Are you contemplating moving abroad? Maybe you don’t agree with your countries approach on the virus crisis and you are dreaming of moving to Sweden or Costa Rica? Maybe you are ready for a new challenge or maybe you lost everything and it’s time for a fresh new start.
Congratulations. There is never a better time than now.
Moving to another country will completely change your life. It will challenge you as well, but hey, that’s part of the excitement and growth. This piece will give you guidance and practical advice. I silently hope it might even be the final gentle push for you to say:
Yes, I am going to make the jump.
8 Years ago I jumped. More precisely, life made a deep choice for me. I fell in love. Not with a woman, but with an entire Island. Ibiza
She seduced me with her pristine blue waters and paradise beaches and kept me under her vibrant spell ever since.
Ibiza is part of Spain, I am born in Holland and lived there for 43 years. In some ways, these 2 cultures cannot be much further apart, even when it is just a 2,5-hour flight and even when it is both “Europe”.
Moving to another country has taught me many things, and I never regretted one bit of it.
When you just moved abroad, or are contemplating this big lifechanging step, my practical advice will smoothen the change and my takeaways will make you feel at home faster in your new country, culture and life.
1. Don’t take too much stuff with you
This is a very practical one.
In Holland, I had 2 houses, tons of stuff. I sold quite a bit and was still left with too much. So I sold some more and gave things away until I thought I had only the bare essentials left.
The bare essentials where a full truck driving from Holland to Ibiza. Couches, a complete festival audio system and some lights, boxes with my best books, kitchen equipment, 50 drums from a project and things from my parents.
What I learned about my personal mass migration regarding “Stuff” is this.
We, humans, tend to get attached to things. Especially when you look at them for a big part of your life.
This is the question you should ask yourself:
When you leave your country to build up a new life somewhere else , why would you bring your old life with you?
I get it, you probably have loads of emotional ties with different things. My advice: Let them go, as difficult this may seem. Travel light, also when you immigrate.
The more space you have around you, new fresh energy and a minimal lifestyle, the easier the journey becomes and the more open you will be to new experiences, new influences, new people in your life.
The last practical piece of advice. When you do take things from home, bring valuable stuff, things you can eventually sell on local markets.
I am at a stage now, after 7 years, that apart from some cloth almost all things around me are new. And they are not many. The only thing that I will never sell is the Yamaha piano on which I learned to play when I was 6.
2. Learn the Language
This is probably nothing new to you. To be able to feel truly at home in your new country, it is quite essential to learn the language.
But did you ever wonder why?
When I notice myself, something happens in my relationship with local people here when I can answer them in their mother's tongue. It's not perfect, but it is the language of the land. Something just resonates better.
This is why
Speaking the local language makes you “Fit In”. When you learn to speak it well, it will, in fact, rewire your brain slowly but surely in a different cultural setting.
This is because words and language are very closely related to culture, they form the culture. Language is culture.
The famous example is that remote Eskimo tribes have 50 different words for snow or white. Their survival depended on being able to describe the different shades of white.
A research done by linguists Jean-Marc Dewaele and Aneta Pavlenk showed that your personality changes when you speak another language because of different cultural imprints that are literally ‘translated’ into the language.
These are the 2 main outstanding results after surveying 1,039 bilingual people;
- 65% of them felt like a different person when speaking a different language
- English-speaking cultures are more individualistic, and therefore more prone to “self-enhancement”. In collectivist cultures, there’s more of a focus on the communal good than on singing your own praises.
When you make the effort to learn the native language of the country you live in, the world around you will slowly change and make more sense because you slowly change and the language is one of the bigger drivers for that change.
On a psychological level, when I speak Castilian in Ibiza, in shops or with Spanish friends, somehow I feel more accepted. I am becoming ‘one of them’. This means there is less a psychological wall or separation between me and ‘the local’ since language connects us on many different levels.
3. You will never be able to deny your roots
The longer you grow up and live in your mother country, the more you will be made out of its core DNA, its culture, habits, smells and customs.
You will see this much clearer when you start living in another country, at least for some years.
The first year in Ibiza for me felt like some sort of extended holiday, the second I was still pretty much discovering things and enjoying the freshness and the juiciness of living a new life. From the third and fourth year only I started to discern things in the Spanish culture that are really very distant from Dutch culture.
One example is the Dutch efficiency versus the Spanish ‘we will see tomorrow’ kind of attitude. Don’t get me wrong, bot have advantages and disadvantages.
In general, some of the positive parts of your new country probably have drawn you there in the first place, otherwise you wouldn’t have left your country. Abundant sun, easy living, or maybe even beneficial tax laws or a combination of things.
For me, it was the sunshine, Mediterranean lifestyle, the relaxed culture and the unique vibe Ibiza has. In the beginning, I thought that Ibiza was just so much better in many aspects.
After a few years, this is what I learned;
The appealing aspects of your new country are not going to take away your roots
I realized I was trying to get rid of my roots, kind of denying them. Maybe to not feel that homesick at times. But it didn’t work.
The sooner you accept your roots are going to stick with you for a very long time, the faster you can take the qualities of your new country really for what they are, enjoy them fully, without making your mother country less.
4. How to deal with feeling homesick
I know, you are tough, you are open to all the challenges your new life in your new country will give you, and you are probably not even thinking about getting homesick. That's OK, I didn’t worry about that too.
Until Holland has a severe winter and people could ice skate outside. There I was in my T-shirt in Ibiza in the sun. And you know what?, that was one of the few moments I cursed that 300 days a year abundant energy-giving sun. All I wanted was cold freezing crispy air gliding past my nostrils while ice-skating in nature in minus 15 degrees Celsius.
In that weekend masses of people were ice skating in Holland and I wasn't a part of this tradition, this culture, this thing I love so much. It was the first moment I got really homesick.
And this is what helped me, and what can help you when you find yourself in pain of missing something so badly that you almost take the next flight home:
A great exercise in case of being homesick is focus on what you have and what is present in your surroundings. Don’t linger too much on what is not there.
Just think of it.
The moment I still found myself on Ibiza, I didn't take that plane back home to bind that skates under my shoes. It was a waste of time to think of Holland and to suffer from missing out on something.
My cure was to go outside, take a hike in the beautiful nature around here, focus on what was really there around me and enjoy it as much as possible.
I must admit that the feeling of missing things from my culture remained even until the present day. But it's not at all that painful anymore. And you know what? The second best cure is going back on a short trip. It’s that simple.
When you go back to your mother country, you might find that these visits are probably amazing.
I literally suck up the language, the culture, the food and the beauty as much as I can. It makes every minute count. Sitting on a bike and riding over the canals almost becomes an exctatic experience. When I lived in Amsterdam and biked the same route to work, it never had that intensity.
Traveling, working and living abroad makes you appreciate your own culture more, makes you see how amazing some things are you just took for granted because it was just there. It enriches your life, rewires your brain, changes your personality and widens your horizon.
What are you waiting for?
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Lucien is writer, blogger and author of “The Wisdom Keeper”, a heroes journey about the need to fall in love with earth again and be humbled by the wisdom of our earth keepers.