Moving abroad is likely to be one of the biggest decisions a person will make in their life. To withdraw from everything one’s ever known – the food, the weather, the traditions (not to mention the national sports teams) – and be thrust into an entirely new environment, with its own climate, currency, and culture… It’s no wonder expats frequently have complaints.
Some expat problems are foreseeable (for example those thinking of moving to Siberia would be wise to pack a fleece), however issues will inevitably arise that expats can’t plan for.
Michael Brinksman of online expat resource Expat and Offshore, outlines some of the main causes of culture shock:
‘When moving abroad there are a number of obvious obstacles that most people will struggle through: setting up a bank account, finding a house, buying a car, setting the kids up in school and sorting out healthcare. These stresses are worsened by the added pressure of negotiating with foreign systems and languages. Then there are always the social issues that come with living in an unfamiliar culture – loneliness is not uncommon. We therefore always advise prospective expats to research their destination as thoroughly as they can before making the move.’
Learning the language is cited as the biggest problem for most expats. According to this infographic, romance languages such as Spanish, Italian and Romanian are the easiest to learn, whereas Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic are supposedly the most difficult. However Sam Shelley, long term Bucharest resident, suggests otherwise:
“Learning Romanian was tremendously difficult. For me, personally, the other romance languages such as Spanish are much easier to pick up, whereas Romanian seems a bit more of an oddball, particularly because of the random pluralisation. I’m still struggling with the pronunciation 4 years later!”
It’s not only the intricacies of the language itself, however, which expats struggle with, but also the lack of opportunities they are given to use it.
“In Romania, you can always find someone who doesn’t speak English who is willing to give you the time of day and help you practice, even when you’re terrible and can only utter a few broken sentences,” advises Sam Shelley. For others, however, finding a language partner isn’t as simple. Tina Hale, a British expat currently living in Fuengirola, states:
“People are always speaking to me in English, even when I address them in Spanish! Everyone here mostly wants to learn English for the sake of work, so the opportunities to use the Spanish language are minimal. If you want to really learn it and use it on a daily basis, you need to live inland or somewhere tourists rarely visit, otherwise you just don’t get any chance to practice.”
Languages aren’t the only problem, of course, and it’s impossible to predict the complications and grievances of expat life before arriving in the country. However, it can help to be aware of some of the common problems that other expats regularly experience. And what better way to find out about other people’s problems than on social media?
Scrolling through Twitter, there are several issues which emerge with frequency. The cost of living, homesickness and the climate are some of the more common issues voiced by those across the who’ve made the leap. Take a look at some of the themes carrying the hashtag #expatproblems: