Living abroad has always been my dream ever since I was a young girl. I was enticed by the idea of experiencing a new culture and learning a different language. As I grew up, I realized that I wasn’t the only one with this dream. The constant reason that people gave for wanting to live abroad was that they would earn more money and a ‘great’ life. Slowly I started hearing not so glamorous stories of people who had relocated to the US and went back to Kenya after a few years because apparently, this idea of ‘more money’ and ‘great life’ did not exist. Nevertheless, my dream did not dissipate.
I moved to France in September so that means that I am almost clocking 7 months. I still can’t believe it at all because it sounds like a dream. I have gone through my fair share of culture shock – story for another day – and I must say that I am doing better than I ever thought I would. Maybe it’s because I am in school that I feel that days are rushing but either way, i’m grateful for where I stand at the moment.
The one thing that no one ever mentions is that moving abroad means starting afresh. Listen! You have to start a new life because everything is absolutely different and that’s a fact especially if you are moving from a third world country to a first world country. When it comes to school, lifestyles, friendships etc, you have to rewrite your mind and start from a tabula rasa. The earlier you accept this reality, the easier it gets for you.
If you want to work abroad, be prepared to start from scratch, that means internships. This is because, in most cases, whatever experience you had in your home country does not apply unless you worked in an international company. In addition, it’s good to know that your degree may not be recognized as valid by some companies/schools depending on the school you went to so do your research so that you don’t end up dying of stress.
If you’re thinking of moving to a country like France where English is not a language that is majorly spoken, please take foreign language classes while still at home. You can take an online class with apps like duolingo. You do not have to be perfect but have an idea; know the basics that will help you to have a conversation. Many times, you’ll find that you’ll be told that you can learn in these countries without knowing the language (lol). Well, yes you can, because you can find universities that teach entirely in English but how are you going to interact with people?
For example, I live in Rennes which is a city in France. My school teaches all courses in English but outside school it’s French all the way. I am grateful for my high school French classes and a couple that I took at Alliance Française because that’s what helped me not have a crisis. Don’t expect to go grocery shopping or to buy a baguette and do it in English. Thankfully, I have intensive French classes as part of my programme and right now I can comfortably work in a French company. Bottomline is, if you are moving to a country with a foreign language, put some effort and learn the basics. Even as a tourist, it will make your life easy.
Another shock of my life is definitely winter. When I tell you it’s cold, you better believe it’s cold. This is one of those things that you don’t understand until you experience it. No amount of mind preparation will prepare you for what this monster of a weather is. Coming from a majorly tropical climate, I wasn’t ready for the cold that makes your bones cry in pain.
At this point in my life, I don’t remember what warmth feels like. My feet are always cold even if I layer them with heated socks. It is a reality I accept wholeheartedly. I just need to understand why the sun shines so bright but it’s chilling at the same time. I have never experienced such paradoxical weather and to think that this is nothing given that we don’t get snow or the negative temperatures freezes my mind.
What about the cost of living abroad? Oh wow, I am glad you asked. The fact that avocados cost ten times more here in France than in Kenya and my monthly rent is more than the salary I got from working in Corporate Kenya is a somewhat good idea of how things are. I have learnt to not think in shillings because it is honestly demoralizing. Though I would say that things are of much better quality so it kind of balances the scales. The secret is to leave your mind in your home country and migrate with a clean slate and accept that you are in a new country.
These are some of the things that shocked me but my open mindedness did help to make living here much better. The secret is really in being ready to relearn. It is also important to note that living abroad does not automatically equate to having a great life. You have to work extra hard. It’s good to be psychologically prepared that you may face discrimination because this is a reality that we face, especially if you are black like me. So far, I haven’t faced racism but I know that I am bound to come across nasty individuals because it’s human nature. If you are living or have lived abroad before, feel free to share your experiences.