There are somewhere between 3-6 million Americans living abroad. These are people who made the move to an entirely new country because they love a sense of adventure, want to experience new cultures, or want to learn more about themselves. Despite that drive, it's easy to feel out of place in a brand new city or country. Sometimes my expat friends admit that they haven't made many new friends, or that they are bored in their new country, or that they don't "get" the culture.
Most people have the best intentions when moving abroad but they have one misconception: they assume abroad is coming to them, not that they are moving abroad. Here is a list of some important realizations you must face before moving to a new country:
1. You are the same person in Canada as you are in China
It's no surprise that most people move abroad to escape. They want to escape their job, their routine, or their lifestyle.
When I moved to Seoul, I didn't become a new person overnight (much to my surprise). I was brought out of my comfort zone, but I was the one who had to sign up for temple-stays, who got up on Sundays to go hiking, who planned trips to nearby countries, and who signed up for Korean class every Tuesday night.
There are interesting things all around, but you have to be the one to capitalize on those activities. That takes a decent amount of pro-active thinking, optimism, and confidence. If you don't have those skills already you can learn them pretty quickly just by trying one new thing a week until you find something you enjoy.
2. Making friends as an adult is hard
And making adult friends from different backgrounds is even harder. Between differences in how two people were raised, favorite meals, and colloquial sayings there's plenty to talk about, but your sense of humor, favorite movie, or religious/political beliefs might be too wide a gap to reconcile with someone from a different country. Oppositely, expats will always have a common bond when they find each other in a foreign country, but the love of travel may be all you have in common.
Moving to a new city isn't any easier. Even when moving back to the states, I was constantly asking girls out in an effort to make new friends in a new city. Seeking out groups that have your interests, learning the local language, and engaging in the local community is a slow process that's worth the effort, because you'll meet people who are also open and engaged in who is around them. Whatever your interests, finding new people will take time and patience, but with patience you can find friends that can last a lifetime.
3. Real life still exists
Lastly, moving abroad is not an escape but an adventure. You can move to an island in the middle of nowhere without internet or a telephone, and you're still going to have to see a doctor eventually. Student loans still have to be paid back, and your ex will still post photos you don't like on Facebook.
What this experience will do is let you live in the moment. The freedom that travel brings allows you to deal with only the things that are most important, and forget about the new shoes you wanted, or silly internet comments, or dwelling on the past. It's up to you to realize what is important to you, and to let everything else fade away.
There will be days you spend at the doctor's office, or figuring out how to pay bills, or how to do laundry. Those can be adventures as well, as long as you decide to be open to and learn from whatever comes your way.
You have to acknowledge what you are bringing to the table in order to make the most of what the country brings to you. Being aware of who you are and what you want to be will allow you to move abroad empowered. Only you can make the most of every single day--where you are in the world simply provides new colors with which to paint it.