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5 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Moved Abroad

Happy Anniversary! 🎉 Bathong, I can’t believe it’s been a year already since I started this blog! My goodness, somehow it feels a lot longer than that, and a lot shorter at the same time. I hope you are all feeling amazing because I sure as hell am. I feel so much better than I did when I wrote my last post, I can confidently say that I have figured out a routine that keeps me sane and makes me feel like I am successfully adulting, for the most part.

I know I keep pulling a Houdini and disappearing on you all but please bear with me, the girl is trying to get this Work/Life balance thing right and it’s been a series of trial and error, but I plan to crack the code. I have been an expat for almost 6 months now, and like any new journey in life, I tried to prepare and do my research on anything that might come my way with this new venture, the good and the bad. As prepared as I was, there were things that still took me by surprise.

1. THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

It’s ironic right? You’d think moving to an English speaking country would make things easier, I sure did, 😂 boy was I wrong! I won’t claim to know what it’s like to move to a country and not understand a word of the native language, I am sure that comes with its own set of challenges, but, I am talking about speaking the language and still not understanding. As fluent as I am in English, I still struggle to understand what people are saying half the time, simply because of the dialects & the accents. 

I find myself asking people to repeat themselves, to a point where I just smile and nod like I understood when I still didn’t 🤣 because wow, you can only ask someone to repeat themselves so many times without annoying them. It’s even more awkward when I am on a work zoom call and I seem to be the only one who is struggling to hear what is being said, I must say though, I understand better when it’s a 1 on 1 call, it’s only when there’s multiple people on the call that I struggle. However, I’ve noticed that slowly but surely, I am getting used to it and can certainly understand better than when I first got here, but there’s still a long way to go. In the meantime, pray for me 😂.

2. NOTHING REALLY CHANGES, BUT YOU MISS OUT

Of course life will go on at home. Loved ones will make new friends, fall out, get married, move away, pass on, etc. I have missed out and continue to miss out on birthdays, weddings, funerals, house warmings and braais. People have gone through breakups and gotten sick without me being there, and entire relationships have blossomed and some broken down, without me ever having met the partners. I expected all this, but I just didn’t expect the reality of it, it’s one thing to think about it and imagine it, it’s a whole different ball game to live it.

When things like that happen, you try to make the most of technology and put time aside to video call or text. Sometimes you will find that you’re more eager to do this than the people at home, sometimes they’ll be eager and you won’t be. Other times you might realise months have passed without either of you feeling the need to pick up the phone. Relationships require a lot more effort now, you may drift apart but, sometimes distance can really strengthen relationships too.

3. PHONE CALLS ARE A LUXURY

Thankfully I don’t have to worry much about time difference because South Africa is only an hour/2 hours ahead (BST – 1 hour ahead & GMT – 2 hours ahead, daylight savings time is still a wildly weird concept to me), however, it’s not fun getting a phone call at 6AM on a winter Saturday morning because people have forgotten that where you are, it’s bloody 6AM. It’s such a little thing, but it makes a world of difference. I also can’t just call home whenever I damn well please, I now have to think about international charges. 

I am glad that I don’t have to worry about that with the millennials in my life, technology has been a saving grace in this regard, but with the older generation, the ones who don’t care for things like WhatsApp & FaceTime, and still only want calls & SMSes, it’s difficult to keep in touch because paying £6 a minute for a phone call is something that is way too steep for my pocket. It’s a luxury I cannot afford. 

4. MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS 

I think a lot of South Africans who moved abroad will agree with this: There’s a huge misconception that when you move abroad, the money will start pouring in and you will start swimming in cash any day now. Yes, when you convert your earnings to Rands, you do earn a lot more money abroad than back home in SA. But keep in mind, you still have to spend in the currency you’re earning in. You have to pay your rent, utilities and other necessary expenses in pounds. The money goes just as fast as it comes.

