It often happens that friends of mine or people I know, have either a romanticized or a pessimistic view of what it’s like to live abroad. I’m here to tell you a little bit about my story and how I see living abroad for us Romanians.
Living abroad is not like leaving home for the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory where there is an endless supply of good job opportunities and plenty excuses to pardon your f**k-ups. But it’s neither a grueling place where everybody is out to get you and you can’t find any friends. In my opinion, living abroad means exercising your willpower in moderation. What do I mean by that? Moderation and acceptance in viewing other cultures, in showing off your traditions and adopting others, moderation in judging other people and acceptance of that which you can’t change.
I left home when I was 19. I first moved to Mannheim to pursue my parents’ wishes to study abroad although I was torn between my life at home and the one they were offering me. I wanted to study Economics and the prospects were somehow bleak in Timisoara. I didn’t like it much, I think I was too young and impressionable, always feeling like I was missing something by not being home. So my first year at Uni was a disaster and I stopped going after the first semester. And what a big disappointment I was to my parents. The good student was not that good anymore.
When the big question came of whether I would return home or just change cities, I had the idea to switch to Vienna. And although this city sometimes gets on my last nerve, it’s the city where I grew up, evolved as a human being, had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows…and you know what, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
It’s not easy being an only child and leaving home at 19 by yourself. I always had financial support from my parents (well up until I was 25) and still today, after all these years, I text my mom every time I get home after 12 at night and we talk every day. But I’ve learned how to look for a job, I’ve learned how sucky Uni is here and how difficult but oh so satisfying it is to get your diploma, I’ve learned how to work with people from different backgrounds, where to go out, whom to date and how to live to be happy.
I am going to make this article a 2-parter, the first one being about thought processes and the second one about practical TIPS and TRICKS to help you transition. Which basically means, today I will be sensible and mushy and next week I’m going to hit you with hard facts.
- Integration is key. Don’t just hang with your people, try and meet new cultures. If you think that Germans/Austrians are too cold, ok. You can still befriend Serbians, Turks and other southern people. The more cultures you get to know, the more you learn to be tolerant and it enriches your life quality.
- Other people’s religion should not influence your opinion of them. If you befriend other nationalities and they are nothing but kind to you, leave your prejudice aside and be kind in return. What does it matter if the person next to you has different beliefs? I am not a religious person but I respect people around me if they don’t try to push their ideology on me. I have worked with so many Bosnians, Albanians, Turks and I respect their eating habits for example, as long as they respect mine. They are such kind people, you just need to leave your comfort zone and explore.
- Austrians are not beer drinking buffoons. I mean, they drink beer but don’t we all? Believe me, each country has some black sheep, it’s inevitable. But Austrians have learned our customs and abide by them. I was so impressed to see them changing their ways to accommodate us. It depends on the upbringing and education. They are not extremist haters, they are nice people.
- We need to assimilate too. It’s easy to ask them to accept us the way we are. But it’s a give and take. Living abroad for some years, you change. You assimilate customs and it’s normal to do so. I for one am so used to the benefits of living here, I get annoyed when I go home and have to stand in line for hours to get the simple things done. I have learned to cherish quiet moments more and more since living here, I have learned to shop as much as I need for 2,3 days because supermarkets are always available and it’s not ok to throw away food, I have learned to do something good for the soul on a Sunday because shops are closed so you need to find an alternative to walking through the Mall, I have learned to eat different kinds of food and love them, I have learned to love Sushi, Indian food, Pho, different spices and Turkish sarmale. Oh and the Serbian meat…mm mm mm.
- Keep an open mind when dating. You think you can only date your people? Think again. You can meet somebody from a totally different culture with the same values and upbringing as you. And you can fit together perfectly even if you come from different cultures. After only dating Romanians for so long, I put myself out there, tried out different avenues and am happy to say I am now annoying my very Austrian boyfriend on a daily basis:)
- Home is where the heart is. Home will always have a place in your heart. But you can make the city you are in your home. Timisoara is where I grew up, my childhood life where some of my friends still live. And I will cherish it forever. But Vienna has my heart. This is my home now, partly because I became an adult here, on my own, and partly because my life is here now. Don’t get stuck on what is at home, live in the moment. Even if you plan on moving back there in a few years, don’t put your life on hold for what is to come, the way I did my first few years here. You never know what life will bring you so build friendships here, create memories and live!
- The health system here will change your life. You see, it’s not that you make 4 times the money here, although it is possible, but you can have a decent living with what you earn. You get 14 salaries in Austria. So your vacations are covered. Imagine, the company pays your insurance and you can actually go to the doctor and stay healthy without having to have thousands of Euros in the bank. Or you can get a private health insurance (which you can actually afford here) and then you’re totally covered. It puts life into perspective somehow.
- You get unemployment money. Yes, if you lose your job, you still get money. They sustain you in searching for a job and help you out for 6 months. And it’s a psychological thing that helps you motivate yourself to go after your dreams. Sometimes you get stuck in a job but are afraid to leave for fear of not finding anything else. This gives you a certain confidence.
- Nepotism is not as bad here. Of course connections are very important but they don’t mean everything. They make life easier but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a decent job without them. And let’s face it Romania for example is known for the extreme nepotism. So they are much more into equality here.
- But life goes on back home without you. The joy you feel when going home? Priceless. I miss my parents and my friends all the time. So when we are together, that is pure joy. Don’t forget, they are always a flight away. My parents are thinking about transitioning to Austria to be here with me and that makes me soo happy. Until then, a piece of my heart is always with them.
Of course leaving home is a challenge, especially if you have a decent life there. It was the same for me. I thank my parents every day for sending me away, the economic situation in Romania is so bad at the moment, I would have left anyway. I see people who transition just now and it’s not easy for them. Ultimately, it’s up to you. I think that for families, bringing up children here is better. While you might lack the help of your parents, the educational system is far beyond ours and the money you “spend” on your child goes a much longer way than back home. And you can still instill traditions and core values at home, regardless of what the kids see at school. I will never say that staying home is bad, no, ultimately, each one of us decides for himself. And my friends at home have great lives and beautiful children who are growing up in a healthy environment. I can’t say I’m for or against leaving, it depends on each person. I for one want to give some perspective to those who want to leave but think it’s impossible.
So next week, I will give you some real facts, tips to get you started and make it easier for you. Kisses my darlings.