I’ve been thinking recently about the sacrifices that come with living and working abroad. There are financial sacrifices, which include all the regular expenses of moving house (rent and deposits) along with flights and the administration fees to legally register (€13 just to stamp a form? Seriously?). Throw in shipping costs or visas – which luckily my boyfriend & I haven’t had to shell out for – and the price of moving really rises. Many people working overseas have freelance contracts or are self-employed. These contracts provide autonomy, flexibility & freedom but there is a lot of insecurity; no sick leave, no holiday leave and no health insurance or pension contributions from your employer.
Today I’d also like to share some emotional sacrifices you might have to make:
When you live in another country away from your family, your closest friends, your childhood friends, your former colleagues…. you miss out on stuff. It is unavoidable and inevitable. Technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch. You can email, Skype, Whatsapp call, Whatsapp chat, send Snapchats or share photos through Facebook and Instagram but you still miss out. You miss birthdays. You miss dinners. You miss the celebration of promotions, engagements, pregnancies and PhDs. You miss coffee dates. You miss picnics. You miss post-work drinks. You miss cinema trips and DVD marathons. You miss the nights when everyone gets dressed up and goes ‘out out’. You miss hen parties and stag dos. You miss weddings. It’s not that you can’t go to everything you are invited to – but there are major costs involved. We all know that attending a wedding often means paying for hotels, transport, a wedding gift, often a new outfit or at least new accessories. Add onto that paying for return flights and using some of your limited annual leave (or losing some days’ pay if you are a freelancer)…..you have to prioritise who and what you say yes to, and as a result, you miss out on a lot.
You miss out on the day-to-day conversations. Whereas in the past I’d see some friends at least once or twice a week, go to lectures together, have lunch together, spend our working days together, now our friendships and the way we communicate have changed. When we speak, our updates become vague and non-specific.
“How have you been?”
“Good thanks. Busy! You?”
“Same. How’s work?”
“Good thanks, you?”
“Yeah, not bad. What have you been up to lately?”
….and so we sum up everything we’ve done recently into short, bullet-point style summaries. I don’t share the details; what made the good days good….or the bad days stressful, upsetting or irritating. Often we don’t share how we really are, what’s going well for us, what we’re struggling with….
When my boyfriend and I moved to Hamburg, we found it particularly difficult to find a suitable apartment (as described in a previous post.). In Germany, it is common to buy furniture and everything else you need for an apartment, then take it with you whenever you move. So, many apartments are left unfurnished and shipping companies make a fortune helping everyone transport double beds and fridges around the city! This practice….really doesn’t work for us. We have no furniture. We have no household equipment. We don’t even have our own bed linen, towels or clothes hangers! We have suitcases, a limited number of clothes, our computers, external hard drives crammed with music, films and TV programmes, some accessories and…that’s it. It feels quite strange to reflect on how few material possessions we have. Although we have more clothes in storage at our families’ houses, along with some books and DVDs, we have very little compared to other people we know.
Many of my friends and acquaintances are homeowners or long-term renters who have really invested in where they live. Whereas I eat my dinner off plates that have been used by countless anonymous renters before me, my friends hand-picked what they eat from, what they cook with, what they sleep on and what they decorate their walls with. Whereas I rent an apartment, they have a home. Of course we could invest in beautiful paintings or expensive Egyptian cotton sheets or lug a beautiful tea set from place to place, from country to country, but it seems terribly impractical and unnecessarily expensive when we can just use what our landlord provides. However, when you own very, very little in the apartment you live in, it does prevent you from truly settling in and feeling at home. You feel like a house-sitter, someone temporarily occupying the space before you move onto the next place. Which is true – that’s exactly what you are – but it is not a comforting feeling.
My boyfriend and I often refer to a future time, when we have our own house which we can fill with everything that we currently lack (obviously money is no object in our fantasy!). I dream of decorating my home with memories of my travels and adventures – with maps, with photos, with some of my favourite quotes and sayings. For now, it is just a dream. Something we could have, but it would come at a price. We would have to give up the lifestyle we have chosen, the excitement and enjoyment of choosing a new place to live, of immersing ourselves in a foreign culture, of meeting like-minded people, of exploring different countries from the inside, of learning new languages and opening our minds further. And that is just too high a price to pay…..
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow