As my Bachelor approaches to its end, I found myself reflecting back on the last years. Moving abroad for your studies is an amazing experience. Usually, it means having a lot of “new things” in your life – new country, new culture, new people and new challenges. I was only 16 when I first landed in the UK to start my IB programme at the boarding school in St. Andrews, Scotland. Rather a young age to begin an independent life. However, it wasn’t until 2 years later, when I moved to Edinburgh to join the university when I truly started living by myself. It wasn’t all easy-peasy lemon squeezy, in fact, there were times when it was difficult difficult lemon difficult, and those are usually things that you don’t talk much about. I want this article to be a revelation of what is it like being an expat (first in the UK and then in the Netherlands). I want to talk about the challenges that I as an international student faced when transitioning to what is considered to be “leaving a dream life.” I hope that many of you can relate and will share my feelings. So here’s my story.
Moving to a different country and culture altogether is tough. Probably one of the most common problems that any person who has moved abroad faces is feeling homesick. One of the most common and one of the most difficult to deal with, I suppose. Throughout these 6 years of being away from home, there were two times when I seriously considered moving back to my homeland. And it is very understandable. You get to go home only for a short period during the holidays. All you do is eat, spend time with your family and chill with friends. All of your troubles and responsibilities are miles away and you do not want to return back to an “adult life.” Suddenly your life back home seems perfect and you begin to question why have you decide to leave in the first place. Being entirely honest with you, I could have already been back in Ukraine if it wasn’t for my dad (who, I must say, is always supportive of my decisions). He told me one thing: “You can move back if you promise me one thing. You will not regret it after 5 years.” I couldn’t hold such a promise. In that moment I realized that, first of all, there were obvious reasons for me to move away, and secondly, the routine of everyday life will make me even more miserable in Ukraine.
You need to remember. It’s justifiable: the academic workload and extra-curricular activities have their effect, and at times you cannot help wishing you were back home. Feeling homesick is okay. You are separated from people who you care about and missing them is normal. Call your parents or your close friend when you miss home, but don’t let yourself down. Staying busy also helps. You just don’t have time for self-pitying. Moving back to your home country might seem like an easy way out of it, but would it really make you happier?
2) Language barrier and cultural shock (not literally a shock, but still)
Yes, yes, yes, I know. I cannot complain. I’ve been leaving in a country where English is not a national language, and still, I am privileged not to have a need to learn Dutch. You all know that you can easily make your life in Amsterdam, without speaking the language. Yet, there are circumstances when not speaking Dutch makes you feel very isolated and have troubles integrating. The Dutch are indeed very nice, however, I still feel like a fish out of water when I am surrounded by more than three Dutch students. What I have learned though, is that it comes from both sides. They also struggle to socialize with the internationals, which makes things even more awkward. A small funny detail, Dutch people have this eager need of getting in everyone else’s business (unlike Brits), which can get you rather annoyed at times. Moreover, they have a certain code of unwritten rules and social etiquette that must be closely observed at all times (just like Brits, to be honest). I must say, I do have respect for this system but having not grown-up in such an environment, I still have a hard time getting used to finger-wagging and seemingly tattle-tale like behavior. Nevertheless, I love it here. You get used to never-ending ‘borrels’. Borrels are quintessentially gezellig, and gezelligheid is, of course, quintessentially Dutch. You get used to regular theft of your bike (at least that’s what happens to me). And eventually, you start to execute #proudtobeDutch behavior.
3) Family issues
I was lucky to find my second family here in Amsterdam. I appreciate it a lot because I can rely on them no matter what. Moving miles away from my real family, however, had both good and bad sides. Not having my parents next to me at all times, taught me to value them even more, value every extra hour spent with them. What I struggled with, though, is adapting back to their habits when travelling back home. When you live on your own, you obviously start to have your own routine and your own way of dealing with things. And it is difficult to switch to your parents’ habitude straight away. It is important to learn how to do it, though. After all, you are the one who moved away, their life stayed the same. Furthermore, I found it hard to get used to a fact that I am missing out on a lot of family events. Of course, Skype, Facebook, and other social media cannot replace your actual presence there, but at least they can help you to be a little bit closer.
Do not forget – they also miss some important parts of your life. Trust me, your family thinks about you more often than you think about them. Your life here is full of events, people, interesting elements – it is full of colour. The lives of your parents are mostly about disturbance about you.
To sum up, I have learned to deal with all of the challenges listed above, in my own way. And I concluded that challenges will always be there, no matter how far or how close you are to your home. One of the many things my mum warned me about, is that it is not going to get any easy after you turn 20. And yes, mum, you were so damn right!