Not All Rainbows And Unicorns – Being an expat (at 18)

So, let’s pretend that until now you’ve lived with your family, in your hometown with all your lifelong friends and where you live a busy and happy life.

However, there’s something that has repeatedly attracted you. Your biggest dream has always been to study and live abroad.

You’ve struggled for it, dealt with so many obstacles in order to make this dream come true, and finally that moment arrives.

You’re excited, super excited!

You have your own place, a cozy little apartment, and your classmates come from so many different places, some that you didn’t even know they existed. You have the opportunity to be whom you want in this new, undiscovered country.

This, “perfect life” feeling will probably last for the first 1 to 2 weeks, maybe 1 month…  then the next feeling will arrive: the realisation moment.

Despite loving your new apartment, no one will be there with you while you have dinner, no one will be there to share the “how was your day?” story – even though you might have hated that question while living at home. Your classmates are interesting people, but maybe because of cultural differences, or the fact that some of them already know each other, it is not that easy to make new friends (that are not just interested in partying with you). You didn’t actually consider that although everyone speaks English, local people are very withdrawn to themselves, and every time they talk is like if they are using gregorian music as a speaking language.

And yes, you have complete support from your family and friends. Thank god for Skype, Whatsapp, and social media nowadays, but of course they are not always available and in the end you are by yourself. Facing your new life, the life you wanted. But was this the life you wanted?

Okay, this little short dramatic description sounds worse than “The Little Match girl Story”. But dear friends, it is actually all true.

My expectation when I left home was to finally live the exhilarating life I always wanted. (By the way, I do now! )

But the biggest thing I realized after the first difficulties and discouragements was that I couldn’t pretend to be busy and at home in a place where I just arrived. It takes time. I lived 18 years in my hometown, 18 years of knowing people that eventually became my dearest friends, which made me connect to other people and made me get out and do things.

How could I pretend to have all this in just a few weeks?

You simply can’t. You have to give yourself time to understand the new environment. Be open and try new experiences even if they don’t attract you that much, because something nice could always happen (and if it doesn’t, well, at least it kept you busy and you weren’t at home thinking about your loneliness). You have to be patient and strive to stay positive.

Now, if you’re an expat (18, 25, 45… no matter the age), maybe you’re not encountering these particular problems, but you may have other challenges yourself. If you are reading this and are facing the “realisation moment”, trust me, IT’S WORTH IT. You can’t even imagine what will come out after this stage, how many things you’ll have learnt…things such as:

– New aspects of yourself you didn’t even know about, which will eventually be so useful in the future when facing new situations.

-Learning to stay by yourself and become aware of how precious that time is.

-Daily-life circumstances and realizations (example: bills are not paid magically by themselves, you have to actually remember every month to pay them… and yeah it’s money, real money!)

This list could be really long so I’ll stop here, but I hope you got the point.


Moral of the story:

Even if you’re 100% sure about doing this experience, be prepared. Things are not all rainbows and unicorns, but dealing with it and taking the best out of it will make you stronger, more proud and definitely able to face future challenges!

Don’t give up. Don’t withdraw into yourself. It’s one of the best opportunities you’ll ever have.


Do you know anyone living this phase? Share this post with them, it could help them to hold on and give them a little comfort 😉


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  • Reply suzyjbarker

    I love this post – such wise words from a young person. You are so right – having broken out of your comfort zone you are then forced by circumstances to learn new skills and look at the world differently. My nephew had a year in Los Angeles at university when he was 20. He found it very hard for all the same reasons you have written about here. And he had no choice but to persevere and adapt until he loved the US. He’s now a senior geologist back here in the UK, but he flies off and works all over the world at the drop of a hat, without a worry. He says that his year away at 20 was the making of him. Good luck to you. This is your chance to grow.

    26/04/2016 at 9:03
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Thank you Suzy! This post was particularly important for me so I appreciate that the message I wanted to give has been understood. I totally agree with your nephew thought, this kind of experiences make you more flexible and open minded! Thank you for your comment 🙂

      26/04/2016 at 9:36
  • Reply kingofspades24

    Love it, sometimes it’s really hard to find people as amazing as the ones that you made back home though :/

    26/04/2016 at 13:50
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Yes I agree! Indeed, I consider myself really lucky to have such a supportive family and friends! But I’ve seen people that despite this gave up on their dream and went back to their “previous” life…so I believe that the major energy to keep going, in the end, comes for ourselves 🙂
      Thank you for your comment! 🙂

      26/04/2016 at 13:58
  • Reply Amelia Vesper

    This is such a wonderful post! It’s a good reminder that even great adventures can be lonely at times. I studied abroad for a semester in college and even though that was obviously a much shorter stay, I can relate to a lot of this – even just moving away to college in another state was a similar experience (but with less culture shock, of course). Thanks for sharing your expat insight!

    xo Mil

    27/04/2016 at 20:35
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Thank you! I’m glad you can rely on it and thank you for sharing your experience! 🙂

      28/04/2016 at 9:34
  • Reply Gracefully Global

    Well said! Totally agreed – it does take time, and it is worth it.

