !!
    I also did travel to France and Denmark during that time; i didnt speak a word of either of those languages but felt that in France people were warm and helpful as I said “Un Bagette” and “Merci” .
    At the end of the 6 months, I did Not want to return to the U.S. !?
    Give yourself time ! It’s not for everyone. …and if you need a travel companion…hello!? Guten Tag, wie gehts?
    Anyway…enjoy the coffee, bagettes and macaroons!!! You will look back on this as a great time. Most of all don’t worry about people knowing you’re American…laugh it off and say…”when Im in France, I’m French, so let’s not discuss America” 😁🍵😁

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    1. Bonjour!! Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. My roommate is German, so I’m learning both French and German cultures here!! And yes, I’m definitely enjoying the food here 🙂 Happy traveling!!

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  2. I’ve found that, over time, these trivial little things which used to stress me out a lot (e.g. going to the bank and asking why I can’t spend more than X amount per month) have gradually become my markers of progression. I still end up rehearsing what I’m going to say if there’s unfamiliar terminology involved, but have learnt so much as a result of living abroad that the trials and tribulations are all worth it in the end. Communicating your personality in another language is definitely a tough one – I sometimes feel as though I have two different personalities. Hope things are picking up for you!

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    1. Thank you, Rosie! I’ve found that living abroad is one of the best ways to develop personally. And I’m the same way with looking up specific words before 🙂 I so appreciate your kind words! Happy adventuring!

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  3. Love the post and especially your writing style!
    Take it in as much as you can
    I know it’s difficult sometimes but soon enough you’ll be back in the USA and you’ll think about all the good times and all the things that you didn’t get to do
    Or at least how I felt after coming back from my 4month stay in the USA
    Kisses, Timna

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    1. Hi Timna! Studying or living abroad is so fantastic to learn, understand and appreciate other cultures! It’s definitely hard at first, but I know I’m being grown and stretched in ways I won’t understand till I’m back in the USA. Thank you for sharing your kind thoughts! Au revoir 🙂

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  4. Hello Kristin.
    Good to catch up on your life a little.
    Oh, i can so understand what you are going through! I went to live in Spain (three different places in 8 years), Thailand and China by myself! The hardest has actually been the time for the past few years where I have lived in Madrid. In Thailand, any attempt at the language was appreciated…and in the bigger cities, people spoke some English. in China, also any attempt at the language could get you a long way. in Spain however, in particular Madrid, my boyfriend and I have decided to try and make a life here. We both love Spain, and see our future in Spain also. However….
    ….Trying to make a life, has meant also trying to learn the language. It has taken me a very long time to be able to have the confidence to ask for a coffee, or to ask for a dress size in a clothes shop. Even after nearly three years here, I still can be known to say ‘good morning’ instead of ‘good afternoon’ – not because I don’t know the difference, but because my nerves kick in, and i can’t think properly! The most frustrating thing is, that i am now at a level of Spanish that i can understand quite a lot of conversation. However, when I try to converse, my brain doesn’t work fast enough to give an answer and I start to panic. So my conversations with people usually involve me nodding to show that i have understood, and smiling! …Hopefully, the next stage of language learning will be my brain working faster to work out quicker responses!!
    I also focus on the positives…the weather, the lovely people, the great food and the more laid-back style of life.
    Things do get easier…keep going, take photos, write a diary and enjoy the experience. It will be something you can look back on, with happiness, and also pride – it is not easy to live in a country that is not your home!
    – Carly

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    1. Hi Carly! Your authenticity is always so refreshing! Thank you for your encouragement. It’s so cool to share and compare experiences! I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone for sure but not in vain. Au revoir (well, adios!) 🙂

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  5. So glad I stumbled upon your blog! I spent time in France doing the Teaching Assistant program and this post really resonated with me. While in France, I realized how hard it can be adjusting to life there, even the small things like ordering coffee. It’s also hard to explain to friends and family that just because it’s an awesome experience and my Instagram pictures are pretty, it’s not always easy or perfect. But, it gets better with time! Thanks for this post!

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  6. Thank you so much for just being honest about your feelings. I moved from Germany to the States last year, and even though the language was always quite easy for me before, I notice that sometimes I’m missing the words to explain what I think and I’d rather say ‘Never mind.’ or ‘it’s not important’ during a conversation, because I’m embarrassed that I don’t know how to say certain things. Before I moved people said ‘Oh it’s so cool that you’re moving to the states! I always wabted to go and see the country!’ Yes, but none of them ever wanna live here, which is totally different from being a tourist.
    So thank you for saying what you think and feel and making me feel a little bit better about myself 😊💗

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    1. Hi Dee! Thanks for sharing 🙂 Knowing you’re not alone can be such an encouragement. I live with a German here in France, and I’m learning so much about her culture through our time together. Keep it up and keep going strong. It’s hard, but you’re growing much more than you know. Happy travels!

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  7. Fully agree – i’ve been in Barcelona for 18 months now – you don’t realise the small imperfections and difficulties until later on! Good read! Welcome to my blog also whenever you get a chance! Tom 🙂

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    1. So true! Living abroad sounds great until you remember you still have to pay bills and buy groceries and do chores. And thanks for reaching out, Thomas. I really like your blog’s design! Happy travels and happy writing!

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  8. Thank you so much for this post. I lived in Germany for two years and have lived in France now for over a year but am thankfully moving to Florida soon to get married with my French fiancé! 🙂 I really liked your comment about being more extraverted in the states because I had come to the conclusion recently that living abroad for so long has really changed me from an extravert to an introvert! I didn’t think about it but it is totally because my German or French were never good enough to lead conversations. Great point!

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    1. Hi there! It is interesting how it affects behavior–especially when you return to your home culture. Now that I’ve come back to the US, it’s weird to be participating in conversation so much more! Congratulations and have a safe trip to Florida!

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    1. Hi Rebecca! As hard as my experience was, it’s so good to come back and see that I’m not alone in these experiences. Cross-cultural experiences make us more humble and empathetic. Thanks for the read and wishing you best of luck continuing your adventure on the other side of the world. Happy travels!

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