I have moved abroad approximately 5 times in my life, starting from when I was 2 years old. The latest big move I did has been the most strange and difficult, due to the fact it was the first time I'd ever moved somewhere were I did not (and honestly, still do not) speak the language.
It's an absolutely crazy experience to do this: it's very stressful and difficult, but now, about 3 months in, I feel like I'm starting to get to grips with things and starting to settle in a bit more, and actually enjoy living here in Slovakia. I'm keeping very busy with school (absolutely RIDICULOUS that the term is almost finished already... only a few more weeks until winter break!) and have been trying to explore as much as time and COVID will currently allow.
But there are a few things that no one tells you about moving abroad, particularly to a place where everything, including the language, is foreign. They may seem small but they're actually quite big and a lot of these things became integral to my last few months here in Košice, in that they have allowed me to feel more at home, surprised me a bit, sometimes made things difficult... but all in all they add to the experience! So here's my list of a couple of these things that have happened, for all those curious about what impacts your daily life the first few months in a foreign country!
1. There will be some very basic stuff that you just cannot find anywhere in the supermarkets. No matter how hard you look, no matter how much you KNOW it has to be there somewhere, you just won't find it. It's literally like a curse. The only way to escape is to have someone, a local, show you. For me, this was breadcrumbs. I couldn't for the life of me find them. And only when my cousin told me where they were (a place, mind you, that I'd searched and found nothing) was I able to find them and make a nice baked mac and cheese.
2. The tap water will taste incredibly weird. You might even hate it and not want to drink it at all. However, if you force yourself to keep drinking it, one day it will just taste like water. It's a very literal aspect of acclimatising to a new place.
3. You will find a way to fully dissociate and pretend you're not a real person in order to not feel embarrassed riding your bike or walking down the street for a while. Because you know you're going to get lost a couple times and do that awkward turn-around-and-go-back-the-way-you-came-thing, and you're going to go in the wrong lane and have to swerve off, and people will stare and know you have no idea what you're doing. And if you're mildly anxious like me this would normally KILL you but you have no option, so you sort of float above your body, not fully inhabiting it while you learn how to exist in this new city.
4. The shot of serotonin that will rocket through your brain the first time you fully understand a street sign without having to use google translate will cause you to nearly pass out at a stoplight. It's the most wonderful feeling, even if the sign is only a word or two.
5. The same goes for the first public interaction you survive without stumbling, without having to use a translator; perhaps the other person didn't even suspect you weren't a local! Even if you barely said anything, and you just nodded in the right places, chuckled in the right places... you did it! You're basically fluent, you're practically a local, and you'll feel good about yourself for the rest of the day.
6. You'll remember the exact time, place and date where you felt the first true wave of warmth in your heart for your new home. For me, it was October 22th at around 6pm. I was walking home from the supermarket. It was sort of dark and grey and a little cold, and the streets were very quiet because we were practically in lockdown. And, I don't know, I'd obviously liked the city before then and was happy to be there, but right there I felt the first real feeling like, "Ok, this is home, I could really love this place." And it's a really nice moment.
7. You'll sometimes get really scared about going outside because you'll work it up in your head that you are USELESS at the language and that everyone will be trying to speak to you. The truth is, barely anyone speaks to anyone outside. No one's going to bother you if you're out for a stroll. Try to go out and explore!
8. You'll find yourself starting a database in your head, comparing this new place to all the places you've ever lived before. You might have already had one, if, like me, you've moved a lot. If that's the case, you'll constantly add to it; and wish you could take the best parts of all of these places and put them together and make your own country. With the Bermudian ocean and beaches; the Canadian mountains, milk and restaurants; the English candy shops; and the Slovak scenery, the eggs, the cuisine (the "not getting kicked out when your visa expires" for me does it for me too)... A bit of everything you love, all in there. Unfortunately, this isn't a thing you can actually do, but it's always nice to dream.
Anyways, that my little list of some things I've experienced the last few months that have made it very colourful, even if we haven't been allowed out much and I haven't ventured out of Košice yet...! Still a lot to come, but this is a very special place to me. Now I just have to properly learn the language... Time will tell, I suppose :)
Stay safe and warm!