Many people dream about living in another country in their 20’s, but there are very few who can actually do it. Lydia is one of those brave souls who took the leap...but she’ll be the first to tell you it’s not always a fairytale. After leaving her home in New Zealand at the age of 19, Lydia has lived in Ireland, Greece, and England. She has now spent 5 years living in Europe and currently resides in London, where she’s lucky enough to hold a British passport. We talked with Lydia about the exhilarating highs, the lonely lows, and the lessons learned while discovering nou homes outside of her comfort zone. So if you have the itch to expand your horizons, take her advice and just go for it.
According to Lydia, these are the three stages of personal growth you’ll go through when moving to another country
The Honeymoon Phase
There’s nothing more romantic than landing in a new country you’re about to call home. If you ever experience this feeling, acknowledge that you are privileged to have the opportunity to travel, because so many people don’t. Then let the honeymoon begin! This phase truly is love at first sight...you’ll be walking down unknown streets, tasting unique flavors, and feasting your eyes on breathtaking new scenery. If your first few months living abroad become anything like Lydia’s, you’ll be having the absolute time of your life.
In January 2015, Lydia moved to Dublin, Ireland to begin her exchange program at University College Dublin. She has three words to describe the beginning of her trip—crazy, wild, and amazing. “Since it was my first time living away from home, it was the exhilaration of finally being in control...If you have the opportunity to study abroad you should absolutely take it. It’s such a safe and great introduction to freedom while still having a safety net within the University.” During her Honeymoon Phase, the history and film major was making friends with other exchange students and traveling all over Europe during the weekends. But what happened next wasn’t the fairytale she expected.
The Overwhelming Phase
Once the novelty of the Honeymoon Phase wears off, you might find yourself getting smacked in the face with reality. You’ll have to figure out the not-so-sexy parts of living overseas—like how to get a job, how to register with a doctor, how to open a bank account, and how to attain a drivers licence. If you relocate to a foreign speaking country, this phase may be even more challenging. But rest assured that the confusion, loneliness, and culture shock you might experience are completely normal feelings. As Lydia remembers, “it gets to the point where it’s like ok wow, this is quite shocking. You discover there are mundane parts of being independent and you have to sort them out on your own.”
After returning to New Zealand briefly to graduate college, Lydia moved to Greece in 2017 and became a Trip Manager for Contiki—a touring company designed for young adults. At 21 years old, not only did Lydia have to learn how to take care of herself, but she was also responsible for up to 50 people at a time. While getting paid to sail the Greek Islands and party may seem like the perfect job, it wasn’t always glamorous. “It was mad, but rewarding and extremely exhausting as well.” During this time, Lydia often felt overwhelmed, isolated, and homesick. She missed her family, friends, dog, and home comforts such as mince and cheese pies. But she didn’t give up—and neither should you. Lydia has “known so many people who have returned home during that difficult phase and that's the biggest mistake you can make… you have to stick it out so you can appreciate and enjoy what comes after.” So what does come after?
The “Wow I’m Really Doing This” Phase
If you can make it this far, you’re extremely courageous for not throwing in the towel. The Overwhelming Phase is hard, but “When you hit that inevitable low, you have to break it down and take control of the small things in order to build yourself up again.” For example, you might begin to read the local newspaper, join a club, write in a journal, or even buy yourself a new candle (like I did). These small actions may seem insignificant, but they are strides of personal growth that will help you to reach the next stage...“First comes the honeymoon stage, then comes the homesick and confused stage, but after that you're truly living and growing.”
At the end of 2017 Lydia moved to London, England, where she still lives today. After going through a challenging time of her own, Lydia began to make small changes that helped her regain control of her life. In order to feel a little less homesick, Lydia found local New Zealand operated stores and joined facebook groups where she met fellow expats. She also played in a social Netball team and even landed her current job as a Personal Assistant by meeting a kiwi recruiter. However, Lydia also learned the importance of balance. While it’s comforting to bring a piece of your old home with you, in order to grow you have to completely immerse yourself in the culture of your nou home. Lydia made an effort to meet English friends, who taught her all about British life. She recommends that anyone looking for a new house should sublet first and ask locals about the neighbourhood before committing to a lease. Added up, all of these learning lessons helped Lydia to realize, “Wow I’m really doing this.”
If you thought moving countries would be easy—we’re sorry to break it to you but you’re wrong. Take it from Lydia, living overseas won’t always be picture perfect, “It’s going to be frightening, scary, and hard... but it will also be fulfilling, rewarding, and an experience you cannot get anywhere else.” Besides, like anything in life, nothing worth doing comes easily right? If Lydia had given up when things were tough, she would never have experienced some of the best memories in her life—like going to Tomorrowland in Belgium, drinking champagne under the Eiffel Tower in France, or Hiking in the dark in Norway to catch the breathtaking sunrise over Pulpit Rock. One day Lydia plans on returning to New Zealand to raise a family. But when her future children become old enough, she’s going to encourage them to follow in her footsteps and move to another country— “It's a right of passage.” So if you have the opportunity to take the leap, don’t wait around for the right moment. Pack your bags and just go. Your nou home(s) await you.
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