I was speaking to a friend this week who was thinking about moving overseas with her boyfriend. He’s a London-based trumpeter and she’s a Melbourne-based PhD student. I don’t think you can get a more cosmopolitan sounding pair.
Surprisingly she will be the fourth friend I know to move overseas for love. It mightn’t sound like many, but Melbourne is the second biggest city on a gigantic island that most internationals consider “too far away to visit”, hence we don’t get a lot of men coming to our shores to poach our women and we have everything a person could need without having to move overseas.
I’ve been an expat my entire adult life. I met Giulio when I was 18 and I think making the decision to move overseas as a young adult is completely different from doing so when you’re older. There are some home truths you just don’t consider.
For starters, you’re separating yourself from your family. It sounds like a no brainer, but over the years, I’ve noticed this isn’t simply a physical separation. It becomes an emotional one too. Sooner or later you stop missing your loved ones and everyone becomes used to being apart.
Your decision to move overseas unconsciously changes your relationship dynamic forever. My siblings and cousins have grown up since I’ve been gone and become completely different people. I don’t know anything about them or their future spouses. Even if I move permanently back to Australia, I don’t think I’ll ever make up what I loss. And the future only brings the promise of more disappointments as my nephews and nieces will know me as the stranger they only see twice a year.
Regardless of whether you’ve made peace with your situation or don’t particularly miss your family, the pressures you unconsciously place on your relationship are frightening. I have no regrets about moving to Italy to be with my husband, but I find myself judging him by a yard stick he can’t ever measure up to.
In the beginning, your partner has to perform multiple roles. They have to be your friend, partner, family and guide in this new and unfamiliar world. That’s a lot to ask of a person. As you assimilate, your partner is still left with the unfair burden of being the person that took you away from your world. It’s likely they feel guilty about it and probably spend a good deal of time worrying about whether you really want to be there. In the meantime, you find yourself judging them for not being a super partner worthy of all the sacrifices you’ve made. When they slip up, it can be harder to forgive because you find yourself wondering whether they were really worth moving overseas for.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re moving to an English-speaking country or not. Expats who aren’t moving overseas for work will find it harder to find employment in their field whether it’s because their degree isn’t recognised, their status as non-residents or simply because they’re considered less preferable to native applicants.
Moving to a non-English speaking country considerably complicates things. It doesn’t matter how good your Italian is, it’s probably not professional career good. Move to somewhere outside the big cities and the career opportunities become virtually non-existent.
If you choose to move overseas straight after university like I did, the years you spend trying to create a career for yourself won’t necessarily translate if you move back home and you may never work in the field you studied regardless of what country you ultimately end up in. You’ll feel humiliated as your friends build up their resumes and secure long-term employment back home while you’re struggling to adapt and find your feet.
This one is hard to explain. It’s a general sense of unease that comes from being an adult in an unfamiliar country. I’ve always been an independent person, but when you move overseas, you have to depend on those around you to survive. It’s almost like being transported back to when you were a kid. You need your partner’s help to pay your taxes, make hairdressing appointments or send emails. It’s emasculating and I’m not even a man!
This phenomenon is particularly present when you move to a country like Italy with its own complicated rules and regulations. Language barriers are everywhere from paying bills at the post office to explaining what’s wrong at the doctors. Add the delicate workings of small town life and you’re constantly juggling what is socially appropriate with endless ‘lost in translation’ situations. Hardly a week goes past when I don’t accidentally offend someone or explode with frustration because I can’t get my point across. For an educated woman in the 21st century, it can be very hard to depend on someone to do the things you were doing on your own when were 15 in your home country.
I’m nearing my tenth year in Italy, but I still feel like an outsider. I’m curious to know what you think! Am I being overly negative? Are there any home truths I missed?