6 Tips for Starting From Scratch Abroad

April 22, 2016
6 Tips for Starting From Scratch Abroad

Completely starting over can be terrifying. It can be as though someone hands you a box full of crisp chalk and a pristine, black chalkboard. However many times, when faced with something so perfectly empty, it’s hard to make that first mark. Where do you even begin?

Both of my previous ‘big time’ moves have been within a small bubble of protection. In each circumstance there were like-minded people, schedules and expectations waiting for me as I stepped off the plane. Although I have the companionship of my boyfriend, Dalton, here in Scotland (for which I’m truly grateful), it’s the first time I have moved without any promises made on the other end.

Upon arrival I was a blur of motion, checking off all the boring, yet essential requirements of moving to the United Kingdom. However, as my checklist dwindled I began to realize the truly daunting task of creating a community and life filled with purpose from scratch. I know I will continue to learn from this process the longer I am in Aberdeen, but for now here are six tips that I have found make a big difference when starting over abroad.

1. Just make a decision

With a completely blank slate it’s incredibly easy to overanalyze every opportunity, imagine your life in a million different scenarios and plan for things that don’t yet exist. Quit worrying about the potential outcome of every situation and focus on what’s actually happening.

Since arriving, Dalton and I have known he gets a week off from school in April. For the longest time, I was hesitant to commit to any travel plans, just in case one of my interviews was successful. Eventually it came down to crunch time and we had to make a decision. Even though I was still going through the interview process, we finally decided to plan what we could control and enjoy the flexibility of our current circumstances.

Currently, we are on a fabulous trip in Southern England and I found out I am not supposed to hear back from the job until next week! I would have been furious with myself if I had stayed home in fear of ‘what might happen.’ It might feel difficult, but it’s quite simple – just make decisions with your current accessible opportunities.

2. Pick up a hobby you find personally fulfilling

Odds are you aren’t going to land your dream job a week (or even a couple of months) after you arrive. As much as you can spend every day handing out resumes, checking job sites and sending in applications, eventually you need to spend your time doing something else. And I know I feel like a worthless piece of crap if I am binge-watching The Big Bang Theory when Dalton comes home from a full day at the university… Hence why it is crucial to find something (completely within your control) to put your time towards that is fulfilling and rewarding.

It can be photography, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, etc. For me, it’s blogging. I can set personal deadlines, create written memories of my experiences, track statistics and feel a sense of worth and success. I still occasionally get frustrated and lack the satisfaction of getting paid to do a kick-ass job. However it keeps me sane and helps me feel like I’m not standing still.

3. Force yourself to meet people

Thanks to websites like Couchsurfing and MeetUp, I doubt it has ever been easier to find groups of people who share your interests and meet regularly. Creating a profile, joining the group and messaging people is easy, however it always seems that putting on my coat and leaving the house to go is pure torture. Apparently dragging myself to go meet a bunch of strangers in what I’m sure will turn into a painfully awkward evening takes about all of my will power. As a fairly outgoing individual I can’t fathom how hard it must be for introverts!

But bottom line – do it. Join a recreational sports team, attend a MeetUp; put yourself in any situation where you can meet people because making friends is one of the most important factors to feeling like you are putting down some roots. Just remember that 1. Everyone feels just about as awkward as you do and 2. People will be fascinated because you’re interesting and foreign (even though you may not feel like it).

4. Pretend to be a local (until you are one)

Hands down, one of my all-time favorite moments was when I was walking home and the scary Armenian kebab restaurant owner who barely speaks English waved to me as I passed by his shop. My heart filled up and I couldn’t wipe the giddy smile off my face all evening. I had reached some tiny level of ‘localness’! Find a couple of pubs/cafes/restaurants you like, visit them often and engage the staff in small talk. Trust me, one of the best ways to feel like a part of your new community is when the locals recognize you.

5. Prepare for the occasional breakdown

It’s impossible to move somewhere far away from all you know and not have at least a couple of snot-nosed, ugly-cry breakdowns. The further you push your comfort zone and break that fragile bubble of security, the more violent they will be. However, this is just a fact of life (I personally had breakdowns even when living in my previous comfortably boring life). As poetic and romanticized ‘starting from scratch in a foreign land’ may sound, at some point (or many points), you will be boohooing for your mom and will give anything to eat pizza and wings while watching Friends with your girls.

Let it out, but remember that the homesick, clench in your gut will pass. The challenges and sorrows that accompany this life choice are hard, but the rewards and experiences make it more than worth it in the end.

6. Remember the big picture

“My sister is a barista at this little café on a cobbled street in Scotland. She lives with her boyfriend in this beautiful flat in a granite building downtown next to the harbor. Last weekend, they visited a castle.” According to my sister this statement is always followed by the collection of jealous ‘oohs’ and mutterings of ‘lucky.’ And damn right, I am lucky! This opportunity to be able to live in a new place and experience a different culture is not something that is available to everyone. Obviously the reality of any situation can never meet our romanticized expectations, but sometimes thinking about my life like a novel helps me to remember and appreciate the beauty of my current adventure.

Thinking back to my beautiful, untouched chalkboard and that flicker of thrill and unrestricted adventure makes itself known again. Starting from scratch isn’t easy – but if it was, then it might not be worth doing.


Photo by Unsplash. 

About Sydney Paulsen

Obsessed with coffee, craft beer and fitness, Sydney is a Colorado native who tries to fully experience and cherish each of life moment’s, big and small. After creating homes in Oregon and Buenos Aires, Argentina, the location of her current adventure is in Scotland’s Granite City – Aberdeen. Through writing and photography Sydney loves sharing advice and memories on SiempreSydney and as a field blogger for Verge Magazine.

7 thoughts on “6 Tips for Starting From Scratch Abroad

  1. Allison Yates
    April 26, 2016

    Thanks so much for this. I’m currently in my third “start over,” but like you said, it’s so different when its COMPLETELY from scratch. I really appreciate your advice.

    • Sydney Paulsen
      April 27, 2016

      So happy that you can relate! It seems like no matter how many times you start over there are always new challenges and lessons. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  2. April 23, 2016

    It’s vital to give yourself permission to breakdown regularly. Being an expat is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it! Great advice.

    • Sydney Paulsen
      April 23, 2016

      Thanks for reading Rachael, nice to know that I’m not the only one with regular breakdowns 🙂 So great to know that there is a community of expats out here that can completely relate!

  3. April 22, 2016

    “Creating a profile, joining the group and messaging people is easy, however it always seems that putting on my coat and leaving the house to go is pure torture.” Yes. As an introvert, yes. Thanks for the encouragement :)!!!


    • Sydney Paulsen
      April 23, 2016

      I’m so happy I have encouraged you, because getting out the door in those situations requires so much encouragement! Why is it so hard?! Haha
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I started browsing your site and before I knew it, far to much time had passed – I’m excited to do some more reading!!

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