Unrealistic thoughts about moving abroad

Part of the reason why I am experiencing culture shock is my attitude and the unrealistic thoughts and high expectations I set for myself, Dakar, and Senegal as explained below:

“This is like an extended vacation”

I’m almost certain that even expatriates in Paris would call this thought unrealistic. Yet, I thought I would absolutely love living in one of the frequently visited cities in Africa.

In reality, moving abroad is not just about checking out beautiful sights or taking pictures on a beach, in front of a pretty door, or at a colorful market after work. The stress of being in a different setting shouldn’t be underestimated. Neither should the fact that some of what is irrelevant or unimportant as a tourist is apparent and a part of one’s life as an expatriate. 

“I will love it here like my friend/ acquaintance/ family member/ favorite blogger”

Truthfully, I did not prepare well my move here. Aside from over-confidence in my travel and life experience in Africa, anecdotes represent 95% of my “research” on Senegal. Social media influencers, people who came here on business or leisure trips, and those who lived here in college influenced my thoughts on Dakar and life here. They told me I would love Dakar and I did not ask about their negative experiences. I disregarded the differences in our background, reasons for being in Senegal, habits, personality etc. as well as the saying that “one man’s heaven is another man’s hell” and both accounts are good to know. As a result, I handle rude awakenings (read: reality/ real life) poorly. I also feel like people presented a false image of Dakar.

“New country, new me”

Some of us think that we are the best version of ourselves when we travel. However, it is neither guaranteed nor automatic to discover or display appealing aspects of one’s identity and personality abroad.

As I previously shared, I am starting to realize that I am an introvert. As I am also becoming a homebody, it is a challenge to leave my house (or hotel room), even to meet people I like. For some reason, I thought I would blossom into a social butterfly upon arrival in Senegal. Instead, I still prefer watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or This Is Us with a plate in my lap in bed to dressing up, arguing with a taxi driver to pay the “locals’ fare” to my destination and doing small talk for a few hours. I came here with the same problematic behavior, traits and attitude I dealt with at home (duh!). Some are even detrimental to my growth and wellbeing here: I realize now that constant solitude is bad for my mental health and social network.

“I’m basically a local since I’m not a tourist”

This is incorrect.

I came to Senegal thinking I was different; I was expecting to feel at home from Day One. Instead I am constantly humbled, even when I am mistaken for a Senegalese woman, because foreigners always stand out. It helps to learn the local or most widely spoken language, adjust one’s diet and clothing, embrace cultural habits, develop a routine, and make friends. But your accent will still sell you out. The friends you make will sometimes discuss topics you cannot relate to. Your sleep and digestive system will need time to adjust to the new sounds, bacteria and other things in this new environment. And that is normal.

“I’ve done it before so this time will be easier/ better”

This is possible, but it is not a fact.

As a French speaker with life and travel experience in West Africa, I felt well prepared to relocate here. I was certain Dakar would be unlike Dodoma. But one can feel lonely, homesick or frustrated with differences between home and abroad anytime and anywhere. There is an uncomfortable adjustment period to go through regardless of age, maturity, and experience in similar settings.

I am learning these lessons the hard way so they will be harder to forget. Above all else, I am learning to be patient with and take care of myself.

 

(If you live outside your home country-) What did you learn when you moved abroad?

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7 Comments

  1. Ileri Akinkugbe
    31 December 2017 / 12:49 pm

    Interesting persepective on the subject of moving abroad Lori! I’ll definitely apply some of the advice here to my next adventure (I’m in Barcelona for 4+ months next year). Looking forward to more blogposts in 2018! 😀

    • Oluwakemi Loriade
      1 January 2018 / 3:42 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by, reading the post, and sharing this feedback, Ileri! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I wish you all the best in Barcelona and look forward to hearing about your experience there. Happy New Year and best wishes! x

  2. 14 November 2017 / 5:15 am

    Commented here before but it never did show so I’m just going to do a test 🙂

  3. 3 November 2017 / 6:18 pm

    I’m so excited to have discovered your blog. This post is so valid is such a well thought out one too. It’s the ability to adjust and adapt despite all odds that’s most important. I’ve also learned to mix up and learn new things from the locals as well as listen more. Thanks for sharing!

    http://www.zinnyfactor.com

    • Oluwakemi Loriade
      4 November 2017 / 10:31 pm

      Thank you for visiting, commenting and your feedback, Zinny! I really appreciate it! I’ll definitely take your advice to spend more time with locals when I head back to Dakar!

  4. 31 October 2017 / 7:02 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. You’re right. It is definitely different living in a country as an expat vs visiting as a tourist for a couple of days. The struggle is different, the reality is different, virtually everything is different. What’s the same though, is that we are able to adapt and make the best of any situation.

    The ‘new country new me’ notion is sooo false. I sometimes have that delusion but I know that no matter where I visit, there I am. Voila, it’s the same ol’ me going there.

    Great post.

    • Oluwakemi Loriade
      2 November 2017 / 9:50 am

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on this post, Ufuoma! What you wrote about ability to adapt and make the best of any situation everywhere is absolutely correct, and what I have to remember to stay positive about this move and my ability to make Dakar my home eventually.

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