Helen Hatzis
Helen Hatzis
June 27, 2017 ·  6 min read

Living Abroad – 9 Things You Should Know Before You Leave

In as little as a week and a half, I packed my belongings and headed on a plane to start a new chapter of my life living abroad in Brighton, England. As a self-proclaimed wanderlust, the idea of uprooting my life and moving half-way across the world felt like an opportunity full of adventure and pleasure. Instead, I found myself faced with a rollercoaster of challenges and experiences. While I wouldn’t change the experience for the world, I do wish I had known these nine things before I left to live abroad. 

The First Weeks Will Be The Hardest

After a 5 hour, restless flight, I arrived at Gatwick airport, hopped on a train. Half an hour and a small miscalculation later, I stood lost in a little train station in a small town somewhere in England. Luckily with the help of a local, I got back on track and arrived in Brighton hours later than planned. 

During the first few weeks, prepare for mishaps coming your way as you get your bearings. Though you’ll get lost plenty of times, don’t be discouraged because it gets easier as you become more familiar with the area.

Living Abroad

Brighton, UK

Looking for a Job Is a Full-Time Job

Though many people who move abroad do so for work, I saved a rent buffer and carried a blind sense of confidence that I would find a job when I got there. I spent the first week filling out online applications. I hit the pavement every afternoon to hand out resumes to anyone who would take them. There was no rest, and I started my first position right away at the end of the week at a local restaurant.

Over the first few weeks, I bounced around from job to job before finding good company. But once I found the right fit for me, I found myself free and able to relax and enjoy what the city had to offer.

 Living Abroad

Savings Are Essential  

I cannot tell you how many times I dipped into my emergency savings. Without them, I would have succumbed to a lot more stress. The overall cost of living in England is higher than in Canada. Savings also came in handy for rental properties. Saving up from the beginning gave me the ability to transition from temporary accommodations to more permanent ones quickly and without much hassle.

It’s A Lot of Paperwork

Within the first week, I found a room to rent, opened a bank account, and applied for a National Insurance Number. At first, I didn’t consider the full extent of what living abroad meant – treating England like it’s a permanent home, not a vacation spot. After a few crippling tax subtractions off my paycheck, a local friend helped me discover that I was in the wrong tax bracket. Plus, if it had not been for a substantial rebate, I would struggle to make rent. Unlike the ease of traveling, living abroad means dealing with the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

You Just Might Meet Some of Your Best Friends

Working in the restaurant industry, I met many people in similar situations as myself. One co-worker came from Australia, and we bonded over the fact no one understood our slang words. Another colleague from Toronto (my hometown) reminisced fondly with me over Tim Hortons Coffee.  Over the months, I developed a diverse group of friends. We would go salsa dancing, take a day trip to London and trek after work to local pubs including Hop Poles, where we would enjoy pints on their quaint backyard terrace, listening to the sounds of reggae. 

Friends helped me learn about insider activities. If it weren’t for them, I’d never know of all the fun one could have on a trip to the town of Lewes for Guy Fawkes Night. The time I spent away would’ve been difficult if not for the connections I made. They got me through much of my homesickness, and I’m still in contact with many of them today. 

 Living Abroad

It’s Not a Vacation

The stunning landscape views and decadent culinary delights I regularly sampled at work gave every indication of being on vacation. But I certainly was not. Throughout the months in Brighton, I faced running low on funds, dealing with challenging roommates and learning the ins and outs of this beachside city. Grocery shopping came as a challenge, and I struggled to balance exchange rates and discount stores. The adjustment period took a few months. Late night Skype calls back home and waking up to roommates returning from a wild night became part of my daily routine. 

I gradually began to appreciate Facebook messages and mail from old friends and family. The feeling of homesickness slowly crept in throughout the months. I missed the little moments such as quick phone calls or visiting my parent’s house to eat my favorite home-cooked meal. I met a lady in Brighton who told me that if you live abroad for more than seven years, you won’t return, which added to my worries. My new friends stood as my life savers during this time, distracting me by creating new and exciting opportunities, and giving me the taste of family far away from home. 

 Living Abroad

Secret Spots

One of the many benefits of living abroad is you gain the insider knowledge of a local. On a day trip to London, a friend took us to a secret spot he discovered tucked away in Camden Town. Brighton offers many hidden places including restaurants and quiet green spaces to enjoy lunch. On my days off, I wandered the city discovering unique shops and cafes to spend my free time. 

You May Not Want to Come Back

My choice to return home came as a practical decision to continue my studies. Now, I often find myself reminiscing about the time I spent away. Coming home meant leaving behind new friends, a job I loved and a lifestyle I continually try to emulate. I cannot recreate the stretches of beach I use to walk every day on my way to work or see the friends I made in person. I still wonder about returning, knowing that I will once again visit the vibrant city even if I no longer call it home. 

Living Abroad             

Returning Means Everything Will Be The Same, Except You

When I returned home a year later, I was surprised that everything looked and felt the same as how I left it. An eery feeling almost convinced me that I just dreamt the entire year. My friends and family were as I remembered them, but I most certainly changed. The time away helped me develop a new sense of confidence. I had faith that I could maneuver any challenge that came my way. In the first few months of being back, I spoke with a slight British accent. When people ask me where I’m from, I say London. I still miss the food, especially Sunday roasts, and fresh seafood. But living abroad, I learned to cherish my relationships more, and I made an effort to visit home as often as I could. Living abroad helped me understand my priorities.