Sunday, 10 January 2016

Living abroad now and 15 years ago: What's different?

Dublin in 2002 (bad quality, I didn't have a digital camera back then!!)

When I moved to Ireland in 2002 (I know it's not exactly 15 years ago, I just wanted to round it up), means of communication were quite different and it's actually crazy to see how much travel and expatriation have changed since the web 2.0 but also the democratization of air travel (Thank you Mr. O'Leary!).

So how is life abroad different now than it was "back in the day"?

Keeping in touch with family and friends

Imagine a world without Facebook, Skype or Whatsapp. Worse, a place without broadband or wi-fi! Laptops were a lot more expensive than now, so I regretfully left my massive desktop and arrived in Ireland completely disconnected. When I wanted to send an email, I had to go to an internet cafe. When I wanted to ring my sister, I had to use a public phone. Then I moved into an apartment with my boyfriend and discovered how expensive phone and Internet were (you were charged by the minute when being online).
With all that in mind, you can imagine how hard it was to keep in touch with family and friends. After crying when I saw my first phone bill, I discovered I could phone France for the price of a local call by using a special number and I was mostly communicating by e-mail with family and friends, but we wrote letters to each other at the beginning, something unthinkable today!
And when you see how easy it is to share a picture now, think about the time we had to get the film developed first, then scan the pictures (if you had a scanner) and send them by e-mail, or worse, post them. Sometimes you just waited to be back home for a holiday to show everyone what you had been up to.
When I think about it, it must have been a lot harder for people who emigrated thirty years ago.

Keeping up-to-date with what's going on in your home country

Everyday I go through the French news on Google. I scan through the headlines and select a few articles I want to read. I also take great pleasure in reading users comments and it gives me some indication of the general mood in France (even though I know it might not be an accurate perception of reality, it still gives an idea).
In 2002, when I was going to the internet cafe to send the weekly e-mail to my parents, I just looked at a few news websites (mostly my local newspaper to be honest). That was a much as it went. Big events were announced either by Irish TV  (a few days after) or my parents.
Now, you can follow any big event minute by minute, but I remember being in UK for a work experience in spring 2002, and I only learned about the results of the presidential elections the day after it happened. If it was now, I would be almost glued to the screen (or be streaming live) to see the result the second it's announced.


The first couple of years, going home took a lot of patience (thank God I didn't have kids). I had to take 2 flights and land a 5 hours drive from home. But it was already the "Ryanair" era and even though there were not many bases in France,  travel cost was next to none. I remember booking flights for 5 pounds, there was no luggage fee, no "priority" booking, no seat buying... And as long as you arrived early at the airport, the check-in staff wouldn't bother for an extra 4 kgs in your suitcase.
I am lucky in a way because Ireland and France are close, but it's a different story for my husband. He was already in Ireland for 3 years before he went home to Mauritius for the  first time. And as far as this tropical destination is concerned, prices haven't really gone down in the past 15 years.

Adapting to a new country

Going abroad and leaving your home country is a bit like breaking-up with your boyfriend/girlfriend. In my opinion, it's better to completely cut ties at least for a few months to avoid reminiscing. Embrace your new home and everything it has to offer in order to have a better and more authentic experience.
This was completely possible 15 years ago. With limited means of communication, it was a bit harder to reach home and you were less tempted to find out "what's going on back there". Without Facebook and the likes, you were more inclined to discover things by yourself rather than ask "where can I find a French speaking hairdresser" or "I just arrived, where is the closest supermarket"...
I'm not gonna lie, I almost cried with joy when I found a Camembert in an off-licence after 6 months in Ireland, but I never actively looked for French food either, so I think some people should stop asking where they can find French cheese, bread, wine and so on. Not forever, but if you can't live without products from your home country for a while (and let's be honest, only the minority will stay in Ireland for more than a year), then why did you go abroad in the first place?
We all get homesick at some stage, but it shouldn't start the minute you land on foreign soil. Go out, explore, get lost in the city... Your experience will be the most enjoyable and trust me, next time you go home, you'll find even more pleasure in eating a fresh baguette.

I think it's all about balance. The web is great to discover new places, share information, help each other and that way, the expatriation can seem less daunting than it would have been 15 years ago. On the other hand, it seems that some people make less efforts, don't take time to discover and the fact that staying in touch with "home" is so easy makes the transition even more difficult.

What do you think?