The Tough Moments of Living Abroad

A part of me didn’t want to write this blog post. Why share something that isn’t great when waiting until the tears have dried out, the wine’s been drunk, and then you have no choice but to smile is always an option? Because, hey, the world’s a bit rosier after rosé. Just kidding, of course. It isn’t warm enough for rosé.

All jokes aside, I like spreading positivity, but this week, I’ve honestly been finding the whole “let me pack up my whole world and move” thing a bit tough. I’m not complaining because my life right now’s pretty great (all things considered, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic after all), but I did want to share an honest picture of my experiences.

Especially since I get asked what it’s like to move abroad on a daily basis.

So here’s an image. Today, I’ve had chocolate, ice cream, pizza, and wine. Yes, all within a span of six hours because that’s the kind of day I’m having. Fridays are supposed to be days that I like, but instead of work ending on a high note, it ended with my head slammed against my shut laptop.

My job’s great. It’s me I don’t like that much right now.

After 1 year, 6 months, and 20 days of living in the Netherlands, here are some things that have started to become difficult. Or still remain difficult. It isn’t always tough, but right now it is.

My mood in an image: a cute, pretty Dutch town on a rainy afternoon. No one around but you.

Thing #1 that’s tough about moving abroad: You can make new friends, but your old ones aren’t here. This is so obvious that it feels like I shouldn’t even have to write it down. Welcome to 2021! There are numerous ways of connecting with people all over the world, and yet, we are isolated and lonely.

As I write this, I am on my couch, watching Friends because no one told me life was gonna be this way. And I miss my lovable old Italian roommate from when I lived in Philadelphia. I forced him to watch the show with me, and it quickly became our ritual. We practiced and practiced until we could BOTH get the clapping in theme song right.

Even though the pandemic didn’t make it easy, I have friends here, but some people just aren’t replaceable. It breaks my heart knowing that years later, I may not know these friends of mine as well as I once did. It’s happened to me before since I’ve moved around a lot. But moving in your mid-20s is a whole other thing. I’m actually a reasonable person now as opposed to a half-baked 19-year-old pretending to play grown up.

Thing #2 that’s tough about moving abroad: As much as you can love cultural differences, and even be good at pointing them out, the fact is that they still exist.

And the award for spelling out the most obvious of things goes to…


Here’s the thing, my background has equipped me to understand and navigate through cultural differences fairly easily. Also a thing, making sense of these differences and living them are so not the same. I finally understand my girlfriend’s struggles from when she lived in the US as an extremely cute Dutch person. Yes, I know only the “Dutch” part’s relevant here.

Recently, I’ve been obsessing over the number of ways in which the things I say could be interpreted by the person I’m taking to. Of course I had misunderstandings with my friends and colleagues in the US too. The difference is that I could pretty easily guess what went wrong almost immediately afterwards. And life moves on.

Here, not so much.

I can say something to a group of people, and then I don’t get the facial reactions I’m expecting. I pause. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF POSSIBLE REASONS WHY THE REACTION I WAS EXPECTING AND THE REACTION I’M GETTING DON’T MATCH.

The rest of my day is then spent mulling over what I said and how I said it. Does this resonate with any of you?

My inner Yoda has now awakened after two glasses of red (disclaimer: I’ve never watched Star Wars—or is Yoda from Star Trek?). Yoda speaks, “we all make mistakes. You need to let that shit go.”

Thing #3 that’s tough about moving abroad: Being in an unfamiliar situation can give you more reasons to doubt yourself. Just because that’s normal doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

Last month, I went to the supermarket and couldn’t find Tahini. I asked someone working there if she knew where I could find it and she told me she hadn’t heard of Tahini before.

I thought grocery shopping was one thing I had figured out, but guess I was wrong. The fact that I “forgot” to scan my receipt to escape the store yet again this week is further proof that no, I DO NOT have this down. The security guard did not appreciate me trying to pry open the doors with my bare hands.

Indeed, sometimes these missteps can be so frustrating, and other times, they’re part of the experience. All part of the adventure of living abroad.


13 thoughts on “The Tough Moments of Living Abroad

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  1. In the beginning of being in your new country, every day is an exciting and surprising adventure. But as you start to settle in, you quickly discover that your dream of living in a new land does not resemble reality in any way, shape, or form.

