Five Lessons Learned as an American Living Abroad

I have learned a lot living abroad as an American.  Sure, sometimes the observations and lessons learned are as small as knowing which grocery stores are decent to shop at and which ones are not.  And others are major lessons.  I feel obligated to share these with you as I feel that they apply to anyone no matter where in the world you come from and no matter where you may be currently living:

1.  Always be up front with employers regarding your work visa status and intentions of staying in the country.  I have been fortunate enough to receive every single job I have interviewed for in Norway (this doesn’t mean that the immigration department allowed me to keep them).  However, with one of the jobs, I just assumed I would receive a work visa in a prompt manner after turning in my contract to the immigration department.  Well, this didn’t happen according to my plan and I left a world renowned company hanging after accepting the job offer.  This was so unfair to them.  I wish I had been up front from the beginning and explained what my work visa situation was.  I probably still would have been offered the position…but they would have factored in a back-up plan if the situation didn’t go accordingly.  I felt really bad about this and still do, one year later.  Luckily, the guy who hired me was an expat himself and was pretty understanding and told me to give him a call one day when I had everything sorted out.  I would assume that 99% of employers would not be this sympathetic though.

2.  Yes, people can be anti-American.  But they can also be non-ignorant and not care or discriminate on you based on where you’re from.  There is a LOT of discrimination and racism in Norway…more so than anywhere else I’ve ever been in the world despite the facade that Norwegians put on.  And while many will tell you they hate Americans and the US, many of them will also tell you they have traveled to the US and that Americans are the nicest people they have ever met.  Don’t pay much mind to the ones who try to tell you how awful your country is.  Be proud of where you’re from…no matter where in the world it may be.  The people that matter are the ones who will embrace you for who you are and what you are, and not where you were born or where you were raised.  But yes, sometimes traveling as an American is harder than you might think.

3.  Adapt, but don’t lose who you are.  I don’t like skiing and snowboarding and I constantly have people tell me, “Well, you’re in Norway, so you should.”  No I shouldn’t.  I like to play tennis and golf.  While I think it is important to learn and enjoy parts of your new home, you are not obligated to enjoy them all.  I’d rather spend my winters traveling, working, and enjoying the snow with my dog than heading up to a mountain and skiing or snowboarding on every day I get off.  It’s not wrong; it’s just different.

4.  Everyone’s situation is different, so stop comparing.  I know people who have lived in a foreign country for 20 years and still feel like a foreigner.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they haven’t tried, it just means that perhaps their situation is different than those who have adapted fairly quickly.  I was fortunate to adapt and feel like Norway was home quite quick.  It doesn’t mean I tried harder or had any less tears shed than those who haven’t been able to do the same.  I have moved around my entire life.  Some people have not.  Some people find jobs and their niche in a foreign land super quick.  Some don’t.  Many people I know living in Norway hate it…but they have kids here and a family here, so they make it work.  I know others that love it here.  As soon as a person stops comparing their experience to everyone else’s, they may find that they begin fitting in quicker than they ever thought possible.

5.  Don’t involve yourself in the drama.  There are so many expat groups and forums out there.  Use them for what they are…a resource.  But don’t involve yourself in the drama that takes place.  And yes, it is there.  And you will notice it.  It will be the same people causing problems and confrontations (via the internet of course) over and over and rest assure that these people are causing the same amount of drama in real life as they cause over the internet.  Choose your friends the way you would back in your home country, just make sure you’re open-minded to new types of people in the process.

I would love to hear some of the lessons you have learned while living abroad in a new country!  Please feel free to share!

Comments (21)

Love all these tips Megan – and couldn’t agree with them more! Particularly the one about not comparing – for some reason many expats feel the need to compete with other expats. On where they’ve live, where they’ve travelled etc. and it drives me bonkers. We should be there to support each other, not judge each other. Thanks for sharing these!

xxx
Jenna

When I went to spend Grade 11 in Canada, I remember being told: ‘It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.’ I loved living in Canada which made it a bit hard for me to adjust back to life in Germany and I remember frequently thinking things like ‘This is not how we would do it in Canada!’. A few years later now, I have gained more perspective and have realized that living in Germany is not so bad after all, but living abroad (probably especially when you’re so young) can change you immensely in a very short amount of time, so it can be hard when you get back home where nothing has changed drastically.

By the way, where was the last picture of this post taken? The place looks gorgeous!

xx
Melanie

I believe it’s Bergen, on Norway’s west coast.

While I am guessing that I will probably never live abroad (but you never know!) I love reading about your experiences!!

Totally agree on all points, especially the comparisons. But that’s one that applies to everyone all the time, not just living abroad… at least in my opinion.

I’d also add: Let go of your preconceived notions because living abroad won’t be everything you expect. That goes for the positive and the negative sides. :)

Excellent tips! And for No.3, since I live close to the Alps everyone tries to get me to ski, they just can’t seem to accept that I DON’T WANT TO! There, I’m glad I got that off of my chest.

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