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When I graduated from college in 2015 with a photojournalism degree, I had only one goal in mind: to get out of the U.S. as fast as humanly possible.

I wasn’t unhappy with my life in America. I had job opportunities, family, friends and a president who could complete a full, coherent sentence. I had nothing to run from, yet my feet were itching to hit international soil. So I decided to move to Spain.

Cue months of jumping through fiery hoops of government paperwork, applications in Spanish and a last-minute trip to the DMV after losing my license right before my visa appointment. I sold, donated or threw away 90 percent of my belongings, and packed the rest into a carry-on suitcase and a backpacking backpack. I was doing it! Living the dream life.


(Leio Mclaren)

But while the two years I spent in Europe were truly incredible, it’s easy to talk about the glamorous aspects of life abroad. The reality, though, is that living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is almost always more awkward than it is glamorous. But awkward doesn’t get thousands of Instagram followers, so it’s a side to life abroad that often goes unnoticed, the awkward stories often left untold.

So I’m here to give you the dirty, uncomfortable truths of life abroad, the sides of the story you don’t get from social media posts and pop culture.

You’re going to embarrass yourself. This is true even if you’re moving to another English-speaking country. Local slang and cultural differences make this inevitable. But if you’re moving to a country where the native language is not one you speak proficiently, be prepared to embarrass yourself every single day. You might be ordering pollo (chicken), and accidentally ask for polla (penis) instead. Or you might ask for ‘bread with eyes’ (pan con ojos) instead of ‘garlic bread’ (pan de ajo). You’ll be teased enough by both friends and locals so that if you didn’t have thick skin before you left, you will by the time you come back.  

You’ll probably get sick. It’s true that when you move abroad you’re introduced to a buffet of new and exciting foods to try. A lot of it will be delicious, but some of it probably won’t sit well in your gastronomically-inexperienced stomach. I realized this one of my first weeks in Spain when I made the mistake of eating raw oysters on the last day of a seafood festival. I was feeling adventurous and didn’t bother translating anything on the menu before ordering a few dishes at random—a strategy I no longer recommend. Being adventurous is only cool until you and your new friends are tag-teaming the toilet in your tiny apartment.  

It’s lonely. Let’s be honest, life in general becomes a lot lonelier as soon as you move out of your college town and away from the friends you’ve seen everyday for years. But it’s way worse when there’s an ocean separating you from everyone you know. Unless you’re moving abroad with family, friends or an organized group of people, you’ll likely experience at least a few weeks of extreme loneliness and homesickness, but take comfort in knowing it won’t last. Even if it takes weeks—or months—you’ll eventually fall into a rhythm and a schedule and before you know it, life abroad won’t feel like life abroad, it’ll feel like home.  

Dating can be super weird and awkward. Like, even more so than usual. Think of your worst Tinder date, then throw a language barrier into the mix. That’s what international dating is like. Pop culture has led us to believe that moving abroad is a sure-fire way to end up in love, engaged and maybe even an international pop star. But you’re more likely to spend way more time pretending to understand what your love interest’s jokes are about than you will cruising around on the back of their bright red moto.

You’ll miss out—on a lot. Like Trump being elected president. Or the Cubs winning the World Series. Or your friends’ graduation, or your parents buying a new house. Even as someone who almost never gets FOMO because I’d always rather be at home in my pajamas anway, missing out on every big event in my friends’ and families’ lives got old fast. So limit your social media intake, start making your own memories and just think of the FOMO your friends and family back home will have over your own adventures. 

Eventually it came time for me to decide: Was I going to spend a third year bouncing around Europe? Or was I going to try my hand at a real job with real responsibilities back in Trump’s America? 

It was a surprisingly easy decision to make, and there hasn’t been a single day that I wish I’d decided differently. For all of the adventures you’ll have abroad, all of the friends you’ll make and the languages you’ll learn, eventually the people and places you know best will call you back home- and it’s a hard call to ignore. 

That being said, if you’re considering a life abroad, don’t let this stop you. Because for all of the awkward, uncomfortable, physically and emotionally painful parts of living in a foreign country, overall, the experience vale

Feature photo: Felix Russell