    To some people in your adopted country, you’re an unwelcome foreigner trying to steal their jobs. To others, you’re an exotic outsider with weird manners and a strange way of speaking.

    As you’re settling in, you come to the following realization.

    Living, loving, and working far away from home, you’ll never feel more connected to where you came from.

    The longer you’re gone, the stronger this feeling gets. Until you go back for a quick visit after a few years have passed, and you notice how much has changed in your absence. And for the first time in your life, you feel like you’re no longer fitting in at home either.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This comment hit me like a ton of bricks, and we only moved from California to Texas (which sometimes feels like a different country)!


  2. Awww…. and it’s going to be 21 C on Tuesday ! Didn’t know that did you ? You can sit in the sun, put on some uplifting music (Mine’s ‘Gabrielle’ by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra at the mo, at least during breakfast) and while you sit there , you can say to your gloomy side ‘You’re not overthinking and over analyzing again are you ?! We went over this ..

    Why not think about a new video , I know at least one person who missed that last Sunday. 😉

    In closing let me tell you my tale of woe in a supermarket a few days ago. It was eight o’ çlock (so plenty of time before they close at 20.45, because you have to be off the street by 21.00 (sigh) Because I wanted a beer, I NEEDED a beer , came to self check out, there comes this young supermarket Nazi, yanks the can from my hand and says NO ! ,NO ALCOHOL AFTER EIGHT . What…! (no, we went over this.. ,you are not letting her get to you ) See you Tuesday , Cappuccino was it ?


  3. Hi Ava,
    Yes, indeed. That strange, sudden longing, the sense of (still) not belonging. All this can sometimes be overwhelming. I lived for a couple of years in an Asian country, and totally enjoying it. One day, while I was driving the scenic route to work, I suddenly started to cry. Really out of blue. I think that the beautiful mountains made me realize that I was living thousands of miles away from my friends, and all the shared small things that came so naturally. The sudden realization that all that formed and comforted me were left behind. But dear Ava, I know from experience that this feeling will pass. Bur such is the tragedy, and beauty, of following ones heart. Loss and gain, pain and joy.

    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re right, the people that matter in your life aren’t replaceable. Not by trying to forget about them, nor by making new firends. However, true friends will understand your decision and will let you pursue your dreams. As for reactions, facial or otherwise, and stuff: I’m terrible at recognising and interpreting that sort of thing. So here’s my Mr Fixit (because male…) solution: if in doubt, just ask. We’re Dutch, we’re blunt and direct, and won’t take it personally. It’s what I do. As for Thing #3: self-doubt is an art in itself (I consider myself a champion at this), and some people get rich telling you that it is perfectly normal. What IMHO counts is that you’re a wonderful person who isn’t afraid to make bold decisions in her life, but also leaves room for brutally honest introspection. Maybe you should open that bottle of rosé, you deserve it. Btw, if you find an address for that tahini, let me know. It’s one of those elusive items on my shopping list. Have a great day!


  5. Hi Ava,
    I eat tahini (tahin, the dark version) on a daily base. You can find it in special shops for healthy food, vegan or vegatarian shops. Alternative food, biological food, Natuurwinkel, etc.
    De Groene Winkel, Zadelstraat 16-18, Utrecht, Natuurwinkel Utrecht, Nachtegaalstraat 51a, if you live in the center of Utrecht.
    I live near Leiden, so I by my tahin in De Zaailing, Hooigracht 41, Leiden.


  6. Hi Ava, love your blog and especially your video’s on youtube! Looking forward to the next ones. I can relate to some of the things you went, and are going through. I am Dutch. My ex girlfriend from Asia could symply not get used to the(and my) Dutch “directness”, while I didn’t cope well with the “polite” talking in circles, realy not getting what she wanted to say. She also could not get befriended with any of my Dutch friends and coworkers because of their direct ways. Not to mention the cold rain, food etc. All this made her miss her family and own country ways even more. This resulted in her moving back to her home country. (like you, she loves the Dutch old city centres, canals, cobble stones, flowers) Great to read how you are coping well, even though you have hard times as well. Hold the line, I wish you all the best. Martin


  7. Hi Ava,

    First. I love your blogs and video`s. Specially the blog above. As beautiful the roses maybe. They come with thorns! Great you show these too!
    For me as a Dutch its looking in a mirror. I live in the North-East. And althose we are direct. We are not that as direct as in the west of our Country.


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