It’s been eight months since my husband and I moved from The Netherlands to Dallas, Texas. We’re pretty lucky to go through this together, and the whole experience has been amazing so far. We didn’t run into any major problems or issues, and yet – life is pretty hard. There are some undeniably hard things about moving abroad that you can’t really work your way around. And most of them are surprisingly NOT practical things. Here’s five truths that I found since moving abroad.
1. Your solid foundation is instantly gone
We didn’t realize this before, but back in The Netherlands we had built a very solid base in our lives. You basically spend your whole life learning about a place, how everything works, and who you are in that place. You build friendships, relationships, habits, a career and a home. Moving abroad instantly makes the years and years of building disappear. And this is not something you can really prepare for, as you’ve always automatically had that base.
I’m not saying the foundation is shaken up a little bit or a little bit less stable, no: it’s completely gone. Especially if you move to another continent like we did. Everything is different, you have to figure out how everything works all over again. You have basically have to start from zero, and that makes me feel like I’m 18 again. Not only have I lost everything I knew and had gotten used to – I also lost who I was in that place. I basically have to reinvent my life and myself all over again.
2. Small moments of contact are the new normal
We travel back to The Netherlands every three months (on average), and try to see as many people as possible during those visits. However, spending only a few hours a year with your friends is not enough, or at least it doesn’t feel like it. It’s very hard on me to leave my friends and family again after only a few moments of quality time. And you can feel that this changes some of the relationships.
So online contact between those visits is key. In order to stay up to date on each others life and still invest time and energy, texting and (video)calling have become an important part of these relationships. Not everyone is good at planning this and keeping up with it, but the people who care about you will try and make that effort. Small things like checking in on health situations or sending a gift on birthdays have become more special and meaningful. Since there’s not a lot of real life contact, the small (online) moments are now crucial in still feeling close, validated and valued.
3. You will find out who actually cares
Since moving abroad did not only change your life, but also the lives of all your relationships back home, you will see that it also takes some adjustments on your friends and family’s part. Not everyone is capable of making the necessary changes, and this doesn’t have to be a big deal. For example, someone who is a little bit older and not good with technology, or someone that doesn’t fully get the differences in time zones etc. will need more effort and initiative on your part to keep in contact in order to still have good relationship.
However, you will see that there are also some people who are perfectly capable of reaching out, but just don’t feel like it’s important enough or don’t prioritize finding the time for it. This is how you lose some friends after moving abroad. Luckily, many of my friends check in on my at least weekly, and tell me they miss me and want to catch up. Only a few people somehow seem to think ‘out of sight, out of mind’ or might feel some resentment in the way that they feel like I should take all the initiative, because I am the one who moved away. This is a sad unfolding of the relationship, but there’s not really something you can do about it. Take comfort in knowing that the people who do care, will always be there – even if you’re on the other side of the world!
4. You will never feel truly ‘at home’ again
If everything works out for you, it won’t take you too much time to feel at home in your new country. We felt like Dallas was our new home pretty quickly because we liked it so much, but it took us about six months to feel ‘homey’ in our new house, and to have figured out enough of our surroundings to feel comfortable and safe here. However, with that really nice ‘at home’ feeling came the realization that The Netherlands will never fully feel like home again – or at least not our only one. If we ever move back or move somewhere else, we will always miss a part of Dallas, just like we miss a part of The Netherlands right now.
While we suddenly appreciate things in The Netherlands that we didn’t even notice before, we also now see where The Netherlands kind of screws up because Texas does these things better. There’s pro’s and cons to every place, and while we were rationally aware of that fact, living this truth and still loving both these places adds a new depth to what you call ‘home’.
There’s a cruel paradox in seeing more of the world and allowing new places to capture your heart – as you will realize that there is no way to be in all the places you love at once, and there is no true home anymore. This is also true for the new foundation we are creating here: our house, our friends, our identity – eventually we will have to give it up, just like we did with our life in The Netherlands. Luckily, we can find that at home feeling in each other, so I guess we find comfort in the words ‘home is where the heart is’.
5. No one really knows what you’re going through
Luckily for us, we are still in good contact with our ‘old’ friends, and made new ones right away. And while this helps with not feeling super lonely and getting adjusted to a new place, no one really gets what we’re going through right now (apart from other expats maybe).
Our old friends don’t fully get what the USA or Texas is like, no matter how many stories we tell or videos we make. Even the ones that do visit us can’t fully understand what feels like to live here, to have your whole life in this place – to have to get accustomed to the culture and the rules – because they will go home in a few days and live their life like it always was. And our new friends don’t fully get why we are who we are, and what made us us. Because they don’t know anything about the Netherlands, our culture or our worldview. They weren’t there when the important parts of life happened that shaped us, and they will never fully understand our way of thinking – just like we will never fully comprehend theirs – because we grew up in completely different parts of the world.
But thing that makes me feel the most alone and frustrated sometimes, is the fact that none of our friends (old or new) can fully grasp what moving abroad feels like, how scary, complicated and lonely it can be – even if we are super happy and live a life younger me could only dream of. We will never be able to explain how the nitty gritty details of this country can sometimes shake us to our core, because our old friends are still comfortable at home and can’t really imagine having to compromise their solid foundation, and the new ones are so used to the shit that sometimes truly is Texas (or ‘Murica) that they don’t recognize it as shit anymore.
Now there are also a lot of things that are super fun, exciting, surprisingly easy and breezy about moving abroad, but I don’t think that’s interesting to get into here. These are the ones I wanted to share with you today, because even if you can’t really prepare for any of these things or feelings, it helps me to get them off my chest and maybe bring you some clarity on what moving continents is really like. As always, I do feel a need to assure you that I’m fine and happy here, because I do realize that my posts have gotten pretty dark lately. This is only because I use this platform as an outlet, and life just happens to be pretty hard sometimes – even when I love it and wouldn’t change a thing.
Happy December everyone!