A year ago I stepped off the plane into unchartered territories of moving overseas and living in a foreign country. Both Rob and I have been fortunate enough to experience living overseas when we were younger, but I have to say the first lesson I learnt this year is that moving overseas as a single, broke student is entirely different to moving over as a married couple, with a dog, trying to get out of debt and trying to live life more intentionally. We moved to Ireland for the adventure and the chance to travel and explore more of the world. And I guess for the most part, an adventure is what we got – except not entirely how we planned it would all go down. Over the past 12 months we have had some highs and lows. We have both learnt so much, so I thought I would share some of the things we have learnt after a year living as an expat in Ireland.
Nothing goes how you plan for it to go, even when you plan the shit out of it.
Before we moved over, we did a pretty extensive search into what it would be like, what it would cost, what work permits we could apply for, what jobs we could get etc. I would like to think that if we were to do it all again, I wouldn’t change any of the work we did in the planning phase – we did a lot of good planning. Unfortunately, life sometimes doesn’t always stick to the plan. We underestimated the bureaucracy and admin it would take to get jobs and work permits. And there were a couple of things that honestly were completely out of our control.
We successfully moved over our furbaby and it was the best decision ever.
Those first few months when I was at home and looking for a job, having Jack at home with me was honestly the best thing in my day. Jack has this attitude in life where he gets so excited for walkies, and running on the beach, but he is equally excited for snoozes on the couch – no matter what happens, as long as we do it together as a family, then he is happy. Which is kind of how I feel about being here together, I know things will be OK as long as we are all three together.
We learnt how to do things on our own.
A lot of this new experience is dealing with things on your own. Your friends and family back home will be supportive as they can but there will be things that are far more complicated to explain. We assumed it would be easy and underestimated how lonely it would actually be. There were large parts of this year where we had to carry on alone.
We learnt a lot about budgeting and saving money.
For most of this first year we have had to work out how to live off one salary. It’s been tough and some days it was a serious struggle. But what helped most was learning how to better work with the money we had coming in. Figuring out what was important to us, and what we thought should be important to us based off expectations we had put on ourselves. This was a hard learning to go through. Slowly we are getting rid of debt and learning to not give into peer pressure of what ‘perfect life’ looks like. The truth is perfect for us is being debt-free. And moving overseas has shown us that we can get out of debt if we stop buying things we don’t actually need, or that don’t actually bring us any joy.
We learnt patience, and to trust the process.
We are still learning to not be in such a hurry to have everything sorted – some things take time. As much as we planned for the move, there has been a large part of waiting on feedback. Waiting to hear that we got the job, waiting for the process of the work permit to be sorted out, waiting to hear what the next step is. Before living in Ireland, we were impatient; if we wanted something we just went out and got it. We never really waited long enough to appreciate the process. Being an expat where you are always waiting, we learnt to have a little more patience. Some days we are better at it than other days.
We got creative on how to get out the house and learnt how to travel slowly.
The slow travel lifestyle is definitely something we most certainly have bought into. Slow travel is the art of going and seeing a place at a pace that suits you. It means avoiding ticking off a list and marking a place done after one weekend visit. We have gotten really creative at finding free things to do in the city. Exploring Dublin top to bottom, and inside out. Rob has probably taken over 100 panoramic photos of every place we have visited since we have been here. We have tasted tons of donuts, had a few pints in quite a few pubs, walked hundreds of thousands of steps all over, taken bus tours and day tours to various well-known spots, not to mention we have found tons of free things to do too.
In Ireland alone we have travelled and explored large parts of Dublin and surrounding areas, but also we have travelled to 14 of the 32 counties in Ireland in just one short year. I even wrote a few blog posts about some of the highlights:
- We took a bus tour to Northern Ireland for a day,
- Checked out the center of Ireland in Athlone,
- Spent our first St Patrick’s in Waterford,
- Explored Wicklow & Bray,
- Went hiking in Glendalough,
- Went Camping in Tipperary with some Irish friends,
- Took another bus tour to Galway, the Burren and Cliffs of Moher.
We learnt about communication, and worked on our marriage
Want to test your marriage? Go to a foreign place where you know no one, live on one salary, have one person unemployed at home, feel helpless and foreign even in a room full of people, and wait for feedback on if you can actually stay in the country together – that combo is bound to test your relationship with each other. Nothing has tested our marriage more than living here and having to support each other and figure things out together and on our own. There have been days when I was weak and impatient, and Rob was strong and supportive for me. Equally there have been days where I have had to carry the support for our family. Living with financial uncertainty in a foreign country has been a huge learning curve for us. I am thankful that we have each other. Surprisingly, I learnt how strong I actually can be when I need to be, especially since I have needed to be stronger than I have ever been. Most of all, we learnt how much we love each other – and I honestly wouldn’t want to do this life journey with anyone else.
We learnt how to get out of our comfort zone and do things that challenged us.
Asking for help, learning to say no, reaching out to strangers to make friends – this year has taught us how to not give a shit about what people think is the right way to live, we have just gone on and done things in our own way. And I have to say, it’s been awesome to actually do life the way we want to. Even if this year has not gone how we both planned, we have still managed to work towards having a life that makes us happier as individuals and made us a stronger couple.
We learnt how to make friends, and honestly, they are pretty awesome folk.
We are still figuring out the cultural differences. Because even though everyone speaks English, there are so many different ways of saying things and misinterpretations and misunderstandings have happened. But for the most part, the Irish are a friendly bunch. I am so thankful for the friends we have met. It is kind of crazy how complete strangers have come to our aid, and who have helped us in ways you just can’t explain to a person who has not been through something similar. We have laughed and cried and shared our hopes and fears with these people – and they have done everything they could to console us, and help us – from small ways like whatsapping us to check in and see how we were doing, skype calls in the middle of the day, dropping off a box of beers, inviting us over for dinners almost every month and supplying endless bottles of wine, meeting us for endless cups of coffee, for hugs and laughs when all we wanted to do was cry, taking us away for the weekend and introducing us to their friends, even offering their home as a safe place to stay. Words cannot express how truly thankful we have been for those people, those friends, have been such a welcome blessing in disguise. We will never forget the kindness, and hope that one day, when we are settled that we can offer the same to someone else in need.
This year has been a rollercoaster. Any expat who says moving to a new country is easy and without challenges is either exceptionally lucky or in massive denial. Most expats I have spoken to have said it takes at least one year to 18 months to fully settle into a new way of living. As much as you can appreciate all the new things that will surround you, the change is constantly there, there is no reprieve or normal. It’s a new normal where you can either sink or keep swimming. I sound a bit negative, but I think it’s important to be realistic with your expectations when considering a move overseas. Things will be different, there will be challenges, and there will be a lot of confusion and frustration. But along with all the negative, there will also be laughs and adventure, and the experience that will change you – if you are lucky, hopefully for the better.
HAVE YOU EVER LIVED OVERSEAS AS AN EXPAT – DID YOU FIND IT EASY? WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES AND LESSONS YOU FACED?
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