Expat Life, Lifestyle

10 Valuable Lessons Learned from Living Abroad

10 valuable lessons learned from living abroad

Have you ever thought about moving abroad? It’s an exciting prospect in theory, but not a decision that most people would take lightly. In fact the idea of actually doing it can be quite daunting, if not terrifying!

I was born and raised in England (suburbs of south London) but have been living in the US for the past decade. The experience of moving to another country is one like no other – it’s full of highs and lows. For me, the adjustment phase has been an ongoing process, and while I’m very much settled here in America, there are still moments that take me by surprise. There are also certainly times when I feel a little homesick and miss England.

What I can say without doubt though is that the decision to live abroad is not one I regret in the slightest. And that’s not only because it’s what led me to meet my husband and have two beautiful children!

I’m immensely grateful for the life lessons I’ve learned during this experience.  The journey’s been an enlightening one, and being an expat is now part of my identity.

If you’ve ever lived away from home, perhaps you’ve felt some of these things too.

Lessons learned from living abroad

#1 That you’re stronger than you realize

Regardless of whether you’re traveling solo or bringing a family along for the ride, making the move to another country is far from easy. There are countless hurdles to contend with – logistical, financial, emotional…

But when you get past them (which you will) you’re rewarded with the knowledge of just how much you can achieve.

It’s very empowering to step out of your comfort zone and test your own limits. And you might be surprised at what’s possible when you set your mind to it.

#2 How to be more patient

When it comes to moving country, there’s a steep learning curve. You’re adapting to a new culture with its own customs. There will probably be times when you start to doubt your decision and long to feel settled. Often even the simplest of tasks can become a huge challenge.

But the adjustment is definitely easier if you can take your time and accept that it can be a slow process. The initial stages of moving abroad can feel like a roller coaster ride with all it’s ups and downs, but eventually you’ll settle into a comfortable rhythm. It just takes some time.

I’m definitely not always the most patient person, but going through this experience has taught me the value of grit and perseverance.

#3 That home is where you make it

It’s funny, but before I moved to the US, I was genuinely worried about how I might survive without the familiar comforts of home.

I of course soon discovered that many of those things, such as Yorkshire tea, chocolate digestives and Marmite, were easily obtainable. And over time, it became slightly less important in any case.

What I have learned is that you can feel at home anywhere if you give it enough time. There are still occasions on which I feel like an outsider in America, but when I’m at my home with my husband and daughters, I really couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

#4 That having a “life plan” is not necessary

I’m an organized person by nature, and a worrier, and so in many ways having a life plan makes sense to me. There’s comfort in knowing where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.

My original plan was to spend two years in the US and then move back to England. Then life threw a few curveballs my way (to use a classic American expression :)) and here I am 10 years later.  Who knows where we’ll be 10 years from now.

Since moving abroad, I’ve learned to be better about going with the flow. I just had to. Things do go wrong – that’s the nature of travel, and it’s OK.

I’ve become comfortable with a greater degree of uncertainty about the course my life might take, and am possibly even starting to enjoy it!

#5 How to to talk to strangers

As an awkward British introvert, this is perhaps one of the skills I appreciate most, haha. Of course, I could technically talk to strangers already. But whereas before, the idea of small talk with a stranger would fill me with dread, these days I’m actually starting to enjoy it (except not on the phone – NEVER on the phone!).

When you move abroad, virtually everyone is a stranger, so you get plenty of practice. There are those times when you simply have to spark up a conversation or ask for help just to get by (see my next point).

Not only that, but moving country can also be a lonely business at times. Putting yourself out there a bit can oftentimes lead to new, and much needed, friendships. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing people, from many different walks of life, since I moved to the US.

#6 The importance of asking for help

This has been quite the lesson for me personally. I can be stubbornly independent (just ask my husband!) and asking for help is usually a last resort.

However, when you move to another country, you’ll likely be clueless about the simplest of things. How do I pay a bill?? How do I get to such and such a place? What do I take to a dinner party? What can I talk about and what’s off limits at said dinner party?

I ask for help with these kinds of conundrums A LOT and it’s all a great lesson in humility. I’ve become more open to the idea of it, and am better about doing it.

One of the most pleasant surprises to me is just how happy most people are to help out a clueless foreigner!

#7 That you don’t need so much stuff

Moving to another country is a great excuse to purge your belongings as it forces you to consider what’s truly important. I pretty much condensed my whole life into a single suitcase when I first moved to the US, and that was all I really needed.

I’ve talked previously on this blog about how I’m gravitating towards a more minimalist lifestyle, and I think that moving here was what sparked that. It’s ironic really, given that I’m living in the largest consumer market in the world!

#8 The value of family

This one’s almost too obvious to mention, but it’s also a very important one.

