When I first moved from Lisbon to Amsterdam in 2019, with only 24 years of age and still a lot to learn, I couldn’t quite grasp all the emotions I was feeling.
Looking back, I can probably spot some very evident emotions:
- Excitement: I was moving to a new country, starting a new job and a new life (the world really felt like my oyster)
- Fear: I was leaving my comfort zone and I felt fear in my stomach
- Accomplishment: I fucking did it – I fulfilled my dream of moving abroad
- Anxiety: that lingering feeling that something terribly wrong is about to happen at any minute
- Guilt: hold on, what?
Before moving abroad, I knew I was going to feel excited, fearful, accomplished and probably also anxious. But I never imagined that I would also be feeling guilty.
You see, when you move abroad, you have a lot of things on your mind: how you’re going to find a house and a job, learn the language, meet new friends and deal with “saudade” (Portuguese word that represents the feeling of deeply missing someone or something). You think about everything and everyone you’re leaving behind, but you’re so focused on your new life abroad, that you end up sort of putting these feelings behind you.
Then, suddenly, you’re on the phone with your mom and that feeling hits you: guilt. Your mom is telling you that she misses you deeply, and that home is not the same without you. Then, you’re laying in bed, a long flight away from home, and you start analyzing the implications of your move abroad.
The people that you used to see every day and that you love will start being mere passengers in your life. They will be on the other side of your phone’s screen or sitting with you on the table twice a year, on Christmas and on your Summer vacation. How can you go from seeing your loved ones almost every day, to only seeing them a few times a year?
Then, your best friend will get pregnant, and you’ll book a ticket to the baby shower, but by then you will have missed the biggest part of the pregnancy months. You will celebrate, thinking you’re part of the group – but when you come and pay your bi-weekly visit to your best friend, you hold the baby and they cry because they don’t know you.
When your grandfather dies, you almost can’t believe it: last time you saw him, he was doing great. You forgot to call him last week because you were so busy with your daily life, and the last time you saw him was 3 months ago. You always knew that this would happen someday and that it’s the natural course of life – but oh man, when it happens, it really does hurt.
It hurts to not be able to say goodbye, spend that very limited time with your loved one, and to not be there with your family when they most need you. You buy a last-minute plane ticket out of your savings account and fly back home to be there for the farewell ceremony, and you almost feel like a stranger, because you weren’t there with your family when it happened.
Then, your father turns sixty. Your family and friends host a huge party, and you feel so happy and grateful to have the chance to be with them and celebrate! Your father blows the two candles, one with a six, and one with a zero, and then you all eat cake.
When the time to go back home comes, you see your parents waving from the kitchen window as you enter the Uber to go to the airport. In that moment, you can’t help but wonder if things will be the same when you return. You can’t help but think about the next few months that you’ll be spending without seeing your family and beloved friends, while they change and age. You know that their time here is limited, and you feel so bad about not enjoying it to the max.
And that is what I call the guilt of moving abroad.
It’s almost as if your heart has been ripped into two pieces – one of them is in your home country, held by your loved ones and childhood places, and the other is in your new country, held by your exciting life, work and expat friends.
Eventually it gets better: your mom stops telling you as much that they miss you and you schedule frequent video-calls with your friends. All of you learn to deal with the distance, and the feeling of guilt starts being less evident.
Personally, I dealt with this guilt several times – especially in the beginning. I felt that I was hurting the people that I loved by leaving them, and I was having anxiety over not spending most of the time with my loved ones while they’re here.
I suffered from FOMO (fear of missing out) and guilt on several occasions. It felt weird to not be there on some important moments that I just had to miss, because of course I couldn’t be there all the time.
Some days before my returning flight, I used to get anxiety over leaving again (to be very honest, I still do). It’s always hard to leave home for me, no matter how many times I do it. Every time I had to say goodbye once again, it hurt. And then, I would come to my home abroad, and life would suddenly go back to normal.
I’m not going to lie and say that I never experience guilt anymore while I’m away; everyone has bad days and sometimes I shed a little tear when I think about home and listen to Portuguese music. I wrote many poems about this feeling because it is freaking real.
However, there are some things that I learned along the way that I would like to share with you. These self-reflections have helped me greatly, so they might help you too in overcoming your own feelings of guilt when moving abroad:
1. Remember why you did this; why you moved abroad in the first place
Going back to your motive for moving abroad sounds simple, but it can be very effective in reasoning with yourself.Remember what took you to where you are currently: maybe it was because you wanted to evolve in your career, or just expand your horizons and get to know a different culture and new people.
Whatever the reason, it is a valid one – and you shouldn’t feel bad for having taken it.
2. Remember that this is your life
This one is very in line in remembering why you moved in the first place. Sometimes, we tend to forget that we are living our own lives; we have our own goals and objectives and shouldn’t hold back on them.
Everyone has different purposes in life, and if moving abroad was one of your goals, that’s completely ok. Every life choice has its implications, its ups and downs – and you shouldn’t be bad for making your choice. It’s your life – there will be a time for everything.
3. Invite your friends to come and visit you
One of the best things about living abroad is that you can invite your friends to visit you and show them around!
I really love when my friends decide to visit me in Amsterdam. It’s always so nice to have them around at my house, have dinner together, play board games, watch Netflix – and, of course, show them the best spots in my city.
It really helps breaking the routine and having a taste from home, and it’s a true joy when my friends arrive to my house. We always have so much fun together, and it’s a great way to keep the friendship going and not feel as far from home.
4. Keep a savings account for plane tickets
Especially if you’re living in another continent (or even across the world), it can be really hard to have the financial ability to go home.
Thankfully, I haven’t experienced this – my hometown is only a 3-hour flight away, and it usually costs 150€ return, so it’s quite manageable. However, many people are not this lucky and have to pay hundreds to get home, which is not that handy.
Once, a friend whose home was on the other side of the world told me that she kept a savings account just for flights. Every month, she would put some money apart so that she could just purchase plane tickets whenever she wanted to visit home. I think this is so smart, that I had to include it in these tips!
5. Talk with your loved ones every day or as often as it feels good
Just because you’re away, it doesn’t mean that you can’t keep regular touch with your loved ones. I have the habit of calling my family every evening after dinner, just to check on them and chat about the day.
I’ve found this helps me feel included in my family matters, and also feel closer to them. My mom is even telling me that she thinks she’s talking more with me now than she used to, when I lived in Portugal – crazy, right?
I guess the key here is to just make it part of your daily or weekly routine to talk with your friends and family. We live in the era of Facetime, so we gotta be grateful for that!
6. Schedule calls with your busy friends
Just like when you used to be back home and had to schedule dates with your always busy friends, you can follow the same strategy now; except this time, it can via video-call!
Now listen, I know it’s not the same, and it won’t ever be. But I promise that video-chatting with your friends over a glass of wine can really lift your mood. You gotta still have all that sweet gossiping and catching up that you used to have in your home country and make some time for your friends.
When you visit home, they won’t have to put you up to date to everything that happened in the last 6 months, because you’ve been video-chatting and you already know everything. Cool, right?
Moving abroad guilt is the real deal, and if you let it get to you it can be quite damaging. If you feel you need some support, make sure you talk with your loved ones. We’re all together in this and I’m sure it’ll get better with time!
Life is beautiful and we have to fully enjoy it. Make the most out of your time while you’re still living abroad – it’s an amazing and life-changing experience.