Friday, August 31, 2012


Over the last 8 years, I've left "home" and moved abroad a number of times.  Once to move on board a ship which sailed around the world (Semester at Sea, everyone should do this if they can), the second time to teach English in Bangkok,Thailand, the third time for an internship in Sarajevo, Bosnia and most recently, to Bergen, Norway.  After leaving and returning so many times, I have learned that there are stages an average person experiences when moving to a new country. Never anticipated, some good, and some bad.

Stage 1: Best place on earth!!!

There has always been a feeling of euphoria when arriving in a new country.  Everything is new, fun, exciting and perfect.  The food is great, the people are interesting and there is always something fun to see.

Stage 2: SHOCK!

There is one moment.  It always occurs when you are not expecting it and shocks the hell out of you, reminding you that you are somewhere new, experiencing something totally unknown to you.  On Semester at Sea, it was when our ship was rocked by a 60 foot wave and we were stuck in life vests, ready to experience a real life Titanic.  In Thailand, I enjoyed a meal for 3 nights in a row and it wasn't until the 3rd night that I learned I was eating a stir fry consisting of intestines, stomach, liver, and clotted blood.  Yep. I was in Thailand.  In Bosnia, I visited a war museum and noticed pictures of my work place and neighborhood on display...destroyed by mortars and gun shots.  During this trip, it was my receipt from my normal trip to the grocery store.  Check this out and if you live in the US, you may be shocked too!

Olive Oil: $7
Flatbread: $4
Nectarines: $5
Chicken: $20
Eggs: $9
Milk: $3
Cheese: $8
Ham: $5
Veggies: $10
Total: About $90!!

This is what $90 in groceries looks like

Stage 3: Is that you??

I might be in a country on the opposite side of the earth from my friends and family.  But I swear that a few times a week, I see a close friend walking down the street, sitting on the bus or driving in a car next to me.  It is shocking how many doppelgängers are out there!!

Stage 4: Cravings

You can get just about anything, anywhere.  Subways, 7/11, McDonalds and Starbucks are worldwide...just about.  Grocery stores are stocked with the regular items for the most part.  Dove soap and crest toothpaste are seen almost everywhere and believe it or not, oreos too. But, no matter what or where you live and which store you shop at, there are always things you crave.  And I don't limit this list to food...

What I'm currently craving:
Iced coffee
Happy hours
Flat running trails
Ground turkey
Spicy food
Yogurt Guru!

Stage 5: In the US, we...

There is a stage at which a person begins nearly all sentences with "In the US, we....".  In the US, we have drive thru banks.  In the US, we have liquor stores open past 5, In the US, we eat out almost every night for dinner.  In the US, people do this and that etc, etc, etc...

I think this is a normal part of the adjustment process.  Comparing new things to the things you are used to.  Your "norm". What I've learned to be important is understanding that just because it's your "norm", doesn't mean it's better.  I think this is where a lot of people go wrong.

Stage 6: Homesick

It would be abnormal not to get homesick.  Family, friends, food, habits are all normal comforts of what you are used to.  What I have learned in this phase is that you must embrace it, be homesick and maybe even cry.  But then get over it.  It will be there when you go back to visit.  You can Skype.  People can send packages.  You will survive.

Stage 7: Not homesick

After the initial homesick phase, things start to settle.  You realize that you can live without those old comforts.  You find new comforts.  You find a way to communicate with those who are far, far away and you learn how to love where you are, not thinking about how it compares and what you are missing from that other place you come from.

Stage 8: Home

When the new place starts to feel like the old place, that's when you know.  I start explaining to my friends from afar that "In Norway, we only really need online banking" and "In Norway, the vinmonopolet is open until 5", "In Norway, we eat dinner at home together every night".  

I think there are people who move abroad and never feel like they're at home.  That makes me sad because this is truly the best part of being in a new place.  Knowing the unknown, embracing a new culture as a part of your own, loving what you never knew you would love.  


  1. excellent post liz!!! i completely agree with you on every point! i think norway started to feel like home after like 5-6 months. for me it was when i really couldnt identify anything 'different' to talk about to my friends and family or on my blog. because it didnt feel different felt normal. about 5-6 months in i didnt feel like an expat anymore. i was able to communicate in the language enough to feel comfortable, the rainy days hardly shocked me anymore and i just dressed for them, and i didnt mind cooking at all (although i would still kill for some cheap mexican food...not gonna lie).

    this is my second time living abroad and i definitely see that some people just cant hack it. its not that they can't, but it is that they never get past your stage 5. people dont accept cultures for what they are and just look at it as 'wrong'. they end up hanging out with overly negative or overly positive people and those people give the wrong illusions. they never make norwegian friends or friends of the local culture and only hang out with other expats. they complain about the differences because they find them wrong...etc etc.

    anyways im glad you feel at home here :) hope to get to see you before im off back to oslo.

  2. I'm glad you liked it! And I'm glad I'm not the only one who is shocked by groceries and missing cheap mexican food:) Lets do get together soon!!!