the expat diaries | what they don’t tell you before moving abroad

This blog post originally appeared on Living in Another Language. Go ahead… visit her blog. You won’t be disappointed. :)

If you’re new to my website, let me give a quick explanation as to why I created this expat link-up. Because I started my travel and lifestyle blog while living abroad in Scotland, and because we had been moving around every 6 months for my husband’s job, I wanted to connect with other women (and men) in the same situation. This lifestyle can be challenging at times so it’s incredibly important to find a support system. I’ve laughed, cried, and vented to the bloggers I’ve met because of The Expat Diaries,  and built extremely close friendships. And that’s why this announcement is difficult for me… next month will be the last Expat Diaries. TEARS!

Since I’ve settled down in Northern Virginia and Chelsea is back in the States planning an RV trip around the country, we both decided to call it quits. Now, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be abroad again at some point (Umm.. Chelsea? Can we move to a random country together?), but right now we want to focus on other aspects of our blog.

I know, I know… some of you filled out a google document to co-host (ahh, so sorry!) and I promise I’m going to try and fit everyone else in next month, and if you don’t absolutely need to co-host, let me know because I’ll give you a free ad space on my blog!

The last Expat Diaries is scheduled for Thursday, April 3rd and I hope to see you all there! And now onto more important things…

What They Don’t Tell You Before Moving Abroad:

Moving Abroad

1. People will look at you funny — and it’s hilarious.
Whenever we left our flat in Scotland to run errands, whether it was going to the grocery store or buying a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks, people would stop and stare as soon as they heard our American accents. At one point when I was at the coffee shop while B was at work, someone actually approached me and complimented my accent. Thanks, Scots!

Building on this…

2. Even if you’re in an English-speaking country, communicating is sometimes difficult.
First of all, Scottish accents are really, really hard to understand. Like, really hard. I’d catch myself blankly staring and nodding way too often because I had no clue what these men and women were saying, and everyone was probably like, “What the hell is wrong with this weird American girl?!”. When in doubt, smile. That’s what I always say.

Secondly, just because you speak the same language doesn’t mean you use the same words for the same things. I remember asking someone where a trash can was and they were completely confused because I didn’t use the word “bin”. Little things like that made living abroad… interesting. I explain this in more detail here.

Coffee Photo

3. You’ll lose a lot of your friends back home.
I’m not trying to make moving abroad sound depressing, because it was the best thing I’ve ever done, but I lost a lot of friends. Sometimes distance does not make the heart grow fonder and eventually, you lose touch — mainly because you’ve chosen to take a different life path and people think you’re crazy for moving around so often. But don’t let that stop you because…

Amalfi Church

4. You’ll grow tremendously as an individual.
I’ve always been an independent person, but wow did I learn a lot about myself abroad. I didn’t have family and friends to lean on because we were overseas all alone, so I spent a lot of time reading, writing, finding new hobbies, and roaming around the city in my spare time. It made me more creative, more appreciative of the little things in life, and it made me a lot stronger. Plus I no longer want to strangle myself when in my own company. Yay!

Camel Rides

5. You’ll become addicted to travel.
I want to explore the entire world now. Now! I want to learn about different cultures, cook strange foods — I just want to live a wanderlust-filled life. That’s the beauty of being brave and moving your life abroad; it’s opens you up to so much more. So get on that, okay?

Amalfi Coast

What has moving abroad taught you? P.S. Say hello to our lovely co-hosts The Rococo Roamer, Sunshine to the Square Inch, and Wanderlust.


Filed Under: Expat30 Comments
  • Betsy Transatlantically

    re #2 – since I was in London, the accent thing wasn’t so bad – but I once had a Scottish woman call the theatre where I worked with a question about her membership and I had NO IDEA what name she was giving me! I could understand her question but I couldn’t help her because I couldn’t look up her name in our system because I had no idea how to spell it. I had subtly get other identifying information from her and then tell her I’d call her back with answers so I could do detective work! yikes.

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Scottish accents are tricky! At the end of our field package abroad, when we THOUGHT we had mastered the Scottish accent, we experienced the most awkward cab ride ever. Our driver was extremely talkative and we honestly had no idea what he was saying. We couldn’t understand a single sentence it was that bad!

  • Johlet

    OH How I wish Cedric and I can just travel to a different country every 6months or a year!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      It’s fun but packing is the absolute worst! If only someone could do that for me… ;)

  • Lydia Anderson

    I’m Scottish and I promise you, we get how difficult it is to understand our accent! Especially the further north you go… With the exception of Glasgow – that accent is just awful. But yeah, even I struggle to understand people with a proper Scots accent, and I live in Aberdeen! Although it’s worse when someone speaks to you in Doric (the local dialect) and you’re from Edinburgh… I never have a clue what they’re saying!

