Have you ever fantasised about packing up a suitcase and starting a new life on the other side of the world? It certainly feels like our generation are citizens of the globe – not just of one particular nation – and I often feel the temptation to emigrate and experience that sense of freedom and adventure. So I invited three friends who are living away from home to reveal exactly what it’s like to move abroad. Some of their answers may surprise you…
Olivia Phillips, Fashion Features Editor at Emirates Woman magazine, moved from London to Dubai in 2014
“I miss adverts on telly. I miss chatty cabbies. I miss ridiculous, bitcoin-fuelled hipster pop-ups. And I really, really miss Pret’s Italian chicken salad.”
What inspired your move to Dubai? To be searingly honest, it was a bad breakup. I was in London, making a right pig’s ear of moving on, when I got an email from my now-Style Director saying I’d be perfect for a job on Emirates Woman magazine. If that’s not a sign that you need to skip town and start a whole new life, I don’t know what is.
What was your first week in Dubai like? I arrived in July, during Ramadan. It was 50 degrees outside with a strict ban on eating and drinking in public during daylight hours. You’re also required to dress respectfully during the Holy Month, which means covering your knees and shoulders. Bear in mind I’m originally from South London and we enjoy a rather irreverent, take-it-or-leave-it relationship with clothing. I spent the first week semi-cowering in a corporate hotel ordering room service.
What was the most challenging thing about moving abroad? One of the most challenging things is that, as much as I love the shiny new life, a big part of my heart is always going to belong to the grime of London. They say comparison is the thief of joy, so it definitely won’t do to constantly compare my lives, but your heart is forever in two places.
What surprising thing do you miss most about home? Walking. You can tell so much about what’s going on in London just by walking down the street. Here, everything’s behind closed doors so you really have to dig for any underground scenes. I miss adverts on telly. I miss chatty cabbies. I miss ridiculous, bitcoin-fuelled hipster pop-ups. I miss when the weather hits above 20 degrees and everyone gets next-level giddy. And I really, really miss Pret’s Italian chicken salad.
What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of emigrating? Really think about your reasons behind wanting to move, then just do it anyway. Life’s too short to always wonder what if. It’s a leap of faith – but the most worthwhile things never come from playing it safe.
Emily Johnston, editor of Fashion Foie Gras, moved from South Carolina to London in 2002
“I cried every single day and called home to tell my mom I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a place to live and I didn’t have a job.”
What inspired your move to London? Naivety. I had just graduated from university and one of my best friends was heading to London on a student visa. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I decided to follow her lead. The rest is history.
What was your first week in London like? I cried every single day and called home to tell my mom I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a place to live and I didn’t have a job. There was only £1000 in my bank account. Dire times! Everything turned around for me one day when I was crying in a cafe and the waitress brought over a cup of tea with the promise everything would look better by the time I was halfway through the cup. And she was right.
What was the most challenging thing about moving abroad? Not knowing anything at all, including the fact that I needed to be paying taxes in both the U.K. and USA. I also didn’t realise how hard it would be to do simple things like get a new phone or bank account. Times have changed, but in 2002 it all seemed impossible. It took me two months to really get into the swing of things.
What surprising thing do you miss most about home? Driving. I don’t drive in London because public transport and Uber have me covered. But I miss jumping behind the wheel to do simple things like go shopping or take off for a weekend in the country at a moments notice.
What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of emigrating? Read everything you can before you go. I was like a deer in the headlights. The more you know, the easier the transition will be. A friend of mine suggested asking friends and family if they knew anyone local that could offer advice. In hindsight, I wish I had actually acted on that tip. I blame my youth!
Elena Perry, Marketing Manager at Retail Apparel Group, moved from London to Sydney in 2015
“The first week was easier than I expected. Once I’d had a good cry over numerous glasses of wine it just felt like a fantastic holiday.”
What inspired your move to Sydney? I’ve always liked the idea of living abroad, and I spent a month in Australia when I went travelling after university. I immediately fell in love with Sydney because it’s an amazing city with a great beach life, and I went back to visit a few more times before emigrating last year.
What was your first week in Sydney like? The first week was much easier than I expected. Once I’d got over the heartbreaking goodbyes and had a good cry on the plane over numerous glasses of wine, it just felt like a fantastic holiday! The reality of the move didn’t really sink in until I’d been living abroad for a couple of months.
I was very lucky to have one of my good friends from school living in Sydney already, and they introduced me to lots of new people. I also went on quite a few ‘friend dates’, which had been set up by contacts at home who knew someone in Sydney. I made a lot of friends that way.
What was the most challenging thing about moving abroad? It’s so hard to leave family and friends behind. And it’s particularly difficult in Australia because it’s not possible for friends and family to visit often, if at all. I’m very lucky to have made some fantastic friends in Sydney, and when you live abroad your friends become your family. But it’s still incredibly hard.
What surprising thing do you miss most about home? I actually miss the cold. And I never thought I’d say that! Sydney does get a proper winter, which I don’t think many people realise, but the summer lasts for such a long time that eventually I crave cold weather. I also really miss British pubs and being able to sit in front of a fire with my friends, a roast dinner and a great glass of red wine.
What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of emigrating? It’s such a big commitment, so I definitely recommend visiting the place first. You need to really love it if you’re going to uproot your life. Also research the job market. I work in fashion retail and Australia is not really the best place to be at the moment. I’ve been very lucky and found a job that would sponsor me so I can stay, but it was harder than I had expected.
Have you moved abroad? What was your experience like? Feel free to share your story in the comments section below – I’d love to hear from you!
Featured image via West Elm