As you may have seen in my ‘About Me’ section I emigrated to South Africa in September 2016. I know that others out there have also emigrated or are maybe thinking of emigrating so I wanted to tell you a little about my experience.
I grew up in a small town in the North of Ireland where everyone knows everyone’s business and almost every day involves the same mundane routine. Growing up I never felt like I belonged there, I always felt like I wanted to live somewhere else & get away from those small town opinions & routines. Then in 2015 I met the person who was about to change my life forever. By complete chance I met an incredibly handsome & charming South African man who was working in Ireland for 6 months. After a whirlwind romance he had to travel back to South Africa, much to my heartache & dismay.
Then several months later I decided it was time to travel to South Africa to visit him where I completely fell in love with its beauty. From that very first trip I knew I was going to do everything in my power to move out there. On my arrival home from that first trip I sat my parents down & I told them that I was in love with a South African man (who by this stage was my boyfriend) & that I was going to move there. I know that I broke their hearts right in that moment.
Fast forward 6 months later & my visa finally arrived in the post accompanied with a lot of relief. At this point I would like to say that visa applications are not easy. They require so many checks & so much documentation & it is both a stressful & exhausting process which is why I was so relieved to have it in my hand. 1 week after my visa arrived my bags were packed & I was ready to travel to the airport. But first I had to tackle the goodbyes – out of the whole moving process, that was the hardest part. No matter how old you are & how mature you believe you are, saying goodbyes are never easy. They are especially hard when you say goodbye your parents – the two people who raised you with all the love in the world & whose life revolves around their children.
After the emotional hurdle that were the goodbyes & after the long journey from Ireland to South Africa – I had arrived & I was ready to start my new life. My transition process wasn’t as difficult as the transition that others may have faced as my boyfriend is here which meant I was never alone & he has been an amazing support through this whole process. When you move to a country far away from your own it is so important who you choose to surround yourself with. Thankfully I had my boyfriend, his family & his friends who I get along with so well & every single one of them welcomed me into their lives with open arms. I was so lucky in that aspect!
Moving out here has changed my perception of the world. Coming from a small town where people are happy to live ordinary lives to then moving to a place where people strive to succeed & achieve something in their life makes you think about what you want from your own life. This shift in thinking led me to start my own business – something which I never thought I would do at the age of 24. Starting a business in a foreign country while you’re still learning about the culture & market isn’t easy but boy is it exciting.
One of the biggest hurdles for me has been the massive cultural change. The Irish culture & the South African culture are incredibly different. South Africa has many different cultures & even has 11 official languages. For a small town Irish girl that is a lot to get used to! But once I had gotten used to, I learned to love how culturally diverse this country is, it’s what makes South Africa a beautiful & unique country. When you move to another country it is essential that you are open to the culture & adapting to it. After all, you are the foreigner in this situation & you are moving to their country so you must be willing to accept & take part in it.
One other big hurdle I have had to face is being without my family & my close friends. Most of the time I am able to go about my day-to-day life without pining for home, but other times emotion can hit you square in the face & suddenly I feel incredibly homesick. I find it difficult no longer have ‘girl time’ over wine with my best friends or when I miss my family that I can’t just call round for a cup of tea & a chat. But when you emigrate these are the things that you must accept. I have found that keeping in contact with my family & friends enough but not too much is the best way to handle it.
So would I recommend emigrating? Absolutely yes. We as humans are not caged birds but we’re made to fly. Emigrating & experiencing a new culture shapes you as a person in whole new ways. It teaches you about people & cultures around the world but more importantly it teaches you about yourself. Believe it or not, my relationships and my communication with those I have back home have improved massively. When we are surrounded by the people that we love we somehow take them for granted, but when you are suddenly separated by continents you appreciate & love those people infinity more.
My top tips for emigrating:
- If you don’t know anyone actively go out & try to meet people. Join clubs, groups, go to gym classes – anything that allows you to interact with people!
- Don’t Skype/call/message your family or friends constantly, especially when you are already homesick. It doesn’t help & it doesn’t make you feel better. Instead, put your phone to the side & keep yourself busy – you’ll soon stop thinking about them so much.
- Don’t get frustrated when people don’t understand you. I know that I have quite a strong accent & sometimes people find it difficult to understand me. Just be patient.
- Learn all the emergency numbers in your first month there – you never know when you’ll need it.
- Keep a travel journal – it’s a good way to get all of your emotions, thoughts & feelings out & it’s also a wonderful keepsake that you can read decades from now.
- Learn the culture! This is one of the most important things you can do. You must know what is acceptable & what is unacceptable in the new country you are in. You don’t want to upset or offend anyone!