Accepting the challenge of living abroad

What makes a person move to a new country? To know the answer, we talk with Laia, an “experienced” expat who has lived in the United Kingdom, Austria, France and now, in Germany. 


Moving abroad. For some people, this word is frightening, terrifying. For others, it’s just a signing of adventure, discovery and new challenges. Laia belongs to this latter group.  For the fourth time in her life, she has embarked on a relocation, this time to Frankfurt. We talked with her about her moves, the adaptation process and the intercultural differences among European countries. 


First things first, we call you “an experienced expat”. And it isn’t without a good reason. Where have you lived in the past ten years?

My first “real” experience living abroad was during my studies when I participated in an exchange program – the famous “Erasmus” – in Austria. I emphasize “real” because, before my exchange program, I had done summer language courses abroad, but definitely, it isn’t the same neither the duration of the stay (some weeks) nor for the people you are with (normally international students). 

My stay in Austria was such an enriching experience, that a couple of years after when I finished my degree, I took a gap year in England. After that, I relocated for professional purposes to France, then back to my hometown Barcelona, and now, I am in Germany, in Frankfurt. 


How were your moves?

The first one is the scariest one. At the beginning, you are excited, thrilled, but as the moment of the truth – as I call it- approaches, you literally freak out. All kinds of “what ifs” appear (what if nobody understands me, what if I don’t make friends, what if I get lost…). The good thing is that when you normally start to panic, everything is booked, so there isn’t any way to go back. You just need to accept the challenge – and I can assure you with the right attitude, living abroad becomes an unforgettable experience. 

Personally, all my stays abroad have been really positive. I have met fantastic people and learn a lot about the world. Of course, the more experience you have living abroad, the better. But to tell you the truth, this uncertainty before the moving day is always there. I think somehow it makes sense, you never know what it’s on the other side. But I guess, this is part of the adventure, isn’t it? 


Is there anything you have found particularly complicated at the time of moving?

Each move is different, as every country is different. Personally, one of the most complicated things is to get familiar with the local administrative procedures. Wherever you go, you find different rules and regulations. As a foreigner, it can be a little bit hard to understand them, especially if you do not master the language! Having someone to guide you through all this, it’s always helpful.


What advice would you give to anyone relocating?

Learn about the other culture as much as you can. This includes language if you are moving to a place where a language other than your mother tongue is spoken, but also the local values, believes, ways of behaving, traditions… Some studies say that moving abroad is a U-shaped process. At the beginning, everything is perfect, then you start seeing all the imperfections (the famous cultural shock) until there is a moment that you reach a balance point between the good and the bad things. I believe this is true and in order to make the cultural shock, less “serious”, the more you know about the other place the better. 

Remember no culture is better or worse than another one. It is just different and you just need to learn to navigate through these differences.