Who are you?
I am an Italian who has been living overseas for the last 20 years.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first moved abroad (to London, UK) in 1996. The original plan was to stay for a couple of months to improve my English but I ended up never returning to live back in Italy. Since then I have spent a total of 13 years in the UK, 4.5 years in Oman, 1.5 years in South Korea and now I am in Zurich, Switzerland since April 2016.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Overall I have been lucky as most of the times there has been quite a lot of support from the sponsoring employer to assist with the move. I would say that the common challenge has been finding information for very specific needs as opposed to generic stuff to prepare for my move. For example evaluating cost of life is too personal as it is tied to spending habits; money matters aside it is hard to imagine the lifestyle you may be able to have in a new country; finding reliable information to relocate pets internationally can be tough as there are very specific regulations that change from country to country and information can become obsolete very quickly.
There is a lot of information online so sometimes it is hard to find the data that is relevant to you however I have found reading personal blogs useful (especially if you find examples you identify with) also because you can ask questions directly. I have ended up making new friends this way even before moving to the actual country!
Are there many other expats in your area?
Where I live at the moment (Zurich) there is quite a considerable number of expats. In Oman there were also many expats from different countries which made for a very sociable and thriving community. In Seoul there were a few expats but they were mostly concentrated in specific areas (for example Itaewon, French Village etc), but as I did not live directly in an expat area I found it hard to meet other foreigners who spoke English to start with, until I found the right places and channels (for example local Global Centers are excellent) mostly because of the sheer size of the city. Expats in Seoul were definitely more dispersed than in London, Muscat or Zurich.
What do you like about life where you are?
Life in Zurich is very “civilised”. The quality of life is very high and the outdoors is on my doorstep (this is one factor that I love). The city is small but large enough to offer all I need to live comfortably without missing anything in particular and public transport is very efficient. I especially like seeing snow capped mountains in the distance, the lake, the trees and generally nature every day. People tend to be rather polite and considerate. The landscape is picture perfect. I like that I can pop over to nearby countries easily without having to fly.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
It can be hard to be away from loved ones and family. I find moving too often emotionally disruptive. Especially if you live on the other side of the world from loved ones and you have to juggle very long flights to meet or if you have to work around time differences. At the beginning of life in a new country it can feel very isolated and lonely. In some places it may be easier than others to meet people but in all cases it takes time to build strong personal and meaningful connections. Once you do though it is amazing to have good friends all over the world. I’d rather stay in a place for a minimum of 2 years before moving on.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
South Korea was the country where I experienced a real cultural shock. There the language was the initial and most obvious barrier however even as I studied Korean and started to understand the language I realised that the culture is so different that it feels a bit like landing on the moon. Nonetheless I still managed to meet some amazing local people, especially the teachers at my language classes. It felt very special.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Embrace the experience and be patient. Give a place time to grow on you. Depending on your personality it could take between 6 months to a year before you feel at home. Try to learn the local language, no matter how difficult it may seem. One-hour class per week will get you further than nothing and even if you feel like you are making no progress, over time it can really add up to a lot of knowledge. Finally enjoy yourself, if you find it a bit too much or too stressful step back and look for the funny aspects of your new life. There are always plenty of reasons to laugh and a good laugh always helps relaxing. Write a blog and share your experience with others.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now I have no specific plans for the future.
You can keep up to date with Rossella's adventures on her blog, Ros In Wonderland.