I returned to Germany one and a half weeks ago and still can hardly believe that I’ve really lived and studied in England’s capital for a whole year. For me, it’s not easy to process every single impression and experience, to understand everything I have seen and done in the past 12 months. You certainly don’t reflect upon all this while still abroad – it happens when you’re on your way back. And then it literally hits you.
Living the expat life while studying in a foreign language, combined with all the things that are new to in a whole different surrounding with so many people from various backgrounds, changed me – undoubtedly. I am still trying to name in how far I’ve become a different person as putting this in a nutshell seems to be more difficult than I thought. However, you generally simply know you’ve lived through a process of massive change and I believe everyone – whatever the country – returns home with a different outlook on life. I believe that exactly this is the most enriching experience from living and studying in a foreign country, for it only shows that you are able to adapt, to learn and re-think certain ways of thinking – in order to change your perspective or at least expand it.
Regardless of the fact that I cannot really say, up to this point, in how far my personality might have changed, I have realized that there are indeed 5 things I have taken for granted – or didn’t have to think about – in my home country that I now regard differently.
1.) An iron is totally overrated.
It basically says it all: ironing your clothes is not what you necessarily have to do. I was eager to iron every single jeans, every article of clothing I possessed (or at least brought with me) and I was in a bad mood when my landlords used the iron for hours. “How can you wear clothes that you haven’t ironed before?” I always asked myself when I saw people who obviously didn’t care. I am laughing at myself while writing this, for ironing really is overrated, especially when you live abroad. Firstly, it takes up so much time if you do it accurately; secondly, be smart before you actually leave your home country and pack garments (and with this I don’t mean blouses) which don’t need to be ironed. You’ll have much more time to soak in the culture and everything happening around you. Don’t waste time with an iron in your hand. After a few months of having stressed too much about it, I gave in and realized how stupid I was – and started doing better things that were definitely more meaningful.
2.) Hand-wash becomes handy.
If you’re lucky, you live somewhere with laundry facilities in the basement (if you live in a private household and even student halls have washing machines most of the times). However, this is not always the case. Plus, you are sometimes just too lazy (or not willing to) spend money on washing your clothes. Get washing powder suitable for hand-wash. You can easily wash your sports clothing or underwear in the sink. It’s cheaper and oftentimes more convenient and so you can postpone the actual “laundry day”, meaning carrying all your dirty clothes to the next laundrette. Annoying and time-consuming this is. I’ve always taken a washing machine for granted – now I changed my perspective on it and learned that hand-wash is definitely okay.
3.) Money is an issue more than ever before (because, yes, you actually can run out of money)
Your personal financial means become a huge issue when you live abroad. Actually, studying abroad is already so expensive that oftentimes, you really have to live on a budget – especially in London, where the rent for a crappy little room in an even crappier house is just not acceptable. However, you can’t change it – unless you want to live on the street or in the library – and so you actually have to pay. Back in Germany I never really thought about possibly not being able to afford my living expenses. In London, things changed. Everything, simply everything is much more expensive and so you automatically start thinking about whether you should buy certain things. It starts in the grocery store (you choose the less expensive cheese, for instance, that is actually not as good as the other one) and when you go out, you are okay with that one cocktail instead of two, because you know you could need those 10 pounds tomorrow. It’s not like I have taken money for granted before, but, without a doubt, living in London has changed my way of how I think about (spending) money and especially what for. It has made me aware of the fact that you can be broke quickly if you blow your money without thinking about it.
4.) Using beauty products & toiletries carefully (as they are expensive).
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and this is what I felt the force of. If you have money and don’t have to worry about it, this metropolis offers many possibilities to blow it. However, for someone like me who was on a set budget, which did not allow me to live the “posh” life, I had to think about stuff I buy – toiletries, for example. My, oh my, I could not believe how pricey my regular-sized Nivea body lotion is or how much my Clinique powder costs. I became thrifty in every respect in that I started thinking about not wasting the products I bought.
5.) Wearing the same clothes is not an issue.
Seriously, who cares? As long as you know what the word “personal hygiene” means and people don’t crinkle their nose when you pass them, you can wear those pair of jeans as long as you want, basically. Also, my wardrobe, for example, was really not huge. Think about it: you only have two suitcases you can bring and you most likely don’t just have clothes, but also some personal items, you want to take with you. I was making sure beforehand that I was bringing neutral colours such as beige, black, blue etc. in order to be able to change outfits. Back home, I always needed to wear something completely different every single day. Well, I have a different opinion on that now. A fresh t-shirt as well as underwear is a must – especially in the summer – but what if this t-shirt is also navy (but you’ve worn a navy one yesterday already so people might think you’re still wearing the same)? It doesn’t matter at all as long as it’s a clean one and you feel comfortable (and you should). How superficial would people be if they only judged you by what you wear? Exactly. I learned that wasting too much time on trying to wear a different outfit every day is just too stressful when living and studying abroad.
So, here we go. As I am trying to figure out how much I myself might have changed in other respects, this is what I’ve learned – and it made my life abroad so much easier after a while. However, the experience you have in a foreign country was so worth is especially when it leads to you not taking certain seemingly given things for granted any longer.
What were your experiences?
Julia Haase (23) is an ex-German expat and a recent graduate of Political Communications in London. She wonders what this new chapter of her life holds for her and tries to expand her own horizon through travel, has a pocket full of dreams and lacks orientstion in every respect. She is the writer behind The Redhead Story , tweets happily about her life journey @julia_freckles and shares moments on instagram @julia_freckles.You can also find her on Google+.