5 Life Lessons You Will Learn From Living in Europe
Moving abroad isn’t easy. It throws up a whole load of new challenges in new, and somewhat daunting, environments.
Yes, the initial settling period can be tough. You’ve removed yourself from the comfort bubble of home, family and friends, so you’re going to encounter resistance from new challenges. But this is where growth happens, in that area which is normally out of reach whilst you’re in your comfort zone. The skills you’ll earn and the mindset you develop will provide a solid base to not only have an incredible time in your new home country but in which you can build on in life.
Europe provides such an opportunity. Although on the doorstep of the UK, it can still provide quite the culture shock. A difference in spoken and written language provides the first hiccup, as does the way of life in the country you move to. But these are just small bumps in the road on the way to having the time of your life in a brand new country. The intangible skills you’ll develop from the journey can be massive and I’ve expanded on some of them below. So if you’re looking at becoming an au-pair, wishing to take part in a TEFL course, or simply wanting to try something new, here are my top 5 life lessons from living in Europe.
When I moved to Denmark, I initially struggled. From travelling alone to a country I’d never been to before, with no prior connections, I learnt that moving abroad is not exciting and amazing from the offset. Paperwork is a headache. Loneliness is disheartening. However, the determination to connect with others and to establish yourself abroad is empowering. To get to a place where you have a support network and a favourite coffee shop (everything that makes it feel like home), you need to push through the initial obstacles. It takes time and effort, but it’s absolutely worthwhile. Once you’ve achieved these things, you’ll be in for the time of your life and the perseverance you would have developed will stick with you for life.
Nobody tells you which doctor to register with or how to budget. Everything is up to you. Your organisation skills are fine-tuned as you navigate a new environment and do your own research on your new country. You learn how to rely on yourself and you grow as a person because of this. Living abroad requires leaving your comfort zone… and developing a new one. You learn that you are a lot more self-reliant and competent than you thought. It’s such a major and life-changing step that it prepares you for almost anything. Job interview? Easy! Solo travel? Bring it on! These skills can’t be switched on like a light switch, they’re developed through constantly repeating behaviours until they’re a part of you and independence is no different.
Living in Europe adds a whole new level of meaning to ‘friendship’. You learn to value your friends more because of the situation that brought you together. I didn’t have any friends when I arrived in Denmark. Because I initially spent a lot of time alone, I didn’t take my social life for granted once I had one. Also, you meet people from all over the globe when you travel. This means you form connections with people with very different backgrounds and perspectives – making friends in a different country changes your worldview and really does contribute towards you becoming a global citizen.
Making international friends also teaches you to embrace not only the culture you have moved into but others too. Everyone has their quirks and traditions. As I spent a lot of time with other international travellers, I made quite an eclectic mix of friends! There is so much kindness and joy in the world if you’re open to it.
This is such an important one. So much is different in Europe than what you’re used to. The weather, the currency, the food, the language, social etiquette… you name it! Keep an open mind.
To fully immerse yourself in a new country and culture, you have to embrace a new norm. Some norms are surprising. For example, trust is a big part of Danish culture; their attitude towards strangers is totally different to the British attitude. Parents will leave their babies unsupervised outside cafes and shops, which alarmed me when I first arrived! Likewise, customers in cafes leave their bags and phones unattended while grabbing another coffee or popping to the toilet. A big no-no in my culture! Being around different perspectives makes you rethink your own and see your culture in a different light. Now you have something to compare it to.
Things like food and drink and the weather also require some getting used to. The Danes typically eat rye bread (in fact it’s pretty much the only bread sold) and drink A LOT of beer! My diet adapted to what was available and in my budget. In terms of weather, adaptability is key! Because the temperature is a lot colder in some areas of Europe than others, you learn ways to protect against the cold. Once you know how to survive in sub-zero temperatures, you become more confident about exploring other snowy regions.
It is so important to be flexible and to keep an open mind, as it makes travelling… not a breeze, but definitely easier! Being up for anything means you can do anything. The world is your oyster.
You can make anywhere your home
Think about what ‘home’ means. Belonging? Comfort? Mum’s cooking?
Living in Europe isn’t like what you’re used to. But it comes close. You can create your life anywhere you want. As long as you’re somewhere that makes you feel comfortable and safe, everything else falls into place.
I never thought that anywhere other than the UK would feel like ‘home’. But once I knew my way around, made some great new friends and settled into my role as an au-pair, I started to build an emotional connection with my new environment. Cities can develop a collection of memories and adventures for a person – I know that if I ever return to Aarhus, I will feel like I am home again.