Managing Expectations While Living Abroad

In the last article of this series, 5 Essentials After Moving To The UK, I pointed out the most relevant things and activities to buy or to do. Now that you have settled in your new Country and have completed your list of priorities, you can start enjoying your experience. However, when routine settles in, you might find yourself disappointed by how life is unfolding. It is of the utmost importance to manage your expectations, before the drawbacks of living abroad take a toll on your future happiness.

When disappointment arises…

Moving to the UK was my dream since my early teen years. Although I put it in a corner for a while, life took a strange path to still lead me there. You can only imagine the amount of pressure that this brought on the entire process of relocation. I had been dreaming about it for so long, that England was to me what the USA was to immigrants in the 19th and 20th century: the land of possibilities.

While staying in Bournemouth, I was living in a bubble, protected by my living arrangements. I was renting a room in the house of a lady in her fifties, who was cooking and cleaning for me. This allowed me to focus on getting my IELTS certificate and improve my English. However, it kept me shielded from the real responsibilities of the undergraduate student lifestyle.

The disappointment came when I transferred to Southampton. When I took matters in my own hands, I realised that the UK was not the heaven I had imagined. In the beginning, it all seemed perfect and shiny, but at some point, buses gave the impression of being always late, streets were not as clean as before and groceries not of excellent quality. I love living there, but with time I noticed all the things that were not working as smoothly as I thought.

… you need to figure out why.

Realising that your dream Country is not the perfect place you is a tremendous hit to motivation. I was in that gloomy place as well. Even though I spent my first year in Southampton happy – apart from the situation with my flatmates – during the second year I concluded that it was not as shiny as it seemed. The situation inside the house got worse by the day, the apartment complex started looking abandoned and Uni was not fun anymore.

It is of the utmost importance to sit down and consider all those daily aspects that are ruining your experience. Reflect on what is bothering you and write it, then leave the list you made for some time. Maybe it’s something small that you can solve in just a few steps, but it can also happen that you need to face circumstances that were not expected or you did not notice in the beginning's adrenaline. When you have ten minutes to spare, go back to it and read everything you jotted down.

Now that you are reading your list with fresh eyes, you can point out the major aspects of the new Country that bother you by analysing them separately. At the end, you will obtain a well-thought checklist of the key problems. What matters at this point is how you handle the unexpected, without letting it spoil your stay.

Act on it…

When you understand the issues you are experiencing, it’s time to act on them. With the list in front of you, try to figure out which matters depend on your own behaviour, those you can change and those you can’t solve. I’ll make an example of each, so you can grasp the concept better.

If you are struggling with making friends, discover which places are the best to meet extra people. You can follow my guide Building a Community Abroad to have an insight on the different opportunities you have. If you are not happy with the quality of the groceries you are getting, then just go to a different supermarket. Finally, if you don’t like your flat anymore, but cannot move straight away, then just look forward to the end of your contract and worry as little as possible about it.

… but know when to compromise.

Once I pointed out what was bothering me – and I have to thank my mom’s input for this – my entire attitude towards my daily life changed. I started looking at the problems from a more positive perspective. To take the flat example again, I understood I’m not the person who enjoys sharing spaces. By this I mean, many of the issues I experience with living at my current place are related to dividing the kitchen and living room with people I don’t know. As a result, I changed my living arrangements for next year. You’ll be happy to know that – pandemic permitting – I’ll move into a one-bed apartment, which will allow me to take some stress off of my shoulders.

As you might think, this process is not doable in every case. There are some circumstances where the only thing we can do is to find a compromise. I can’t make the buses come on time, but I can get ready sooner to catch the earlier bus. My main tip is to practise patience. Most of the times, issues arise when you deal with situations rashly and – in certain instances – without listening to the others involved.

The aftermath.

Let’s discuss the last point of this post: what results from your disappointment?

In my example, I tried to change my life for the best, while still maintaining my motivation. I would lie if I told you it’s exactly at the same level as the beginning, but it’s still high enough for me to enjoy my time there. However, I’m still debating whether to continue studying in the UK after I finish my undergraduate program. It’s not because of anything in particular, but I’m waiting to see how Brexit unfolds. In this sense, living in Southampton has opened my eyes about all the different opportunities I have, including outside the UK.

If you decide that your new Country is not the place for you, I suggest to still give it a go and wait at least six months before moving away. There are so many factors that can affect the settling-in period and what follows. If I had based my choice of staying in Southampton on my first weeks, I would have left. I wasn’t happy about the Science Foundation Year and wasn’t making any progress towards having friends. This is the reason you need to learn to deal with problems as soon as they arrive. Try to keep your expectations high, but not too much as to be turned down by the smallest bump you hit.

It’s difficult to deal with the expectations you put on moving. Adding to this, it gets complicated to point out the problems and realise which ones you can act on and those you need to cope with. Sometimes, we can do quickly this, but in others the only solution is to allow it time and think about all the options to solve it, or at least to improve it.

As I mentioned before, I didn’t feel disappointed about the UK until my second year in Southampton. I was lucky to find the causes of my unhappiness soon enough to work towards a solution, but I was letting them ruin my whole experience. If you moved to your new Country, you must have had all the reasons to do it. Keep your focus on your objectives and you’ll see that, in no matter of time, those aspects of life which seemed unsolvable are smaller than they looked like.

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