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Oh yes! Glasgow… Inverness… Isle of Skye… etc Every single time we went up North and had to stop at a gas station, we would be super confused!

  • Alex Fahey

    I love and agree with every single point. I’m so happy to be an expat, but there are a lot of challenges. I think my favorite thing you said was you’ll lose a lot of friends back home. It’s really sad, but I’ve seen a lot of people leave my friend radar for the fact of never living back in my home state. And that is sad, but I’ve met friends on our journey the last three years that are so amazing. These friends are so close to us because they completely understand where we are coming from and the experiences we’ve had.

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Yep, exactly! It’s hard losing friends but I love finding other people who love travel and can relate to being an expat. They always have such wonderful stories. :)

  • Ashley Angle

    Great post! I loved reading it! I’d love to live abroad! What is your back story? How did you end up in Scotland?
    ~Ashley @ A Cute Angle

    • Postcards from Rachel

      We were living in DC and my husband was offered a field package abroad. I quit my job and we moved right after the wedding! Then after that, we did a corporate rotation around the States and moved every 6 months or so.

  • Brittny McLeod

    I definitely agree with all of these! My husband and I are just coming up on 6 months in Germany. :)


    • Postcards from Rachel

      How long are you scheduled to live there? I love Germany!

      • Brittny McLeod

        We will be here 2 to 3 years. We are loving it, but it’s definitely an adjustment. :)

  • Beka Johnson

    I feel like #3 and #4 go hand in hand. Living abroad changes you so much and when you come home you aren’t the same person. I feel like sometimes it is hard to reconnect with friends because you aren’t the same friend you were 2 years ago.

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Exactly! Living abroad has changed me so much. I look at everything differently now.

  • Anathalia Santos

    As an expat myself, I completely agree with the list!

  • Tara Illy

    Love this and can totally relate. I moved to England over two years ago and the language is still confusing sometimes even though it IS English ha. Have yet to visit Scotland but it’s on the list! :)

    • Postcards from Rachel

      Ooh, Scotland is beautiful. You will have so much fun exploring the castles when you go.

  • Kayti Clayton

    Wish you would do a post on how you were able to move abroad. I want to so badly, but I have no idea where to start!

  • Julie

    #1 is so true. Especially here in Brazil, all the little kids do a quick double-take when they hear me talking to my husband in English. The funniest thing happened when I was with my in-laws at their Brazilian church (my in-laws are Americans but fluent in Portuguese). I was talking to my mother-in-law, in English, and the Pastor’s son looks at us with big eyes and says to my mother-in-law (in Portuguese), “She speaks your language, too?!” To which my mother-in-law replies, “Yes, aren’t you learning it in school?” And he says, “Noooo, I’m learning ENGLISH.”

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  • Postcards from Rachel

    Exactly! Accents are tricky.

  • Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    I’m an Asian American from Texas who is now living in Malaysia. People always mistake me for a local Malaysian and complement me on how well I speak English. It’s funny what you said about not understanding someone and just doing the blank stare and nod. I was doing that last week until I realized that they guy was giving me instructions for my 1st time ziplining, and I probably should be putting more effort into deciphering what he was telling me.

  • departmentofwandering

    Great little piece Rachel! I’m an Australian expat living in Berlin and everything you’ve noted rings true to me too. :)

  • Alexandra

    Living as an expat as been the best opportunity I’ve ever been given! I’ve lived in South Africa and now currently, Warsaw. I completely agree with this list!

  • Canadian Expat Mom

    I can relate to so many of these as a Canadian living in France! It’s true, you do loose touch with some of your old friends, but you get to make so many new friends along the way! Seeing the world is the best education!! Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to know others go through the same things!

  • Sabrina Kara

    Totally agree with you. I am living right now in my sixth “adoptive” country, The Netherlands, love it but still although we are all Europeans, we are soooo different from one country to another ;)

  • Camila

    I was a North American expat in Scotland as well and it is all so true! So many weird instances of not understanding Scots and them not understanding me. There was lots of awkward nodding and smiling going on!

  • Irene @ Away from Tenerife

    Oh, so sad to read that next month will be your last ‘Expat Diaries’ but yes, sometimes it is time to move forward! I absolutely agree with 4 and 5. Travel really shapes your personality in a unique way and once you start traveling you’re always craving for more.
    Keeping friendships back at home is not easy but fb and Skype make it a little easier, though it is inevitable that things will change as you don’t share as much as you used to and no longer do that many things together.
    Great post, Rachel!

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