Aside from that, the real value of money in pounds can’t really be converted. Let’s say you’re a professional in the UK, earning the equivalent of R30k a month (so about £1500, give or take), that’s a lot of money in South Africa, it can go a long way, but in pounds, that’s a pretty low salary rate, certainly not enough to cover rent, expenses and still have a social life. So no, United Kingdom isn’t a promised land where money grows on trees. You’ll have to work for it just as hard as anyone else in the UK or in South Africa. It’s not a scholarship where my rent and food is paid for, and I still get spending money on top of that, no, it’s a normal job with a salary, and my bills are my responsibility.

5. EXPAT DEPRESSION

I first came across this term while googling what might be wrong with me after weeks of feeling like my self-confidence, optimism and energy had deserted me. Day by day, I was withdrawing physically and emotionally from this country I had chosen as a home, but I shrugged it off by saying I’ll adjust with time. Expat depression is exactly what it sounds like – feelings of severe and sustained despondency and dejection experienced while living abroad. The definition may be simple, but the nature of expat depression isn’t. This is because expat life comes with obvious challenges to emotional and mental health. It’s very tricky to recognise it because more often than not, the person experiencing it is in denial, I know I was. The pressure that I should be happy to have the opportunity in the first place, the idea that anyone would love to live abroad gave me relentless pressure to be happy with my circumstances.

I resisted the idea that I somehow wasn’t constantly happy with my fortunate situation. How could I be depressed when I get to do so many things that most people only dream of? How can I possibly be depressed when I have been afforded a once in a lifetime opportunity? I felt ungrateful and ashamed. I didn’t self diagnose, I saw a professional and got (& still getting) help, but it took me so long to admit that there was something wrong, I tried to deny it, but eventually, it caught up with me and I had to do something about it. The one I learnt is that dealing with depression or anxiety while abroad requires more emotional honesty and reliance on those around you than you would normally be comfortable with, and there’s no way around it, you have to go through it, to get through it.

With all that said, I still don’t regret making the move, I may have questioned it sometimes when the going got tough, but I definitely don’t regret it, and I’d do it all over again. Moving abroad is not easy and I’d love to be able to help others who are in the process. If you are planning the move and need any advice or just someone to talk to, please send me a message, either via the contact page or through DM on Instagram.

Before I go, I am happy to announce the lockdown restrictions are easing a bit, things are starting to open up, so your girl will finally get a chance to be Dora the explorer, and LIVE! I promise to share all those experiences with you and give you the tea on all things Manchester.

To living our best lives! 🥂🥂

Until next time my loves.

xoxo, Refiloe 💕

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Sharone Msanzikwa

    😂😂😂Such an enjoyable and informative read and the language barrier part got me laughing . You are so brave and I’m glad you are finding your way .

    1. Refiloe

      Giiirrrl 🤣🤣 I found myself questioning my English skills. Thank you for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed it ❤️❤️

  2. Zanokuhle

    😭😭😭😭😭
    Ohh man I’m such a cry baby
    On that Expat Depression baby, I feel you

    Lol Thank you for making it so basic and informative.. those were definitely not the things I’d think about when moving

    Lol not even missing out because I’d be starting my own life and making my own memories but you made it hit hard hun

    Thank you so much, this was a pleasant read

    1. Refiloe

      It’s so important that we talk about these things, because honestly a lot of us are suffering in silence. Thank you so much for reading babe ❤️

  3. Sative

    Happy first anniversary🍾🍾🎉🎊 yeah hey where does the time go!

    I’m so happy that you’re now finally feeling like yourself… 🧡 and just in time that you can also go outside and play….

    😂😂 was just laughing about the misconceptions and the expectations part, girl black tax is going to hit you hard😂🤣 the struggles of an African child😩

    As always it was fun reading this x🧡

    1. Refiloe

      The black tax struggle is so real 😂😂😂 there’s no escaping it. Thank you for reading ❤️❤️❤️

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