The First Moments after Moving to a New Country

When I first left home and moved to Thailand two years ago I wasn’t really stressed, anxious or worried before I left. People would ask me if I was scared to go, and I wasn’t at all. I wasn’t really excited either, or didn’t feel as enthusiastic about it as I thought I should. Instead I felt…nothing.

Thai Rooftops
A little bit different than home…

Here was this life-altering change coming up – moving to a new country! – and instead of flying through a range of emotions, which is what I expected, I just felt kind of detached from the whole thing. Like during graduation or (I suspect) what you may actually feel like on your wedding day – when the big event that you’ve been waiting, planning and preparing for actually arrives, it seems a little too surreal to elicit strong emotions.

So when the date came I calmly got on the plane, calmly made the 24+ hour journey around the world, calmly spent the night in the Bangkok airport before catching my early morning flight to Chiang Mai, calmly got a taxi to take me to my hotel room where I would live for the next month while taking my TEFL training course (which started a day later), calmly got into my hotel room, shut the door and just bawled. I completely lost it and immediately started trying to call people back home, look through the few photos I had brought and stay frozen to the bed crying. I managed to make it outside for about 15 minutes to buy some food and then headed straight back to the hotel and hid in my room into the next morning.

After that I was completely fine.

The next month was spent in class during the day and walking around in the evenings trying to figure out where the hell I was and how everything fit together. Everything was different and interesting and fun. I loved my course, reveled in being able to eat outside all the time and ride around on the back of a motorbike exploring the city. After several years of commuting hours each day and being tied to my computer, I was desperate for something different and soaked up the change of scenery and pace. On the other hand, I also felt like I was falling apart since I was constantly hot and sweaty away from my Pacific Northwest climate, battling bug bites, mysterious heat rashes and tummy troubles.

The first moments after moving to a new place are the toughest, when everything is new.

It’s not ‘oh-my-gosh-this-is-so-much-fun’ all the time – you’re not on vacation, unlike what many people back at home might envision. I’ve never traveled to a new place to visit and immediately locked myself in the hotel room because I was so overwhelmed… It’s actually constantly overwhelming and frustrating as you’re continually trying to figure out the simplest things that you already knew and took for granted at home.

Those first moments (days, weeks, months) are also the most fascinating and eye opening.

Everyday is filled with little (and some times major) triumphs and setbacks. You’ll feel accomplished when you set out to find bed sheets and go back home, two hours later, successful. What a productive day! You can take care of yourself in a foreign country where you have no idea what’s going on!

That’s an incredible feeling.

It also forces you to be living in the present and not going about your day to day life on auto pilot. So while it’s not easy, it’s often worth it. And those initial feelings of overwhelm, being lost and unsure of where you are or what you’re doing will quickly shift into a routine with you even realizing it. Once you make those first connections, observations and explorations, you’ll never get back that sense of unknown and discovery. Enjoy it. Relish it, even though it’s difficult.

Have you moved to a new country before? What was it like?

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15 Comments

  • Posted September 16, 2013
    by JEssica

    I felt like I had to just keep moving forward, taking small steps when we first left Canada. In a lot of ways, I didn’t feel ready – but I don’t think I ever could have. I just made myself go to the airport, and get on the plane, and somehow, almost involuntarily, I got there.

    It’s so true that those first few weeks are the most difficult, but also the most thrilling. It gets easier once you start to figure out how to do the everyday stuff, but a little bit of the mysteriousness of the new country is gone too.

    • Posted September 16, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      It’s all about the small steps! It seem like everything takes more time, energy and patience…

  • Posted September 16, 2013
    by makis giokas

    This was very interesting to read. I’m actually gonna be moving next month and I feel like i can relate perfectly. Thanks for this post Alana. You’re right about the small steps!

    • Posted September 16, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      You can’t think too big or about everything all at once because then you’ll just go crazy – good luck!

  • Posted September 17, 2013
    by Anna @ eatseedoblog

    I think it’s hard whether you go just over the channel (like me) or you go to the other side of the world to somewhere like Thailand. It’s true about taking it one step at a time but I think the hardest is when you come out of that oh-my-gosh-exciting-new-place and start settling in and then you start missing your friends and start feeling like you should really be getting used to it by now… we’ve been in the South of France two months now and it’s starting to get a bit harder now when I guess we’re over the honeymoon period with our new country. Did you find that?

    • Posted September 17, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      It actually took a really long time for my ‘honeymoon’ period to end…but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t annoyed with things. Now, even after 2 years, I still don’t have the social group or network here that I do in Seattle. It’s just different and other things end up filling those holes, like being able to visit new places or making new connections about the culture.

      That said, a slump after your initial move and settling in seems totally understandable – it’s probably the first time you’ve been able to take breath for months and after all the planning and packing and moving and adjusting to the new place it might feel like, ‘Well, now what…?’. I bet you come out of it pretty soon!

  • Posted September 26, 2013
    by michelle

    I find the first few weeks in a new place are the most salient in my memory; like, i remember thailand the way i knew it in those first few weeks differently than the thailand i came to know in the following eleven months. once the adrenaline wears off, you become more comfortable (good) but can also become less observant and appreciative (bad?)

  • Posted September 26, 2013
    by michelle

    Haha alana, our thumbnail photos are like mirror images of each other

  • Posted November 10, 2013
    by Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

    Great post. Having relocated to CHina this past July, I empathize so hardcore with the process you’ve described above. even now, having been here almost four months, I still experience those moments of serious pride at having accomplished the tiniest things–like paying my electric bill with no knowledge of the language, or of finally being able to order a single dish at a restaurant.

    I think what was most surprising about the move was that it *hasn’t* been an endless instagram-worthy adventure. Those moments happen, sure, but the overwhelm, the amount of work involved, the emotional ups and downs, etc. have been much bigger factors than I anticipated. Super rewarding, for sure, but like you said, definitely not just a vacation!

    • Posted November 12, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      It’s HUGE to accomplish those little everyday things!

  • Posted November 21, 2013
    by Rae

    i loved reading this post as I had A really similar experience when I moved abroad to study from the UK TO THE uS. I was absolutely fine for the journey from London to Chicago, managed the 2 hours on a bus and a trip to walmart for my bedding, slept well, then woke up the next morning and just burst into tears for about 10-15 minutes! I never felt more homesick than that moment and the rest of the year was incredible but that feeling of “what on earth am I doing here?” Was just awful.

    • Posted November 21, 2013
      by Alana Morgan

      And then were you fine after? I had that one breakdown, but that was it. Smooth sailing after that

  • Posted September 9, 2016
    by Kathy Nunn

    Moving to a new country can be hard… especially at first. It does take a while to adapt, I guess I was lucky as I moved from the UK to Australia, the language wasn’t an issue. It did take me a while to get used to the climate though even though I had visited a few times on holiday, it’s not the same! Definitely make sure to visit the place you are moving to at different times of the year so you can get a real feel for the weather and what goes on in the seasons, how busy places are etc. Don’t get down if you cannot adapt fast, these things take time, it is normal to feel nervous and home sick.

  • Posted July 1, 2018
    by Alexandria

    Hi there! Love the blog! Quick question that hasn’t been very clear for me: when you first arrived to start your TEFL course, what type of visa did you arrive on? Was it a regular Tourist Visa?

    • Posted July 12, 2018
      by Alana Morgan

      Hi Alexandria – I came in on a non-immigrant B visa that was organized through the TEFL school as I was going to start teaching right after I finished the course. That was over 7 years ago now and the visa situation has definitely changed and gotten stricter for everyone so I’m not sure what’s available. It would be best to talk to the programs you’re interested in and see what they offer.

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