9 reasons not to go abroad – title

Nine reasons for NOT going abroad – and how to handle them!

There are many good reasons for going abroad. However, there are also a couple of unpleasant side effects of mobility that nobody dares to talk about.

Is it really necessary to work abroad as a scientist?

Young scientists often get the advice that they *must* work abroad for several years to pursue a career in science. There are indeed good arguments for working abroad.

However, the following unpleasant side-effects of mobility must be carefully considered when planning to work abroad.

1. You will have to build a new life from scratch

Every time you go to another country, you have to start from scratch to build your life – this is a fact that is best to simply accept! 

You must learn all the tips and tricks to make life easier and save money. 

You will also have to learn where to find information and help. The health system will be different. The police will have a different attitude towards you (and as a foreigner, you must be extra careful!).

You will have to learn where the bakery and the supermarket are and where you can buy this little brownish thing you cannot find in your dictionary, which is necessary to switch on the heater. 

The best strategy is to find other foreigners – ideally from your own country and culture – who can help you to survive the first six weeks.

2. Administration works completely different in another country

Files representing administrative challenges when going abroad

Intuitively, most people know more or less how to behave in an administrative context because they have been trained their whole life to handle administration. Unfortunately, many of the rules you have learned do not apply in a different bureaucratic system. 

In addition, administrative language is typically created to be read by algorithms. Thus, your dictionary will not help you.

You should NEVER try alone to figure out how the administration of a foreign country works. You are naturally programmed to fail. Find people in the administration of your new institution, and let them help you!

Quite often, the secretaries of your institution are wizards in handling administration. They know whom to contact and understand bureaucratic procedures better than anybody else. 

Buying a lot of chocolate may help to win their hearts.

3. You lose contact with your family, your friends, and your network

Most people who live abroad for an extended period do experience a decline in their network of friends – even with sufficient social media activities. 

Some people consider being at a safe distance from their parents a plus, others are unhappy. 

If you are not in a lovely tourist spot such as Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London, New York etc., you must have very close friendships to attract visitors.

You must turn into an extrovert and make spontaneous contact with everybody. Learn to connect immediately with anyone and be always nice (even when you feel depressed and lonesome; “fake it until you make it”).

You will soon find yourself becoming immersed in the culture and cheering on the local team as if it were your own…” if you can’t beat them, join them!” 

Make a schedule to stay in contact with your friends and your old social networks – and send your parents a postcard on a regular basis.

4. Your relationship will suffer inevitably 

A heart representing the strain on a relationship when going abroad

Going abroad as a couple

Moving to a foreign country as a couple is stressful for a relationship. The two partners may experience substantial differences in the quality of their work, their supervision, their colleagues and the working environment, and the ease of integration.

In addition, it may be rather challenging to meet new people as a couple because it is psychologically more difficult to start a conversation with a couple. It is also evident that you are not available as a potential erotic partner.

Find other couples (probably foreigners) who are in the same situation. If possible, take your partner to your institution’s social events (barbecuing, Christmas parties, etc.). 

Find or create an “international club” to meet other people in the same situation and organize fun activities to enjoy the beautiful aspects of the country.

Long-distance relationships

Long-distance relationships can become stressful because you can only communicate via email, phone or online, which is much less intimate than being together in the same room. 

In addition, you may feel lonely and get in contact with other attractive persons, which may appear as an exciting alternative to your existing relationship. Actively cultivate your relationship and let your partner feel that he/she still participates somehow in your life.

Make a plan for the next 4-6 months to meet regularly and take beautiful trips together. Alternatively, find a new love.

5. Your children will lose their friends on two occasions

When going abroad with children, they must leave their friends behind and integrate into a new environment. Children adapt quickly to new environments and usually have no problems finding new friends. However, when going abroad for just a few years, they will have to experience this twice.

The advantage is that your children get used to integrating into new social contexts quickly. The disadvantage is that they may develop the feeling of having no roots. 

Let your children participate in activities aimed at getting in contact with other children and connect with other parents to try to organize such events yourself.

