I can’t believe it’s been over 3 years since I packed my bags and moved to Toronto, Canada – a country I had never even visited before.
Moving to Toronto has taught me little things: I can proudly survive -20°C weather for two months in a row (though I can’t promise I won’t cry a little bit and complain a lot). I learned how to fish and throw axes, and I can sing both, the Canadian anthem and the Blue Jays song, which is even more important.
I’m going to make a bold statement, so get ready for it. It might sound ridiculous or even impossible, but that doesn’t make it any less true:
Moving abroad has taught me more in three years than I’ve learned in my entire life.
One thing for sure about moving away is that it will change you. Forever. Not many people have the guts to leave their comfortable and familiar lives to seek unfamiliarity, discomfort and adventure in a foreign country. I’m proud I took the plunge and moved abroad and I’ve compiled a list of 5 things moving abroad taught me:
1. You own too much stuff
This isn’t really a deep or meaningful realization, but it’s still a realization. Only when you’re forced to jam your entire life into a couple of bags you realize how much crap you own and how much money you’ve spent on things you don’t really use or need.
When I say I sold everything, I’m not far from the truth. I had an apartment version of a garage sale and invited all my friends and their friends to come over and buy anything they see. I sold 90% of my belonging – items like furniture, sport equipment, books, electronics, tableware and most of my clothes (ouch!).
This was great in two ways: First, I made a lot of money that night and every penny counts when you’re moving overseas; second, I whittled my entire life down to 2 suitcases which allowed me to travel light and keep things simple.
Now that I’m all settled into my Toronto home, I don’t want to fill it with stuff again. It just feels so good to be rid of the clutter. I’m still very far from being a minimalist but having less has actually made me happier, and it’s surprising how much you can live without.
2. Whatever happens to you, you can handle it
Moving your whole life to another country so you can start a completely new one requires a good deal of resilience and bravery, but fear is usually the first emotion that creeps in. There are so many things that can go wrong—and will go wrong—and there are always hundreds of unanswered questions that plague your mind:
- What will I do if I don’t get my work permit? And what will I do once it expires?
- What if I can’t find a job right away? How am I going to compete with all the locals to get my dream job?
- How will I rent a home if I don’t have a credit score? (In my case it was more like “What the heck is a credit score?!”)
- Am I going to find such good friends as I have in my home country?
- What will I do if something goes wrong and I have to return back home?
One thing I realized early on, after many mild panic attacks, is that whatever happens, I’ll handle it. Worry never helped me before, and it certainly won’t help now. I have learned to be flexible so that when the wind blows, I bend—not break—and adjust to cope with the situation.
It’s amazing how resilient you become and this confidence transfers into everything else in your life too, at work and at home. I trust in my ability to handle issues as they arise, and that diminishes any irrational fears.
3. Your accent is an instant icebreaker
I always want to learn about someone’s story if they have an accent. And surprise surprise, people are interested in you when you have an accent as well.
It always makes me laugh when the clichés come out and people ask whether I’ve met Jaromír Jágr (the 2nd best NHL player of all time) or drink a beer a day, since the Czech Republic led all other nations in per-capita beer consumption for the 20th consecutive year.
I’m not complaining at all – having an accent is the best icebreaker, so you have to make the most of it!
4. The world is small and big at the same time
I am constantly surprised by the connections I make when I’m far from home. In fact, I feel sometimes that the further you go, the more people you meet who dated your classmate, attended the same event years ago, or grew up in the same town. There are all these connections that make the world feel so much smaller and accessible.
But on the other hand, I realize very well how big this planet is. It’s interesting to think back on how little I knew about Canada before I moved here. I feel like an entirely new world has been revealed to me over the last three years, yet I know I’ve only just skimmed the surface. I know the same is true for every corner of the globe.
5. Home is great!
There are some comforts that you’ll just never find elsewhere (like Bohemia chips or internet banking the Canadians have never even dreamt about), and I don’t think you ever fully appreciate home until you leave.
When I visited Czech Republic for the first time after I moved to Canada, I saw it in a different light. I appreciated the culture and the architecture and funnily enough, how good the services are. I realized that it is a pretty cool place, and I don’t think I’d have come to that conclusion had I never left.