After 9 years living outside the Netherlands, we're back in our home country. Nine years is a long time, much longer than we had thought beforehand. Having lived three years in France and six years in Canada taught me a few things that I would like to share. See it as lessons learned or advice if you would consider moving abroad yourself!
1. It's not for everybody.
Yes, moving to another country is an adventure. I read that many people dream of moving abroad, but only a small percentage will actually do it. For different reasons: getting a better life, better schooling for the children, a job transfer or pursuing a dream. It's hard to predict if it will become a success. I don't know the numbers, but some people move back. Disappointed, homesick or even a broken relationship. If you like having dinner with your parents every week, have a group of close friends that you go out frequently, are very attached to the current life you live, consider twice. Every move brings change, moving abroad will shake the foundations of your whole family. It will be a test: you might get homesick, miss some people terribly, miss your old home, job, food. Everything actually that is normal now. Realize that it's different from going on vacation to a country. Good preparation helps. Knowing yourself helps too. Just be realistic.
2. Invest in learning the local language.
One thing I regret is that I didn't chose to do exams in French at high school. The few years of French language lessons were long time ago, so I hardly spoke a few words, let alone full sentences when we arrived in France. It was a mistake to think that I could switch to English when needed. Learning the local language is important if you want to talk with the local people. Even if the company language is English, it's worth the effort to get at least some basic knowledge of the language. It makes your life easier and the stay in the new country so much more pleasant. You'll see that people appreciate it if you try to speak their language.
3. Make new friends.
Don't expect the red carpet to be rolled out when you arrive. It takes effort to meet new people, to make friends. It's nothing personal, just simply that you'll enter a community where people have already built up a life (family, friends, career). Why would they add you to their lives? It helps to become member of clubs, church, volunteer work. People are everywhere; you just need to get out of your house to meet them, they won't come to you. And although it's nowadays so easy to keep in touch with your family and old friends back home, you should realize that they move on too. Often it's expensive for them to visit you. Again, nothing personal. That's why it's important to start being open to new friendships from the moment you move.
4. Culture: is it the country, the company or the individual?
The cultural differences may be large or very subtle. You can read books about the 'typical' culture of the country but in the end it helps more to have an open mind and to be aware of potential differences. When someone surprised me with a comment or behaviour, I didn't know if it was typical for the country, or maybe a corporate culture or just an individual difference. It's hard to say. Everybody is different, generalizing often doesn't help. Being open and flexible does.
5. Don't forget to enjoy your stay and explore the new home country!
Be a tourist in the new country and learn about popular and less popular sights. Explore the area, try the local cuisine, do something new. Whether your stay is temporary or permanent, get to know the new surroundings. It's more fun if you've seen more and tried things out.
Although at times I complained and missed things from home, I have no regrets of moving away from my home country. We had no plans of staying somewhere permanently, always leaving the door open for a new adventure. Being back now, I can say that I've learned a lot. I've met many people, and although I don't know if we'll stay in touch, they've helped my time abroad a good memory. I learned a lot too about myself. I think it has made me stronger and richer. And also very aware that I am Dutch, wherever I'll be.