There’s an old-fashioned romance to the idea of dropping everything to move halfway across the world for someone you love. While of course the reality is very different and visas, hours wasted in public offices, and grumpy civil servants do tend to kill a lot of that romantic expectation, the good still definitely outweighed the bad for me. Here’s what I’ve learned from my move to Italy.
1. Don’t use your move abroad as a bargaining chip.
Many times in the heat of an argument I’ve played the old “well I moved here for you” card and deeply regretted it later. It can lead to bitterness and resentment, and your partner feeling like they constantly owe you something. Plus, if you continuously think you are only in a different country because of your partner you will find it difficult to see your move as something for you, as an experience you can gain from.
2. Two languages are better than one.
You have so much more creativity with compliments (and insults…), saying ‘I love you’ in another language always seems more romantic, and you have a secret language you can use so when you’re at the in-laws you can discuss escape tactics openly.
3. Have independent interests and commitments.
Particularly if you move abroad to where your partner already lives, or even grew up, they’ll already have their group of friends, their hobbies, their favorite bars, their routine. Trailing along behind them in everything they do, and adopting their friends as yours, will crush your personality. Challenging as it is, you have start from scratch independently and find things that are YOURS. Make sure you are known as YOU, not as somebody’s partner. Also, remember that different is good. Italian grandmothers are the queens of the critical stare and have no shame in gawking if I look a little different or wear “strange” clothes. Children, too, are remarkably honest and will point out your “oddness”. But don’t change yourself to try and fit in, stay strong, be true to yourself, and fight the old people stares!
4. It’s adventure time!
Not many people get the chance to live abroad, let alone explore that country with someone they love. If your partner is from the country you moved to, then your excitement for everything new will also make them see their home with fresh interest. Recently, for example, I reminded my boyfriend of the beauty of being able to buy five-liter bottles of wine here in Italy for not much more than water.
5. It’s ok to ask for help, just not too much.
Bewildering bureaucracy, language faux pas, medical jargon, and weird customs: you need to re-learn so many things in a new country. Make sure your partner is aware of these difficulties, and ask for their help. But don’t burden them and don’t become complacent. If you’re going to survive and thrive in your new country, you also have to be able to tackle these things yourself. It goes without saying that you should make a serious effort to learn the language.
6. You’re even more interesting.
People in your new country will want to know all about your customs and your life in your old country, and people in your old country will be following all your discoveries in your new country (and probably be a little bit jealous), so take advantage of it! Write a blog, keep a photo journal, annoy people on social media with all the cool stuff you do.
7. You learn.
The list of things you learn is infinite: language, customs, empathy, new skills, new jobs, how to deal with in-laws you don’t understand, a new cuisine, how to love someone in a different language, patience, and anger management when dealing with bureaucracy. Expats must definitely have bigger brains than other people.
8. It’s totally normal to get frustrated sometimes.
When everything seems so easy for your partner, when someone calls you “foreign” in that tone of voice, when you just want to wring the neck of the woman in the post office who didn’t understand you but made no effort to help, it is definitely okay to feel a little sorry for yourself, to remind your friends and family of your struggles and to have a big glass of wine.
9. You’ll be surprised by your strength and determination.
When every day throws up challenges that in your own country you wouldn’t even think about, you will naturally become much stronger and more confident as you deal with them. You have to find courage where others don’t need to, like speaking in a foreign language, or trying to participate in baffling local customs or, perhaps the most difficult, breaking a social norm because you want to do something you like but they frown upon (like drinking a cappuccino in the afternoon in Italy…). Your partner will probably love seeing these changes and celebrate with you every time you overcome a new hurdle.