My first experience moving abroad
In the beginning of the year 2022, I had made the decision to finally take the leap and move abroad. I was going to live and work in the city of Berlin, Germany. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a new home town for the next year or two, ended up being my new home town for a couple of months.
I loved the city, the amazing people I now have the honor of calling my friends and the experience in itself of living in Berlin. But, obviously, something was making me less happy and less fulfilled than my friends and the city in itself could compensate for.
What you find in this article are the lessons I took with me as I moved back, and as I’m thinking of making the move again in the future. Keep in mind this is from my perspective as a 20-something software engineer who’s worked in the indistry for close to 10 years. Hopefully you can take this into consideration if you are thinking of also moving abroad.
Make sure to do your due diligence
Before I moved to Berlin, before I even decided that Berlin was the city I was going to move to, I just had the idea that I really wanted to move abroad. And I started out by looking out on the network I had to see where I knew people around the world. I also of course looked at the cities that I myself had thought, or sometimes dreamed, about moving to.
The cities that came to mind were of course American cities, like New York (still my number one dream city to live in), San Fransisco, Colorado, Seattle and San Diego. But also European cities like London, Paris, Geneva, Rome and Berlin. There were a lot of choices, but only a select few stuck out where I could actually move quite easily in terms of the paperwork involved, distance, work opportunities and people I already knew in the city. In fact, only one city had all of those things going for it, and you could definitely guess which city that was.
Knowing people in the city you are planning to move to is of course a big help, and I’ll talk more about that further down in the article. But another aspect which is as important is how much work it actually is to move to the city. Consider the following questions:
- Do you have furniture and belongings you need to bring with you?
- How far do you need to transport these things?
- How far away are you from family in case you need to travel home on short notice?
- How much paperwork is it to actually get a permit to live and work in the city?
- How does the laws differ in the city you are moving to?
There are a lot of things you should consider reading up on to make sure you understand what you might have to take care of when you make the move. And I won’t go into all the things I did in detail in this article, but if you’d be interested in the actual process I went through, reach out and let me know!
So in short, make sure you do the due diligence. Read up on the things I mention above and read about what other people did when they moved abroad. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to deal with unexpected fines or end up in an unnecessary lawsuit due to the lack of an insurance you didn’t know you needed.
Find friends you can lean on
I think we all struggle with making friends at some level. Well, maybe a few people might not struggle at all. But I do believe we all have our insecurities and social situations that make us a little extra uncomfortable. And moving abroad to a completely new city where you have no connections at all, is by itself a scary and challenging idea. So when you do actually take the leap, and you find yourself in a strangers flat you have rented for the next 3 months, it’s perfectly natural to feel scared, alone and like you are miles away from your comfort zone. Because, in fact, you literally are.
When I finally took the leap and moved to Berlin, I had already made connections and friends in the city that I can lean on as I settled into my new reality. I had a very good friend, Madeleine, who’m I studied with, that was working as a consultant in Berlin, and who’m had introduced me to some of her friends in town. We spent new years together in a group of around 10 people in La Tzoumaz, Switzerland.
After that trip, I had made some really good friends with friends of Madeleine, which made me less stressed and alone as I was leaving the emotional safety that is my home country. It was one less thing I had to think about, as I was trying to set up a bank account, apply for insurances, register my residency and get a tax ID, find a local crossfit box and start my new job.
Now, when I say I have the honor of calling these wonderful people my friends today, I truly mean that. But I couldn’t lean on them all the time. Most of them, like me, spend a lot of time working, maybe more so them than me as they were all working for some of the biggest consulting firms in the world. And when I wasn’t working, I was spending 2-3 hours in the crossfit box or working on side projects and reading.
So I had to make friends where I was spending more of my time in my daily life, as I was seeing Madeleine and the others mostly on weekends. And for me, that was at the crossfit box. And sure enough, after a couple of weeks, I had gotten to know a couple of people there, a few who were actually from Sweden and Denmark. And with time, I eventually got to know a guy named Phil. We were both very tall and generally big guys, and we both worked in tech, read similar books, had similar interests and shared a lot of values and principles. Phil is now one of my closer friends I am happy to have over for a visit in town, or visting in Berlin.
