• Naaif Mohamed

9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to a Foreign Country

Suitcase packed, passport in hand, watching friends and family wave their final teary goodbyes through heavy-duty glass doors. This scene is one that many of us identify with, the overwhelming jitters walking through those sullen grey departure gates, transitioning into a completely different life, a completely different environment, miles away from home. I too felt that same nervousness and excitement when I first moved to Malaysia two years ago. Finally, I remember thinking. Finally, I could live life by my own rules. Finally, I was free.

What they don’t tell you though, is that with that much awaited freedom, comes its underlying, equally hefty antagonist – responsibility. At times, I wish I had someone tell me what to expect before I moved, just to make the process a little bit easier.

And so, I’ve written up this list, part letter to my younger self, part guide for future settlers abroad, to offer some insight based on my experience, as a quirky brown kid in a foreign land.

1. You really don’t need as much stuff as you may think. That not-so-sentimental photo album from that birthday five years ago, and those Converse sneakers you haven’t worn since the start of the current millennium? Leave them behind. They’re never going to see the light of day, let alone be moderately used at any point in time once you’re there. Take only what’s necessary, and trim off all the excess.

2. You’re going to have to actively put in effort to make friends. For introverts who hardly ever initiate any conversation whatsoever, this is definitely going to catapult you out of your comfort zone. It might take some time to find someone you truly connect with, but keep an open mind, always. Try to talk to people from other nationalities, engage with those who might not have the same beliefs as you. Our world is a melting pot of cultural diversity, and there is so much to learn from everyone you meet.

3. You will be mistaken as Indian. A lot. I mean, A LOT. After you muster up the courage to interact with another human being that’s not Maldivian, some of your first meetings will go a little something like this: “Oh hey, you’ve got brown skin! You must be India—wait. What? What do you mean you’re not Indian? Where are you from? Maldives? Where’s that? Is it a part of India? Oh, so it’s close to India? That means you’re Indian right?” Spoiler alert: no, it does not.

4. You will be reminded of how lucky you are, more times than you care to count. If somehow you manage to get past the first stage of the conversation without too much confusion, and the other person realizes you’re not actually Indian, you will most likely then hear the phrase, “Wow! Your country is so beautiful! You live on a beach?! So lucky!” If only that were true. Your blessings by birth right are reaffirmed once again when you see dhathuru snaps from your friends, of coconut palms and turquoise waters, while you’re sitting at the train station, shivering in the rain. The FOMO is real.

5. Be prepared to do some hardcore adulting.

Whether you’re well-versed in the area of domestic drudgery, or you’ve never touched a steam iron in your life, you’re going to have to learn how to take care of yourself. This means doing your own grocery shopping, washing your own clothes, and yes, making your own doctors’ appointments. There will be sweat, tears and blood. You will make it through.

6. Money management is hard, man. If you’re anything like me, you will most likely spend your entire month’s budget on a single spontaneous weekend, and yet miraculously survive the next few weeks on a strict diet of nothing but instant noodles. Oh, and there’s rent. And bills. So many bills. You won’t even know what you’re paying for at one point.

7. Food cravings will creep up on you with no prior warning. There will come a time when you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, in cold sweat and delirium, having seen multiple dreams back-to-back of hot disku and theluli rihaakuru. Do not be alarmed. This is completely normal. Just stock up on your snack supply better next time to avoid any future withdrawal symptoms.

8. You will appreciate everything so much more on visits back home.

All those home-cooked meals and freshly laundered sheets you took for granted before you moved will now become the highlight of your holiday. You’ll begin to see beauty in the little things. Travel around a lot, go visit an island you’ve never been. Eat to your heart’s content. Hug your mom. Thank her for the food and tell her you love her. A kind gesture, until next time.

9. This is going to be one of the best adventures of your life.

If you think you’re fully prepared for what’s about to come, you’re not. And that’s okay. You’ll face situations you never thought you had to, you’ll hang out with people you never thought you would, you’ll struggle, you’ll freak out, you’ll fall sick, and you’ll feel better. It’s all a learning process, and mistakes are an inevitable part of it, so don’t fret if you slip up along the way. And the most important thing to remember, even if you forget everything else? Have as much fun you possibly can.


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