Welcome back to Women Who Wander. This series focuses encouraging women to seek out solo travel. Empowering and inspiring both seasoned Solo Travellers and those who have yet to venture out on their own. Reading these posts every week inspires me to no end, and I hope it does the same for you. This week, Arielle is sharing her story of moving abroad to teach English in Poland, and deciding not to come home (yet).

Meet Arielle:

After graduating from college, Arielle decided to leave her native California and has lived in Kansas City, Missouri and Wrocław, Poland as a primary school teacher. She documents her adventures around Europe and the US on her blog, trying to balance funny stories with serious meditations on living abroad, politics, and the privilege of traveling. You can find her complaining about Polish grammar or drinking cocktails at Whiskey Sour Wayfarer. You can also follow her on Instagram

Taking the Leap

What’s the hardest part about going abroad? No, I’m not talking about the reverse culture shock or post-vacation blues so many people write about upon returning home from a long trip. (Those articles are completely egregious and the people writing them need to relax.) I’m talking about the real difficulties and rewards of establishing and maintaining a life away from your home country. Not studying abroad for a semester or two. Actually making the decision to immigrate without knowing when (or if) you’ll return.

Two years ago, I applied for teaching jobs in several different countries and finally settled on one in Wrocław, Poland, where I have lived ever since. I am moving to Murcia, Spain in October to get my master’s degree. I don’t yet know what I will do after that, but I have no plans to move back to my native Los Angeles.

Poland

A New Way of Life

Now it’s not to say that everything about moving abroad is all bad. (Obviously it isn’t, or I wouldn’t be doing it voluntarily!) The most obvious: moving to a new country is incredibly exciting! If you speak the language, it is a great chance for you to practice your skills. If you don’t speak the language, you can learn to speak a new language like a drunk toddler! (Just kidding, drunk toddlers speak much better Polish than I do.)

Either way, you can learn about a new culture and challenge your pre-conceived notions about every day life, things that you didn’t even realize were culturally ingrained. Like, why do Americans smile at each other so much? Or why do we ask “How are you?” when we don’t actually want to know how you are? Or why do we say “I’m good” even if we’re not really good? (These are all questions Polish people have asked me that I never had to think about before.)

A Whole Continent Just a Train Ride Away

Then you have the possibility of exploring a whole new city, country, or continent! Wrocław is a mid-size city by European standards, and it has plenty to keep me occupied for a while. Then there’s the opportunities to travel to places previously a long-haul flight away from home. Since I moved to Poland, I have visited 18 new countries! I’ve been to places I never thought I’d see. I never thought I’d have the time or money to do a months-long backpacking trip.

Poland

I have been to popular destinations (Paris, London, Berlin, Barcelona, etc) but also small towns that really hold no attraction other than I’ve made friends that live there. Would you ever think of going to Weimar, Germany or Biel, Switzerland or Żagan, Poland? My guess is ‘no’, because I certainly never did. I’ve been able to meet so many people that I never could have expected. (and no, not just American or Australian backpackers). I’ve had long conversations with Slovenian journalists in a sidewalk cafe, talked politics with a Polish woman over a bus ride from Berlin. Debated grammar with a Norwegian teacher whose English might be better than mine, and had a German guy named Hans offer to give me free drugs.

There is so much you learn living and working in a new country; things you don’t quite get while studying abroad. When you live and work on a more permanent basis, you have to find friends, deal with neighbours, landlords, immigration officials, old ladies who either really nice or really mean (there is no in-between in Poland) cashiers who don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, not to mention the dating scene, and there is no counselor or advisor to help you. As frustrating as some of these things might be, they teach you more about a new culture than any vacation or study abroad.

The Guilt of Leaving Home vs. a New Exciting Life?

But while there may be a million little annoying things about moving abroad, by far the hardest thing for me is the guilt I feel. I guilty about leaving my family and friends, watching their lives pass me by on social media. For many immigrants, returning to their homeland is not feasible at all. For those of us who have the privilege of going home at least once a year, we have to decide which events and milestones are the most important. Do I go home for big holidays like Christmas? Or save my visits for important birthdays, weddings, or graduations?

Poland

Then there is the guilt of leaving my community and my country. In our current fraught political situation, I often feel like there is more I could do to help set things in the right direction back home. Who am I to gallivant around Europe, enjoying myself? I could be putting my talents and energies into important causes back home?
Besides these big gaps, I miss the small things: dinners or drinks with friends, weekend barbecues with nieces and nephews as they grow up. Because as much as I love traveling, adventure, and seeing new things every weekend, there’s something to be said for putting down roots. For deepening bonds with people over months, years, decades. I worry that I’m being reckless and selfish. That when or if I do come back, there won’t be a place for me anymore.

So after all that, what’ll it be? Stay or leave? As much as I struggle, I’m still here in Europe and I haven’t given up my dream of living on every continent. Except Antarctica.

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Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at youngandundecidedblog@gmail.com. Can’t wait to share your stories

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Women Who Wander: Arielle shares her story of moving abroad to teach English in Poland. Will she stay put? Go home? She's in no rush to find out.

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17 thoughts on “Women Who Wander: What it’s Really Like to Move Abroad”

  1. I agree completely with all of this ! I quit my career to take a year ‘break’ while I tried to train myself to go a new direction in my career. While I could justify a year, I’ve now been away from my career (and abroad) for almost three years. In your mid 30s this is even more difficult, hard to explain, and scary (you’r spending everything you’ve spent 10-15 years saving and building up and starting over on the same level as 22 years olds just graduating college because we’re all in the same situation (pay-salary wise) abroad outside our homes and without our careers or connections and in a country that doesn’t speak our language and where we are not the most valuable commodity.

