What People Don’t Mention When Talking About Living Abroad: Part 1

When I lived abroad for the first time, I was 20 years old—a sophomore in college. I did an exchange program called the Erasmus+ Program (formerly known as Erasmus Exchange Program), which countless students from my home country did back in the 2010s. During this program, I lived in Portugal for a year. I fondly remember those memories in Braga, and believe that my experience in Portugal buoyed me up and laid the foundations for my future endeavors. 

So, learning that I left my country after graduation didn’t bewilder anyone who knew me. My family and friends cheered me on and said they were proud of me because I was achieving one of my childhood dreams. What they saw was the tip of the iceberg, though. Moving abroad and living in a foreign country were full of twists and turns. Today I want to talk about the common struggles people have abroad. 


People often don’t feel lonely when they are college students. There are so many things going on in their lives. They meet new friends and socialize all the time. However, our social circles tend to dwindle after we get our first job. We become estranged from our old friends or vice versa. Making new friends becomes more challenging unless we put in some effort to expand our social circles. 

I hate to break it to you, but it is even harder to make international and local friends when we move abroad as working adults. I had numerous friends during my stay in Portugal, but the situation was dire once I moved to South Korea and started working. I spoke Korean and did my best to socialize with local people. Yet, a cultural barrier prevented both sides from getting closer to one another. 

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

What about international friends? I had some, but unfortunately, most foreigners don’t stay in their host countries long. An opportunity knocks on their doors from somewhere else, or they return home. For example, I befriended my Chinese teachers at school, and we got along well. One day I learned two of them were about to go back to China. I remember how I burst into tears and couldn’t compose myself for a while. 

The situation didn’t improve once I moved to Japan. I had some Japanese friends abroad, but the Japanese people in Japan seemed more reluctant to become friends with foreigners. I don’t speak much Japanese, and neither do the Japanese people speak much English. I don’t want to fully blame my Japanese skills, though, because I heard from some foreigners that even those who are fluent in Japanese struggle to make local friends. 

Having said that, you can make new friends at work, join clubs, or go to international bars everywhere in the world. There are numerous options if you are adamant that you will make friends where you live. However, if you are an introvert, it won’t be as easy. You will miss your home country at times, and crave profound or trivial chats with your family and friends. 

Lack of support for foreigners

When we live abroad for a long time, we usually use the health and public services in our host countries. You will find English speakers who can help you wherever you go, but what if you aren’t fluent in English, or you don’t live in an English-speaking country? As a foreigner, your needs and wishes can go unmet in most countries, even if you speak their language. 

I can think of a very stressful place off the top of my head: hospitals. Hospitals require you to be conversational in a language unless you go there with a friend or interpreter. If the hospital doesn’t adhere to a foreigner-friendly policy and doesn’t have interpreters at hand, you might have a nerve-racking experience. I know I had to wait six hours at a local hospital in Japan once until they found someone who spoke English. 

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Immigration offices are a whole other story. I have usually had pleasant experiences with Japanese immigration officers, but they don’t speak English. And if you don’t speak Japanese, or don’t have someone who can help you, you might waste your time at the immigration office. I remember I became more stressed at Korean immigration offices because their officers were hostile and scared applicants.

Keep in mind that my experience as a female Turkish citizen might vastly differ from your experience. I know my Chinese friends in South Korea had a harder time at immigration offices than I did. My Western friends, on the other hand, had a relatively relaxed time and weren’t questioned much. Unfortunately, you might experience racism and discrimination, depending on where you live and your home country’s relation to your host country. 

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

You can also face difficulties when renting an apartment, signing a phone/internet contract, or entering clubs and bars as a foreigner. Many houses and apartments in Japan are not rented out to foreigners, which is clearly stated in the advertisement. When I lived in South Korea, foreigners weren’t allowed to enter some clubs and bars. Unfortunately, in most countries there is no law against discriminating foreigners. 


Have you ever lived abroad? What kind of difficulties did you face? 

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  1. Priti

    Yes there is lots of problems have to face the people who go to abroad! Well shared 👌

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Shahbaz Ashraf

    You have comprehensively listed the usual problems, the people had to face while living in a foreign country.
    Agree with you Bahanur that living in a foreign country is not all fun as some people might be thinking. You have to surmount many challenges single handedly. And then the issues of language barrier and racial discrimination further aggravate the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shahbaz Ashraf

    Will be waiting to read further on the subject…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      Thank you, Ashraf! I appreciate your comments here 😊 I’ll work on Part 2 and cover more soon!

      Liked by 1 person

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