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Lauren Zweerink

5 Valuable Life Lessons I Learned from Living Abroad

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

In October last year, I took a leap of faith and decided to move from Toronto to Serbia. Many factors played into this decision, but the most prominent was having to deal with my career choice, and overall desire to blossom that professional career somewhere in Europe.

I don’t quite recall what I expected when moving abroad – I am half Serbian and have been living with my mom (of Serbian descent) for my whole life. “Pfft” I figured: “Moving to Serbia will be a piece of cake!”
Boy, was I way off.

5 things I learned from living abroad

Whether you think so or not, you will miss what you once had.

When I first decided to move from Toronto, I didn’t think I would miss it much. I generally got tired of life in the big city, and the constant rushing around. I feel that life in the West has become quite difficult — you are always working and in a rush, which leaves you with little time to live, to see family, or simply enjoy the precious time you have on this earth.

Moving to Serbia was refreshing for me: the people and general Serbian culture is far more laid back than Western culture. I barely thought about Toronto as time passed! However, nearing the 1-year mark of my big move, the homesickness appeared more frequently: missing my friends and family, the life I had built over there, and even our famed CN Tower.

In short, I’ve learned that no matter how much you might wish to start anew or have new life experiences, it is normal and expected to occasionally miss what you once had, or in my case, miss your Canadian roots from time to time.

You will meet all sorts of people.

I personally believe that one of the biggest challenges you can face when moving anywhere — whether to a neighbouring city or a new country — is meeting new people and making new friends. I am lucky enough to have family in Serbia, which made things a lot easier for me as a newcomer.

When I first arrived, one of my cousins introduced me to her friend group, which gave me the confidence to meet new people. Even though it took a lot of time for me to adapt to my new town and to build the courage to approach new people by myself, having a group of people I was familiar with helped me a lot. A year later, I have learned a fair bit about the new community which surrounds me, and I have taken chances to build new friendships.

You become more open-minded.

In general, I think it can be agreed upon that Canada hosts a fair number of open-minded individuals. With our incredibly diverse population, Canadians are continuously being introduced to new cultures, ethnicities, mindsets, and perspectives.

Even though I thought I was a fairly open-minded individual, I’ve completely changed my perspective on that now. Moving abroad, I believed that my beliefs on life in general would be accepted universally. It’s not that the open-mindedness that I grew up with is not acceptable in Serbia, it’s just that Serbian people look at the world around them in a different perspective, through different lens.

Moving abroad really gives you the opportunity to learn how cultures differ around the world, and it is truly one of the most interesting experiences a person could have.

You will develop some very useful skills.

One of the biggest challenges for me upon moving abroad was the language barrier. I knew Serbian, as I had been speaking it all my life; however, using it as my primary language was a bit of a challenge.

I used to say that I was fluent in my second language, but now when I look back it was difficult for me to formulate sentences properly or hold a conversation when I first moved. Although my Serbian is still not perfect even today, I’ve greatly improved my language skills, and I believe that now I can truly say, “I am fluent in Serbian.”

You learn about yourself, more than anything else.

Above all else, I have learned about myself the most throughout this process. I have grown so much as an individual and I have become even more independent than I previously was. I used to be very outgoing in Toronto — perhaps because I was comfortable in my surroundings. Upon moving, I quickly became shy around new people and I was hesitant to try new things. However, I am becoming more and more confident living in my new country. I am now able to open up to those around me and create lifelong memories with my new friends.

I’ve learned that culture shock is real, and yes, you can have culture shock within your own culture. As time passes, the relationship I have with my home country also changes. For example, with the time difference I have needed to accept the fact that I cannot see my friends and family as often as I would like to.

Moving abroad can be scary, exciting, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, and at times, a total mess. You will learn who your true friends are — those support you in both the good and bad times; you will learn to embrace new cultures; and you will learn to cherish the special moments that make you never want to leave your new home. These five points are just a small part of a most valuable experience. If I can leave you with one message, it will be this: Take a leap of faith, experience the wide world around you, and learn as much as you can while doing so.

Emma Keyes

Queen's U '24

Emma is studying English Language and Literature at Queen's University. She enjoys the arts, and is a sucker for all things romantic.