    If you stay too long you can’t afford to go home (in the beginning as you use savings) but then you have to stay long enough to save enough to ever be able to go back home (after you’ve already stayed past the 1st year and don’t have enough start up money to make it back in the U.S while you interview and find that next career position but pay rent while doing so!). Savings are much easier to put aside with larger American salaries (when you are a professional with a salary and not a young minimum wage worker) so as a not 20 something mid-career professional from CA for me these considerations are much different but I still experience many of the same guilts (not being there for family, losing friends and a place in a community by being absent so long, not ever being able to own a home because I spent my highest income potential years building a small remote business that barely pays the bills, etc. and then having to work until I’m 75 to make up for it…
    But for me love made the risk a requirement. So I’m here and must get as much enjoyment out of it as possible!

  2. Wow, you’re so brave! I’ve always wanted to live in European cities such as Paris and Milan, but the idea has always been just a dream. How do you even get around sorting out the VISAs and paperwork? That’s always been the biggest barrier in my mind I think.

  3. This was a very fun article to read. Going abroad is a tough decision but pays off in the end. When i decided to move to Suisse romande (from Germany) I never could have imagined calling it “home” after such a short time.
    Your backpacking through Europe seems amazing , moreover you visited Biel/Bienne which is just next doors. 😀

    Greetings
    Amelie

  4. I think the guilt of leaving behind family and friends would also be the main reason why I probably wouldn’t do it. Even now I live in the same country as my family and I’m still 4 hours away! I’ve a lot of respect though for people who manage to do it. People often shaping moving across the world as glamorous but there are definite realities to it too.

  5. I love seeing blog posts like this that share stories of inspiring travelers. It’s nice to know that there are other female solo travelers taking risks in exchange for seeing something beautiful in the world.

  6. Thanks for being so open about the realities of living abroad, as these are so often glossed over, leaving those who haven’t lived abroad with an overly optimistic vision of what living abroad is really like. I’ve lived abroad twice (each time in a different region in France), and learnt a lot from both experiences – about myself and other cultures and people. During my recent stint abroad, it was those little things that got to me, like not having the same network of friends I could make last minute plans for coffee with. Ultimately though, the trigger for me to return home was simply that I didn’t want to pursue a full-on career in ELT, and the opportunities I was interested in were back in the UK.

  7. It’s great getting to know other travel bloggers through these series. Going from California to Poland is a huge move. I can’t image how hard it was for Arielle to learn Polish. If you’re enjoying yourself, Definitely stay, you’re only young once.

  8. I’ve been researching moving abroad recently, and I’ve had so many of these feelings and fears already and nothing is set in stone yet! I live in the US and had been looking into Australia, and my immediate & first concern was “What will I do when I get back?” but the thought of getting to explore that whole country (okay maybe not in it’s entirety,) and cities is so exciting! Really leaves me with conflicted thoughts lol

  9. Wow, California to Poland is a bold move! I’m not sure I could quite seek the courage to do that myself but it’s inspiring to hear from those that do. Would you believe my brother is currently in Poland on a month’s trial… he’s also thinking of moving there. Clearly Poland has something about it!! 😉

  10. I love hearing other people’s perspectives on what it was like to move abroad – I made the leap from Canada to Italy five years ago, and as my own life here unfolds it’s always fascinating to compare emotions and experiences with others who’ve made similar choices. That guilt about missing holidays and events back where you grew up is definitely a common thread! Looking forward to hearing more “moving abroad” experiences!

  11. I’ve gone through a lot of similar situations since moving abroad. I definitely feel my privilege in being able to up and travel. I have a strong passport, worldwide skills, and a supportive family who will be there if things turn bad.
    I also agree one of the best things about moving abroad is getting to meet new people with new perspectives. Travel broadens the mind, absolutely.

  12. Thats a very insightful read! Totally agree with you on the ‘meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds’ part. Aside from the places and beaut of nature, probably the most rewarding experience is connecting with strangers from all over!

  13. Loved this post and I can relate in many ways. I think moving abroad can be enriching in so many ways and obviously there are good reasons why people choose to do so. But it is also really difficult and there’s no preparatory course beforehand letting you know of all the little yet significant ways the move will be difficult. Great post and one that I think many people should read.

  14. Leaving a settled life at home for living abroad is indeed a big leap of faith. But once you have done it, it is indeed a transformative experience. As you mention you get the opportunity to interact with so many people and your perspective about the world changes. I love how you connect with the local people in the smaller towns and villages. That is the real spirit of travel.

  15. The best benefit of leaving in Europe is that traveling to other countries is darn easy and cheap. I used to live in Prague for four years and know how all of this feels like. Have experienced everything myself

  16. This is a great blog entry – I really enjoyed it! I lived abroad for 2 years in australia and so I can sympathise with many of the difficulties and I think fondly of all the happy memories! I know the guilt, in fact its what stops me doing it again. If I had £1 for everytime my mum says ‘if you ever had children abroad id be so sad’ Id be a rich lady! But I now have the best of both worlds. Roots back in the uk, even my own home, but im self employed and can be flexible and travel often! I considered a ‘proper’ job rather than self employment recently and then realised I was mad to even think it! I hope you succeed with your plan of living in every continent – I can certainlu recommend australia! Stay in byron bay if you can! Its amazing.

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