I value my family back home in England more than ever because I miss them so so much. And I value my family here in the US because they are my little world in a big place that still feels unfamiliar at times.

Family matters more to me now than ever.

#9 How to become the best version of yourself

Moving to another country has an impact on who you are in so many different ways. I think that it’s impossible to go through an experience like this without becoming a little more self-aware and a little more confident.

For me, it’s instilled a desire to push myself that bit more, to try new things and to trust more in my own abilities. I wouldn’t say that I’ve inherently changed, but the journey, and the challenges I’ve faced along the way, have brought out the best in me.

#10 That people are fundamentally the same, wherever they are in the world

I love this quote by Maya Angelou, which sums it up far better than I possibly could:

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends”

Of course, we don’t necessarily need to live abroad to understand this, but seeing it first hand can make it more concrete.

There are still things about American culture that baffle me – I lived in England for the first 28 years of my life and that cultural conditioning remains at my core, having a profound influence on my perspective of the world.

But I understand that at their core, the people in this country want the same things as people in England and in any other country. We all want to be loved and accepted. We want to be happy and to pursue our goals and dreams.

Spending time in other countries is a great way to see the bigger picture. And being around people from different parts of the world reminds us that we’re all really the same.


So what about you? Have you ever lived in another country? If so, what did you learn? I’d love to hear about your experiences!


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  • Reply Michelle

    I have a five year plan to live in London and –although it will be someplace that speaking English– it’s still a huge transition from living in the States. These are all great tips and I definitely will be implementing them when I move abroad myself.

    Thanks for sharing! x


    August 17, 2018 at 3:44 pm
    • Reply Polly

      Yes, there are some huge cultural differences between Britain and the US, that you can only fully understand when you make the move. Not having the language barrier definitely makes things easier though! Good luck with your plan! 🙂

      August 17, 2018 at 7:20 pm
  • Reply Petria

    We moved our young family to live in Bali for 12 months, it was the absolute best decision we ever made for our family!

    August 17, 2018 at 4:05 pm
    • Reply Polly

      I’d love to visit Bali… what an amazing place to experience with children too!

      August 17, 2018 at 7:16 pm
  • Reply An Historian

    Love this post!! I am Canadian and lived in Dublin for a year when I did my Masters at UCD, and although I was looking forward to it, I was still terrified haha. You learn a LOT about yourself, and it definitely forces you out of your shell, but I think that it is an amazing experience that everyone should have at least once! I am hoping to move to the UK in a few years, and having moved once has made even thinking about it much easier!

    August 17, 2018 at 5:53 pm
    • Reply Polly

      Ah, glad it resonated with you! Dublin is an amazing city – I’d love to visit it again.

      August 18, 2018 at 3:14 pm
  • Reply Karla | KarlaTravels

    Wow, living 10 years in the same country where you intended to stay for 2 is quite a feat!

    Congrats for building a great life and family 😉

    I am a serial expat myself and have lived in 7 countries so far. I never exceeded 2 years in each as my working visa only allowed a specific time period.

    I agree with you on several points. There’s a learning curve, adjustment period to the language, customs and operation mode.

    It was particularly hard in Asia, but no better in Central America or Europe.

    You learn to be more patient, and become a better person along the way!

    August 17, 2018 at 6:12 pm
    • Reply Polly

      7 countries!? Now that’s impressive Karla! I’d love to spend some more time in Central America since it’s right on our doorstep. I’m sure that you have some great stories to tell 🙂

      August 18, 2018 at 3:10 pm
  • Reply Misty

    It’s great what you learn about yourself when you travel and are forced out of your comfort zone! All of these lessons are valuable!

    August 17, 2018 at 6:49 pm
    • Reply Polly

      Yes… I think that travel is one of the best things you can do in terms of learning and self-improvement!

      August 18, 2018 at 3:13 pm
  • Reply Nancy Miller

    I am two years late to this discussion, but I want to point out something important. And that is that there are huge cultural variations within the U.S. Life in the suburbs of Atlanta is very different from life in Portland, Oregon or a small town in New England. I live in a very liberal planned community in Maryland where there is near-universal commitment to religious tolerance, ethnic diversity, and environmental conservation. Just driving a few miles away can feel like entering a foreign country! So one should not over-generalize about America based on one location in the U.S. For example, Halloween is not such a big deal on my street, possibly because there are no children. They grew up!

    May 10, 2020 at 3:07 am
    • Reply Polly

      Hi Nancy, thank you so much for your comment and for taking the time to read my blog. You’re quite right – my posts are based primarily on my own experience but I do realize that this is a vast and diverse country. Your community sounds wonderful by the way!

      May 31, 2020 at 3:10 pm

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