6. Your research stay abroad may not contribute to your pension

I tried to get reliable information on whether my different stays abroad contributed to my pension. After several years, I conclude that there are many interesting initiatives to standardize the European system, but there is much conflicting information. 

I still have no idea how to handle this problem.

7. It will cost you a lot of money

A million dollar bill representing the costs of going abroad

You may have to spend a lot of time and money traveling and communicating over long distances. You may have to rent an expensive apartment and spend too much on living costs because you do not know the tips and tricks that save you money.

However, you will get access to better jobs later. Thus, you can interpret this as an investment in a higher market value. Also, in this context, finding other foreigners willing to be your mentor and organizing an “international club” to help spread this kind of information is beneficial.

8. Your self-expression is limited in a foreign language

Most people I know suffer from thinking and expressing themselves in a foreign language. You will never know all the necessary words and sophisticated expressions you have ready spontaneously in your language. 

At the same time, you lose skills in your language because you force yourself into using different grammar, sounds, and expressions.

Some people claim that their faces change when they switch to another language, and speaking too much French or German may lead to muscle pain in unknown mimic muscles.

Learn to switch to the face that supports the local language and reserve some time regularly to get again into contact with your roots and your own language to avoid feeling lost between two cultures – and to avoid being laughed at by your friends, e.g., when you return home from the US with a “Yankee accent” or from France with a French accent.

9. You will have to integrate into a foreign country, but you will stay a foreigner anyway

You have to live in a culture that is not your own, and you will miss your roots – this is inevitable. People will always treat you as a foreigner because you look different, you behave strangely, and you have a funny accent. 

You may experience hidden or open racism, and you will meet extreme nationalists, even in an academic setting.

Quite often, it is easier to meet other foreigners than natives. However, you can sell this in your resume as broadening your network and learning intercultural skills. Even the body language you use naturally may be a disadvantage. For example, the personal distance between persons differs substantially in different countries.

In Germany, the personal distance has to be the length of your arm; thus, you are just able to hit somebody, while Italians find this unpleasant and impolite and tend to come much closer to a person they talk to. Germans may interpret this as an aggressive invasion of their personal space or as sexual contact.

Talk to other foreigners about the unspoken laws and traditions of the new country, and simply enjoy a conversation about these cultural differences over a cup of coffee. You can even use this as an advantage and sell your stupid mistakes and even your psychosis as a charming cultural difference (“You know how Americans/Russians/Germans/Italians are…”).

Acknowledgments

I have used AI systems, including Grammarly, Google Gemini, and ChatGPT, to enhance the English and comprehensiveness of this article. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link. Thus, you support smartsciencecareer at no cost to you!

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8 Comments

  1. Although I agree that there are issues you have to deal with when going abroad, I feel like these are part of the learning process…

    My personal opinion is that, in the end, the pros definitely outweigh the cons!!!

  2. Hi, This one I liked the most, YOU LOSE CONTACT WITH YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS AND YOUR NETWORK.
    Most people who live abroad for a long period of time experience a decline in their network of friends – even with sufficient competence in social media management. If you are not situated in a very attractive touristic spot such as Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London, New York etc, you will have to have very close friendships to attract visitors. However, some people would consider being a safe distance away from their parents a plus side. I have seen many of the people who just go abroad and lose everything This is the worst thing which I have seen in my life.

    1. I find the tone of the article a bit negative and I would rephrase it to “9 REASONS TO CONSIDER NOT TO GO ABROAD”. I find that those conversations take place very often among academics and we all have struggled with most of them. However, we all agree that becoming a modern researcher nowadays require to have a strong international experience. You should think about those things before making any move abroad but if in the long run you want to build a career in a scientific environment, you need to cultivate international experience.

  3. Having lived almost half of my life in a foreign country, I absolutely agree with your advice! The point below really struck a chord with me! I feel exactly the same way and I’m surprised that almost nobody else talks about it.

    “Most people I know suffer from thinking and expressing themselves in a foreign language. You will never know all the necessary words and sophisticated expressions you have ready spontaneously in your own language. At the same time, you lose skills in your own language because you force yourself into using another grammar, sounds and expressions.

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