Living overseas can easily be one of the best experiences as well as one of the most challenging experiences, at the same time. Being away from home for long periods of time can really make you feel homesick, alone and frustrated. Personally, having now been out of the country for 5 months, I have learned and am still learning how to adjust to living in Europe. If you are preparing to be away from home for a long period of time, this will help you to know what to expect and prepare! Every place is different, so you may experience some of these or all of these. They key is to have an open mind.
1. Time Zones
From the jump, living abroad will result in a major time difference. For us, we are 7 hrs ahead of EST, where we live in DC. Time differences can affect when you communicate with your family and friends. I tend to only talk to my family during my evening time, their morning. I try not to start conversations late at night for me, because I know I’m going to sleep soon.
In my personal opinion, it’s harder to adjust going overseas than returning home. My advice would be to stay awake your entire journey overseas until it’s night time there. If you land in the afternoon, don’t sleep on the flight. Most overseas flight have an overnight component and you will want to sleep but watch movies instead! That way by the time you get to your destination, you’ll literally be exhausted and want nothing more than to sleep. Also, bring sleeping pills like Melatonin. Trust me, you will thank me when you aren’t wide awake at 3am.
2. The Language
This is an obvious one, unless you’re in the UK or Australia.The language where I am is Latvian. There’s no way I was learning that language..like no way. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived here, and enough people spoke English that we were able to get assistance when we needed. So far, we haven’t really experienced major challenges with language or we use Google Translate. Google Translate is your friend, I cannot stress that enough. Especially when you’re grocery shopping!!
This is one of the biggest differences. In America, we are so used to our fast food and having any food we want, anywhere in town (for a city girl like me). But, European food is quite different and varies by country! In Spain, they’re known for tapas, seafood and sangrias. In Italy, pizza, pasta, and lots of cheese. In Latvia, lots of cheese filled meat, dried herring, duck, potato cakes and beet soup. Yep. Let that sink in.
I encourage you to be open to try the local food because it can be surprisingly good. It’s definitely different than say.. Chick Fil A or Chipotle but have an open mind. Don’t hold your standards too high because you might be a little let down. European food is amazing though!
4. First World Problems...
Living In America can spoil you whether you are low-income or high-income. What you think you lack, there is someone else in a different country who lacks even LESS. Your living arrangements depending on where you are will be completely different from home. Speaking on Europe only, things such as a bathtub or dishwasher are luxuries. Small showers are normal. Hanging clothes to dry is a lifestyle. Washing every dish by hand is a thing. We have yet to have a dishwasher. This was the first year we had a microwave, but also the first year we didn’t have an actual oven. We have a Smart Oven. Basically a combination microwave/convection oven. Even more basically, a large microwave with a oven heating component. When we first arrived, we were given this brand new contraption with a manual in….Latvian. I had to scour the Internet for an English version, (Luckily, it was a Samsung appliance) and through trial and error, conquered the “SmartOven!”. The next challenge was finding a oven safe pan small enough to fit in the microwave oven, which we did! Little things like that are all apart of living overseas vs. living at home. The wifi is not always great which can be frustrating when trying to talk to family/friends, watch Netflix, or in Jon’s case, playing video games. We have yet to experience AMAZING wifi! It’s always just “okay”. Each year however, brings new challenges that in turn result in memorable experiences!
5. Things to Do
Coming from a fairly large city, I was not thoroughly prepared for the lack of things to do when I arrived here. We were told before we came that there was absolutely nothing to do, but I didn’t fully see for myself until we arrived. Jon’s games are on Saturday this season as well as once during the week so Friday nights are pretty quiet, as opposed to last year when he played on Sundays and the whole weekend was relaxing at home preparing for his game. In Italy, we were only an hr from Milan so we could go out there and hang out, go to the bar, etc. after games. Here in Latvia, there is nothing. We are 2 hrs driving from the capital so if we do go there, we have to stay the night. There is no bowling, no real bars, or anything. There is a movie theatre that we went to but only because Aquaman was being shown in English. Depending on where you are, you will have nights filled with Netflix binging sessions, video games, and cards ;). I’ve become a major homebody which is good for our pockets!!
6. Lack of Friends
Making friends can either be hard or easy. If you’re living alone, you must make friends in my opinion. It keeps you from feeling lonely all the time and being even more homesick. Look up resources in your city for expats or Facebook groups of Americans living abroad. I’m in a Facebook Group for wives and girlfriends of overseas basketball players and it’s really nice to read their stories, challenges, wins and questions because I can finally relate! I’ve made friends with some of the ladies here whose men play for the Ventspils team and they all speak pretty good English! It’s nice to have people to sit with at the games. Last year, I would sit by myself just yelling the entire game haha. Sometimes people will come up to you because you look “American”. I’ve had people ask me where I’m from because they hear me speaking English or because they say I look like I’m American. Everyone is really nice and welcoming here. Eventually, I want to be able to travel to meet other significant others overseas and make even more friends. Step out your comfort zone and make friends. Even if one person. It will make it much easier if you need help, a ride, or have a question about where to find something. Google can’t answer everything like a local can!
7. Learning Your Way Around
I’m still struggling with this. There is no such thing as a Target or Walmart. At home, I know where the cheapest gas is, where to go if I need literally anything. Here, it’s very difficult and sometimes you’ll have to learn new skills in order to fix things yourself. For me, I had to learn to sew. I snagged my jacket on a screw and it made a nice little hole in the front of my down jacket. At home, you would just take it to the dry cleaners right? Not here. With the language barrier and lack of Google results, I had no way of knowing where a dry cleaners was or where I could find a seamstress. So, I bought a needle and thread and sewed that hole right on back together. Youtube is your friend! Every new place comes with the challenge of learning where things are, but couple that with a language barrier and it might be more difficult thank you think. Waze/Google Maps is your friend so be sure to download those apps before you leave. They are critical until you learn your way around.
8. Diversity...or Lack Thereof
Location dependent, there will be some Americans, or no Americans. As an African-American in Latvia, let me tell you firsthand, my husband, the other 3 black American players and myself, are the only African-Americans that I have seen. You will stand out. Black, White, Hispanic, doesn’t matter. You look American, and the minute you open your mouth they will know. Haha. I had to get used to the staring in Italy but I’m used to it now. It can be frustrating being in a grocery store and every single person you walk past stares at you. What’s worst is when it’s obvious you’re being talked about. After I cut my hair, the stares were never ending. Everyone had seen my natural hair or a wig, and now they saw virtually no hair on my head. It’s amazing what that does for your confidence levels. I welcome the lack of diversity as a chance to stand out in a crowd and be my own person. Living in another country means adopting their culture but also living out your own. Just because you live somewhere different, doesn’t mean you have to hide yourself trying to fit in. Stand out! Do something crazy like I did when I cut my hair! Embrace the stares!