Living Abroad for Study and Work – the difference?

The first time I live by myself abroad was in 2015, when I had my exchange semester in France. My university offered the chance to study in one of their partner universities, and I jumped at the chance because I have always wanted to study in Europe. I know I planned on taking my master’s degree (still thinking about it, fingers crossed! – even though I am still very much enjoying work right now) abroad as well, but we never know what will happen in the future so, when the opportunity arises, I took it. It was the best decision; a semester I will never forget which left me with so many good memories, new personal skills (yep, just learned cooking-cleaning-washing when I was there), better English conversational skill, and friends that I know would last a lifetime (we have a Whatsapp group and we still chat sometimes to tell each other about our current condition!).


And now, here I am. On my second time to live abroad already by the time I’m 23 years old, working in Philippines. Wow. Allah do have a way to show you that sometimes life doesn’t make sense until it starts unraveling itself, don’t you think so?


It has been a mixed feeling on my first month, so many things I need to learn and catch up in the office, so many things to manage to finish the move, but so far, I know I’m content. Life has been a blessing.


Though I have  the previous experience of living abroad before, I have just realized that living abroad for work and study are actually different, in some aspects.  Apart from cultural and people differences which is clearly apparent (though I find the hospitality of Filipinos as very similar Indonesian, and that’s really comforting). For people who has lived abroad for study, returned to their home country, and will go abroad again for work (especially in a different country from where he/she has studied), these are some things I have experienced and might be of use to note:


1. Friends

In university, usually, everyone is new to their surroundings and one of their goal would be to make new friends as soon as possible. That is how I bonded with my friends when I was in Europe. However, when we moved country for work, there would be a high chance that we are the only new person in the room without relatives in the country. Other people, especially natives, would have their own family, friends, and agenda. I am not saying that it would be hard to befriend them, as I naturally get closer to my colleagues through work. However, weekends and off-work times would be a bit different. As people have their own friends and family already outside of work, there would be not as many people who I can befriend and play with outside of working hours who comes from work environment (Though  it would be a different matter if the other person is also a single expatriate).


2. Language

Everyone is expected to use English (or the native language of the country) in the class in uni, and we are usually prepared for that particular language before we started studying at that country. Furthermore, people usually converse in English as everyone comes from different countries. At least, this is from my experience. I was attending an Erasmus exchange program, so at that particular semester all my classes are filled with people from so many different countries, not just French people.

At work though, especially because I move to a country with a language other than English as their native tongue, I find myself get left behind in conversation and or meetings because people will naturally start speaking in their language, even when they start in English. Sometimes, I do ask people to speak in English if  there are some parts I think I am heavily involved on, but it would slow down the conversation. I am learning to observe my surrounding in meetings and discussion better now to let people speak in their language, but politely interrupt when I think it is necessary for me to do so. Understanding the context of the discussion is crucial in this kind of situation!


3. Moving Preparations

Essentially, university and work are two different things. This also affects the load of things I have to do when I moved. Given, when I moved country as part of my work stint so many things got easier because the company helped me with almost everything, especially my accommodation and visa, two of the things I deemed as the “chaotic duo” of moving abroad. When I moved to France for the exchange semester, I have to take care of these two all by myself. Still remembered those weeks of collecting documents and looking at apartments with two tabs on my webpage – one for the apartment rental site, and another tab for google translate as all the websites are in French (that time, my French was a beginner level at best). Pro-tip for you who’s going to move, prepare your accommodation as soon as possible, as you will have more options available compared to booking late at the time when every student will be coming to the city, and as this will affect how fast you can get your visa, before you can heave a long sigh of relief that your moving plans will not fail.


4. Cost of Living

This feels especially different from me because now here in Philippines, I earn money for work compared to when I was an exchange semester student, when I still rely on my parents to send me money for my living allowances. Living alone as a student do make me more frugal, in a good way because that allows me to save for my travel. In contrary, now, I have better control toward my  living expenses while also preparing a separate budget for my planned travels. Of course the budget-conscious side of me has been trained and is readier to be utilized now as I start living completely alone again.


Apart from those four big points that I felt as the most apparent difference between living abroad for study and work, the difference of culture, environment, and people between those two countries also have immense effect to the daily life, both in personal and career aspect. One thing I keep holding on to when I move places, is that I have to possess the skill of adaptability so I can get settled faster and work as best as I could without any downtime. Any mishaps, miscommunications, and any other kind of errors that happened (there would be too many to count especially at the start of the move) should be treated with a grain of salt to keep myself sane. Above all, live in the moment. Things will start to  become normal and when it is time for me to move again, I know I will look back and wondered how I survived all those first days of confusion, mixed with excitement, though also tinged with a slight anxiety.


Repeating my mantra: Life has been a blessing.


À bientôt,

Sarah A.

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