So what can you take away from this? As the title so clearly states, you need friends to lean on. This is of course a quite obvious one, but it might be easy to forget in the thrill of wanting to just move abroad. Part of my choice in Berlin was in fact that I knew Madeleine since before, and I got more and more comfortable with the idea after the new years trip.
But even if you don’t have friends in the city as you move there, make sure you take the time to be around people. I know first hand how hard it can be to put yourself out there and be uncomfortable. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself and expect yourself to be outgoing and bustling with energy at the noisiest and most crowded club in town. Choose a context you are familiar with and feel at least somewhat comfortable with.
Give yourself time and space to settle into your new life and to become more and more comfortable around other people in your new environment. It will take some time, but eventually you’ll make friends, and some of them can end up being life-long friends you’ll share moments with for years to come.
Make sure you like your job
My job was the reason I moved back to Sweden after just a few months in town. And that sounds like a spur of the moment decision, like I didn’t give the job the chance it deserved. But let me explain.
I took a job as a senior consultant at one of the big five (consulting firms) and was quite excited to work at what I thought was going to be a completely different level compared to my job in Stockholm, where I was already a consultant. And, at the start, it seemed like things were going to be different for the better. Big clients, serious processees and an internal learning culture that was supposed to help you grow while being able to provide more value for the client(s), and thereby the company.
But as time rolled on, there were one thing after another that really put the job in a different light. And as I talk about the negative aspects of this job, I have to accentuate that the company itself is not bad, and I don’t mind talking about it or mentioning it by name. What I experienced is very subjective to me in how I expect my job and work to be like, and what I expect from my colleagues and my employer.
So for me it was something that simply wasn’t making me happy in my day-to-day job. I was not being challenged in the areas I expected and instead did work that I had done for years since before as a junior engineer, and the expertise I had as a senior engineer wasn’t really valued.
Now, the reason I didn’t actually look for another job in Berlin and instead moved back to Sweden was because of the offer I was given by my, as of writing this current, employer. I had already been at Tele2 before, holding a presentation to the architects and the head of IT about the work I had done at Ellos Group for 3 years as a consultant. And what we did at Ellos Group was pretty much exactly what Tele2 was in planning to do.
In the end, the offer was too good to resist in terms of the role I was to take on and the freedom and opportunities that came with it. And several months into the new job, I can say with confidence that I haven’t actually been happier at a job and where I am at currently.
So what can you take away from my experience?
If you already have a job that you enjoy, see if you can find a way to work at the same company but from a different country. It’s not uncommon and a lot of people have made it work. I had offers that would allow me to do that from Sweden but working in Berlin, but I chose the job in Berlin because of the actual company and wanting to get the experience of working for a German company.
If you have to apply for a new job, try and find ways to ensure that you’ll enjoy the job as much as possible before moving. Maybe make a visit to the city if possible to meet your new team and or colleagues? Before actually moving, try to negotiate a trial period where your new employer pays for your temporary living accomodations, while you keep your current living arrangements in your current country in case your new job isn’t what you expected.
We’re all different in how important our job is to us. Make sure that your job is what you expect it to be, so you can focus on enjoying your experience living abroad to the fullest.
Depending on who you are and why you are moving abroad, you’ll have to adapt your process to your particular situation. This is the reason I tried to include my personal experience in the article, in the hopes that you might recognise your own situation in mine and find value in the lessons I took away from my experience moving abroad.
Regardless of why you are moving abroad, I’d like to think it’s supposed to be a fun, enriching and fulfilling experience. One that you can take with you in life as something great you can look back on and be proud of. And to do that, you don’t want to have to deal with anxiety from doing work you don’t enjoy. You don’t want to feel alone from not putting yourself out there in case you move to a completely new city where you know nobody.
Focus on creating relationships that make you happy and fulfilled and finding a job that allow you to do work you can be proud of and that can also make you feel fulfilled.