Today when I look back at all the positive and negative consequences of my fateful decision to leave Finland my Fatherland, I can say with my hand on my heart that the premature cut of my umbilical cord with my home country has been a truly positive experience. I know I took moving abroad seriously. It was uncomfortable at times, but probably the most uncomfortable aspect of it all would have been the alternative - staying at home and dying without having really loved or lived.
Although the deep psychological trauma I would suffer as a result of leaving my home country somewhat clouds my current perception of the moments surrounding this experience – the biggest single memory I have of that moment is - I knew I wanted out from there and definitely was not going back anytime soon.
As far as I could see, my home country, usually, among the top in the world for education, social security, and economical development had nothing to offer for a bored graduated student like me. I did not give a penny of the pro-Nordic propaganda screaming about the country’s gender and economic equality, high levels of trust, social cohesion, life-work balance, and so on. The latter things are important and back then I probably took all my freedoms for granted.
6 years of studies were behind, it was spring in Helsinki and I was about to graduate from my studies. I wanted out - as fast as humanly possible.
Fear in a new place When people ask me whether it was worth it to move abroad, I say yes. I encourage people to travel the world and move abroad. There is nothing but a win-win in moving abroad. That doesn’t mean it is always easy. You are going to a new place with new people who think differently than you about things. Move to a country where for a long and indeterminate period, you will just be an alien with a funny accent, sometimes desperate to fit in, and, depending on where you move, someone that also “looks different”: you can be considered a threat, a job stealer, even an outcast.
Fitting in and initial excitement The initial excitement of being somewhere new will fade and you’ll be left with all the problems you thought you moved away from and new ones that come along with leaving home. Dealing with years of built-up issues can make it incredibly difficult to keep yourself intact. And we can safely say that every one of us has built-up issues that start popping up once we hit the ‘out from the comfort zone’ button. The first years abroad are usually tougher. For me, it usually takes 6 months to get comfortable in a new place. This is the time it takes to know a bit around, get some acquaintances, and experience the first impression.
Even small things like in the beginning can seem like a struggle. And because you are alone without your native friends and support network, even small setbacks can feel overwhelming. This is why it is important to establish a local network. I do not know one single person, who has moved abroad and at some point has not felt alone and broken. You are not a coward. You are a normal human with normal feelings in reaction to the challenges of being in a foreign place without your native friends or family. And it is healthy to acknowledge these feelings. With adjusting to new cultures come feeling out of place and lonely.
Connect with other like-minded people You can also connect with other expats. With foreigners that are living outside of their home country I share the curiosity for the unknown and an exploratory mindset, among other things. You have faced a basic set of similar kinds of fears, challenges and obstacles. So even if you did not have similar schooling, cultural background or weather conditions – you are now sharing and bonding thanks to identical challenges or mutual decisions made. You can always say that a foreigner is a courageous character.
When you travel abroad, something will change. And that change will not always be smooth. I'm reminded of the many times that I've had to use reprogramming to help myself and the way that I did this, was first of all, I realized that something needed to change.
A clearer sense, ability to examine things more objectively Later in life - after living abroad for many years, I would understand that when living abroad, my exposure to novel cultural values and norms would prompt me to repeatedly engage with my own values and beliefs, which would be either discarded or strengthened. It stands to reason that having a clear sense of self elucidates which types of career options best match one’s strengths and fulfill one’s values, thereby enabling people to be clearer and more confident about their career decisions.
When people live in their home country, they are often surrounded by others who mostly behave in similar ways, so they are not compelled to question whether their own behaviors reflect their core values or the values of the culture in which they are embedded. In contrast, when living abroad, people’s exposure to novel cultural values and norms prompts them to repeatedly engage with their own values and beliefs, which are then either discarded or strengthened.
How would I be different had I stayed in Finland? I cannot know for sure, as it did not happen and I did not stay. What benefits do I have now as a result of venturing abroad, and what are they. I have gained a clearer sense of who I am as a result of living years abroad.
Here, in these posts, I invite you to read snapshots of different situations I have faced along the way. Enjoy!