2 January. Exactly two years ago we arrived in Dublin, ready to start our new adventure. Someone recently asked me: Would you have made the move if you knew then what you know now? A simple question with no straightforward answer. The experience has been wonderful and, at the same time, challenging. It’s been filled with joy and littered with frustrations. Honestly, I think we embarked on this adventure with some naivety when we made the move from South Africa to Ireland. I’ll start by saying: year one was tough, but we expected it to be. We had to familiarise ourselves with the new culture, navigate different systems and stumble through mountains of admin. Year two was even tougher. Perhaps because we thought it would be easier.
Here are 12 lessons we’ve learnt from our experience over the past two years:
1. Things don’t always go according to plan
No matter how much you plan, plot and do your research, there will be unexpected challenges. Visa administration doesn’t always go according to plan, credit cards are stolen, etc.! Be flexible, and don’t get hung up on things you don’t have control over.
2. Take charge of your admin
You’ll be faced with so much admin, paperwork and red-tape, that you’ll want to flee to an uninhabited island. Talk to someone who’s been through the process, their advice is invaluable. It’s important to organise your paperwork from the start; you never know when you’ll have to whip out some long-forgotten document.
3. Make an effort to integrate into the local community
Play sports, join a club, volunteer. Whatever you do, get involved! You’ll meet new people and it’s the fastest way to learn more about the local culture, politics and the way of life.
4. Your network is everything, make friends
Your friends will be your main support network when you’re far from your family. They will help you when you’re sick, when your car breaks down, or when you feel inconsolably homesick. Your friends will show you around, introduce you to new people and make you feel at home. One day, you’ll be able to return the favour.
5. Ask for information
If you’re going to try and get through the adjustment period all on your own, then you’ll be in for a rough ride. Asking for help and information is vital and will save you heartache and frustration.
6. Don’t believe everything people tell you
I’ve found that, when asking for help, it’s necessary to evaluate the information you receive. If you’re desperate for an answer, you might blindly follow well intended, but unsuitable advice.
7. There will be more expenses than you have anticipated
Do your research and budget properly before making the big move, but provide well for contingencies. Some emergency funds will get you through the first six months.
8. Your mindset influences your experience
The more I speak to people who have relocated to Ireland, the more I realise that your mindset is everything. Moving abroad, permanently or for a couple of months, is no walk in the park. Don’t let the blissful Facebook photos convince you otherwise. You have to commit to the move and keep an open and positive mindset.
9. You will miss ‘home’ – Find ways to cope
The concept of home can become complicated and blurry. You never know when homesickness will hit you. Perhaps when the weather remains overcast for weeks, or when local customs seem a bit foreign, or when you’re looking for your go-to cold medicine and the pharmacist only gives you a blank look. Have your coping strategy ready: Perhaps some music and a cat on your lap, or a coffee in a cosy cafe with a friend…
10. Explore and have fun
Another way to keep homesickness at bay is to play tourist in your new home. Visit local attractions, explore the area and learn the history. You might be able to teach some of the locals a thing or two!
11. You’ll not be the same person that left home
I suppose this goes without saying, but the adventure will (hopefully!) broaden your personal horizons. My advice: make the most of it.
12. There’s always more to learn
Just when you think you have things figured out, you learn something new. New words and phrases, the names of household products, or the location of a glorious hiking trail. It’s all part of the journey!
Would we have made the move if we knew then what we know now? Who can say? Either way, I’m glad we have done it. Living abroad truly has been an adventure for us, despite the many challenges.
What should I add to this list? Let me know about your experience by leaving a comment. Or share this article with someone who’s considering a move abroad.