    27/04/2016 at 22:55
  • Reply Alix

    Great post! I was an expat @ 18 too (moved from Manhattan to Paris) and am still an expat today (in Paris)! I think you explain the many different changes you go through as an expat well. It can be challenging at times – particularly in the beginning – but it is also the most amazing choice you can make! Living in a place different than where you grew up is a wonderful and exciting experience! Thank you for sharing! <3

    29/04/2016 at 13:02
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Thank you for the nice comment Alix! I’m happy you can relay and yes, I couldn’t agree more: living abroad is an amazing experience! 🙂

      29/04/2016 at 13:38
  • Reply growtastecreate

    So much fun ahead of you! Enjoy every moment 🙂

    29/04/2016 at 16:31
  • Reply Gameplan Happily Ever After

    Currently donning the role of an expat myself I understand about the “moment of realisation” you have mentioned here 🙂 But thankfully I have my hubby also here with me. Its exotic and fun to be in an alien country of course(esp for people who have a cult of wanderlust) but in the end,some way or the other you obviously miss your homeland and family. There is no denying that. Only when we accept it we can move forward. This post was a good read Lisa. 🙂 And between am soo green you get to roam in Europe 😀 I had been there on a trip and of all the 8 countries I visited, each and every one was sooo mesmerising in its own way! Lucky you!!

    30/04/2016 at 0:45
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Oh glad you like it and that you can relate! I agree with everything you wrote! 🙂 and yes, I’m really lucky, I’m so grateful to have this opportunity! 🙂 and who knows, maybe soon you’ll also have the chance to come back! 🙂 thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      30/04/2016 at 1:44
      • Reply Gameplan Happily Ever After

        Haha. Hope sooo !! And next time I would be starting with Greece! Missed it last time and cannot afford to miss it again 😀

        30/04/2016 at 4:46
  • Reply Tanja

    great post!

    04/05/2016 at 14:37
  • Reply JoHanna Massey

    I have no doubt that having the experience while young will create a part of you that will always desire and be open to new and exciting experiences, and the planet is big enough to provide you a lifetime of adventure.
    And excellent post. Thank you. 📮

    09/05/2016 at 15:46
  • Reply RollinwithCaroline

    It know exact what you writing, spot on, Be out of your comfort zone is not many people can handle it seems, but the things you learn along the way and how you grow is just awesome

    09/05/2016 at 17:55
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Yes I totally agree, the experience you live when pushing yourself out of your comfort zone are the biggest life lessons! 🙂 Thank you for commenting 🙂

      09/05/2016 at 18:33
  • Reply brittabottle

    Being an expat is, indeed, hard! I just got back from seven months abroad–and 6.5 of those months were spent living as an expat in Thailand. It was really hard and the adjustment period was very rough for me. I actually decided to come back to my home country earlier than expected–because once I got over the adjustment period, I realized that I really wasn’t happy living there and I also realized that there are dreams that I want to accomplish back home at this time in my life.

    Still, living in Thailand is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I learned so much about myself and tested myself in so many ways. Living abroad is one of the best ways to to grow as a person and learn more about the world around you. Still, you’re very right–it’s by no means easy!

    09/05/2016 at 18:43
  • Reply Amy W

    I’ve never read a post that so accurately describes how I felt at this point in my year abroad!! I wish I’d been able to read it at the time. You’re so right, all it takes is time and a bit of patience and you love it in the end!

    Amy x

    19/05/2016 at 14:50
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Thank you! Glad you liked it and that you can relate! Thank you for reading 🙂

      19/05/2016 at 14:52
  • Reply Unite-and-Inspire

    Love this post!! Had a very similar experience, months of homesickness thinking I was missing out and made the wrong choice but then once you stop resisting things just fall into place 🙂

    21/05/2016 at 10:09
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      Yes exactly!! I had the same feeling, for a moment I wanted to leave everything and go back home! Glad you could relate, thank you for commenting and stopping by!! 🙂

      22/05/2016 at 10:42
  • Reply laragarvie

    This post is so comforting. I recently moved to Norway and although its extremely exciting and beautiful, there are so many difficult moments. Love the tip about giving yourself time, such a nice and positive spin.

    27/05/2016 at 16:26
    • Reply fromdreamtoplan

      I’m so happy it has been helpful! Thank you for your nice comment and good luck with this new adventure! 🙂

      27/05/2016 at 17:01
  • Reply Deboleena

    You have a beautiful way of writing stuffs 🙂 I’d love to read more. And your blog is very nice. 🙂

    15/07/2016 at 11:36
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    21/07/2016 at 22:59
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  • Reply Lulu

    My experience of moving out on my own for the first time was a little different, but I learned the same lessons. when I went to college, I lived with roommates, but I also struggled with isolation and with making friends. You are right, it just takes time. I admire your ability to be open about the hardship, loneliness, and heartbreak that comes with making yourself so, so vulnerable. But, that vulnerability is necessary in order to realize joy and experience love and belonging. I loved how this post reminded me of that message. Thank you!

    30/09/2016 at 17:31
    • Reply Lisa // Fromdreamtoplan

      Thank you so much for reading and your kind comment! I absolutely agree with you, it is necessary to realise many things! I’m glad this post was a good reminder for you, thank you for your words 🙂

      30/09/2016 at 22:18
  • Reply Amy

    Hi Lisa! I can really relate to this post as I am also an expat (British living in California). I was lucky enough to move abroad with my husband but we really can understand your thoughts on having to throw yourself into new things and the pain of leaving friends and family behind. I am looking forward to reading more of your past and future posts 🙂

    If you have time, please check out my blog. It’s fairly new at the moment but please keep checking back to see what we have got up to in San Francisco!

    Happy studying! Amy x

    02/11/2016 at 0:42
    • Reply Lisa // Fromdreamtoplan

      Hi Amy!Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience! I visited your blog as well and I can’t wait to read more! Glad we connected 🙂

      02/11/2016 at 14:15
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