Traveling can be stressful, and the thought of moving to another country (at first) can seem daunting. Obviously it’s exciting, but it’s also slightly terrifying….no? Just me?
Well, I have no shame in admitting my move(s) abroad have been scary!! But, as uncertain as it was, moving to another country improved my life in more ways than I can explain. There are also obviously also some things about my life abroad that I don’t like, (and will continue to work on) – but for the most part, being an expat has improved my mental health, lifestyle and general outlook on life.
When I moved to another country, I just thought: “I’m making all these changes in my life, why not make a few more!?”
Of course, it wasn’t that easy (it took a lot of hard work and will power) – but it was that simple.
The first time I moved abroad, I quit smoking. I came out of my shell and had to work on my anxiety issues (because I was living in a huge city with my boyfriend who was attending university classes all day – I forced myself to get out and meet new people to keep myself from being lonely.)
The second time I moved abroad, I had gained a bunch of weight (long distance relationship dieting – the struggle is real….) – and I ended up being able to lose 40lbs in just a few months (pictures below!). It wasn’t some crash diet and I didn’t completely give up everything sweet in life – I just started to care more about what I put into my body. Less soda, more gym time. I took up yoga, pole dancing, and jogging.
Moving abroad (both times) helped me change the things about myself that I’d always really wanted to change. Those things that, every New Years, I’d be like “okay..this year…….”
MOVING ABROAD MADE MY ANXIETY WORSE…AND THEN A LOT BETTER.
Obviously moving to another country comes with its fair share of stresses; quitting a job, leaving your friends and family, packing up your whole life and moving to an unfamiliar place. Even once you’re “settled” into your new country, you still need to worry about things like finding a job, socializing with new people and learning a new language.
When I first moved to Belgium, my anxiety took a huge hit. Although I was enrolled in Dutch classes and living in Antwerp (one of Belgium’s busiest/expat friendly cities), I still had a really hard time forcing myself to find a life.
For the first 5 months, I lived in Belgium, I remember constantly asking myself “was this a mistake?”
I had moved abroad to live with my boyfriend, and while our relationship had never been happier, I myself was struggling a lot. My anxiety got the best of me and I became very closed off. I attended Dutch classes and explored the city by myself while my boyfriend was in university, but other than that I really didn’t make any effort to integrate myself into Belgium.
Aside from my anxiety and discomfort, a big part of my unrest with the move was because I didn’t have my cat with me. Sounds silly, I know. Moving my cat to Belgium was one of the final stages of my immigration to a new country and to be honest, I didn’t feel like Belgium was quite my home until she was here with me.
After a year or two of living in Belgium, I started to come out of my shell and really experience life in this country. I joined expat groups on Facebook, made friends and started to create a life for myself (outside my boyfriend).
MOVING ABROAD HELPED ME LIVE A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE, WHICH HELPED ME MANAGE MY DIETING PROBLEMS
For a long time, binging and purging my food was how I lived my life. I yo-yo’d in weight in a very dangerous way – binging for a month straight (fast food multiple times a week, junk food every night…) and then throwing up everything I ate to lose the weight again. I had never joined a gym, never really made an effort to stay active outside my day to day mandatory activities and never really given much thought to what I was putting into my body.
Fast forward a through my teenage years to my college years, when the emotional roller coaster of seeing my boyfriend only twice a year made me want to eat everything in sight. I’ve never been someone who is ashamed of the way my body LOOKS – even at it’s worst. But I am someone who is ashamed of how unhealthy my lifestyle was because of the things I ate. My body deserves a lot better than that!!
Luckily, things changed dramatically when I moved abroad. I joined a gym, drank WAY less cola, ate healthier/more well-balanced meals – and within 5 months I lost 37lbs!!!
I felt great, I looked great and my healthy lifestyle became addictive. Of course, I indulged myself in a cherry beer here and a decadent chocolate covered waffle there – but I actually started to crave my healthy lifestyle. I started to look forward to eating healthy meals and if I missed one of my gym sessions, my whole week felt off balance.
MOVING ABROAD IMPROVED MY ANGER ISSUES
I’m one of those “short, explosive fuse” people. Anything can set me off for a few minutes and then like magic, my rage is gone. It was a really big problem for me in my teenage years, and it’s been a really big obstacle in a lot of my relationships. My boyfriend has grown to cope with my outbursts, and although moving abroad didn’t fix my anger problem, it improved it a lot.
Being around other cultures, new people, and seeing ways of life that are different than your own – there’s something about it that makes you a more understanding and patient person. I’m obviously still with my faults, and I do still have occasional outbursts, but living in another country has seriously improved my explosive anger problems.
MOVING ABROAD HELPED ME BUDGET LIKE AN ADULT
This is the one that shocks people because moving abroad costs money! Although it’s an ever-changing process (and I do like to indulge in the occasional shopping spree) – my life in Belgium gave me a healthier outlook on finances. I got myself set up with an everyday bank account and a savings account that was completely separate from my Canadian finances.
There was something so freeing and refreshing about almost being able to “start over”. Yes – I have debt in Canada that I’m slowly working on paying off, but this is a brand new bank account, brand new credit scores, in a brand new country. I thought of it as a chance to re-invent my financial self, and that’s exactly what I did.
Granted, I still have a lot to learn, but being around my boyfriend and his family (who are excellent savers) has rubbed off on me in all the right ways.
MOVING ABROAD HELPED ME REALIZE I HATED MY CAREER
I started in social work from a really young age, volunteering in a homeless shelter my mother worked in, doing my school placements in a drug counseling service (not to mention having a lot of ties to people who used these services in my personal life.)
From age 14 to age 20 I worked in social work. That might not seem like a long time (unless you’re actually a social worker…then it will.) 😉
I attended a Mental Health and Addictions college program and got a degree. I worked in drug rehabilitation and worked a lot with homeless youth. And at the time, I loved it. It was something that got me through a really hard time in my life, and it is something I am proud of doing.
Although I am STILL paying off my college loan, I don’t consider this time in my life to be wasted. My diploma hangs proudly in my kitchen, and to this day, I read over my college textbooks for fun. I am really interested in the impact of mental health and drug-related issues, and it will always be something that is close to my heart.
But social work was also something that I got into for all the wrong reasons, and that became so clear to me the minute I handed in my resignation to move to Europe.
I didn’t feel upset. I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt excited and honestly, a little relieved. No more pressure, no more stress, no more sleepless nights worrying about everyone I couldn’t help. It may sound awful, but I could finally start focusing on my own life instead of everyone else’s. Social workers, I think, have to be good at multitasking, because for me, putting that much energy into everyone else’s well being was a recipe for neglecting my own.
I just don’t have the right mentality (or the right kind of durability) to be a social worker. But the surprising thing is that when I moved abroad, I didn’t feel ashamed of that. I felt like I was just finally accepting who I was. The experiences I’ve had in life and the people I’ve chosen to involve in that life shouldn’t determine what I do for a living. I should determine that, based on what makes me happy.
Moving abroad has changed my life in so many ways, but more than that – it has changed my lifestyle. It’s changed the way I think about myself, my body and my experiences. Being around new people in a new environment might just be the push you need to make the changes you’ve always wanted to make.