Moving Abroad: Nobody Tells You THIS

The power of displacement

Karolina Kulach
7 min readApr 29, 2018
Photo credit: Karolina Kulach

Moving abroad is a pretty complex topic, and many aspects of it are overlooked.

Living abroad can make your life pretty difficult. You may feel uncertain about where you want to live or what you want to do. You may not know who you are anymore.

Let me start with a short story that happened a few years ago.

A distressed friend of mine, Sharon, sends me a link to a TED lecture: Meg Jay’s Why 30 is not the new 20. According to the video, you should start the life of your dreams when you’re twenty-something.

Apparently, this is the most formative, fertile and defining time of your life.

This is the time to invest in your identity and add value to who you are. This is also the time to do something meaningful with your life and capitalise on it in your thirties and beyond.

So instead of treating your twenties as an extended period of adolescence, do something constructive.

Sharon was twenty-nine and NOT living the life of her dreams. In her early twenties, she decided to move abroad to study. She had no idea that her initial short-term overseas adventure would turn into a long journey and moving from place to place.

This added a new dimension to her life: the feeling of displacement.

Sharon was desperate to share Meg Jay’s lecture with me. I was of a similar age and my life was pretty chaotic and displaced, too.

We were in the same boat: the defining decade of our lives was almost over and not necessarily an example to be followed by other twenty-somethings.

Or so we thought on that day.

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Moving abroad in my early twenties

In my early twenties, I had already lived in 4 countries: Poland, Germany, England and Scotland.

My first stay abroad was a six-month student exchange (I was an Erasmus student in Germany).

This experience turned me into a cross-country vagabond for a few years. I was on the move most of the time, travelling and moving from place to place (and from country to country), looking for my perfect final destination.

The bottom line: in my twenties, I experienced all sorts of existential confusion that I can think of.

Eventually, I arrived back in my home country, Poland. At the time, I was tormented by one thought: nothing big or defining happened in my life.

I didn’t start my own family. I didn’t make a big career. I didn’t possess any significant savings. Interestingly, I never procrastinated on big life decisions (or so I thought), but big life decisions procrastinated on meeting me halfway.

Worst of all, though, I had no clue where I wanted to live.

Before I moved back home, I had been working for almost five years in London, the city of my dreams. I was a working professional in a world capital, a big metropolis. Life couldn’t have been more exciting and eventful, right?

Yet I was unhappy as an expat / foreigner / immigrant and as a human being.

I felt stuck in a no-exit situation. After I graduated, the carefree life of an international student in the UK was over.

I loved London and enjoyed working there, but I was alone and my family were back in my home country. The longer I lived in the UK, the more I missed my family and friends.

My life in the British capital was thrilling, but I felt abandoned, displaced and anonymous in a big city. Eventually, my inner conflict made me feel directionless and depressed. I reached a tipping point.

The view of Tower Bridge, much as I loved it, wasn’t enough to keep me in London. I wanted out.

Photo credit: Karolina Kulach

Parties, exciting cultural events, fun friends and busy office environments had to go, at least for some time. I went back home to my parents’ place to quiet my mind and get away from the toxicity of a big city in every possible sense.

The life of an eternal vagabond wasn’t appealing to me anymore. I was fed up and exhausted, not only physically.

At that time, I began to read plenty of online materials about studying, working and living abroad. The voluntary cross-country movement of young people was happening on an unprecedented, massive scale.

I found plenty of information on the pros and cons of living abroad, especially the pros. Apparently, relocation abroad was promoted in a globalised world.

However, all the information that I found was, in my opinion, lacking depth. I felt it was oversimplified. The topic of moving abroad is much more complex than ‘the pros and cons of XYZ’.

I thought it was essential to go beyond the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad. So what I got curious about was…

The evolution of a young person’s personality after they relocate abroad

I was interested in the role of mobility in their later life.

Packing a suitcase and relocating to a different country may seem straightforward. The real challenge, though, often begins when it’s time to unpack the same suitcase back in one’s home country.

Or … never pack it back to return.

A lot of my displaced friends would drag their suitcases around for many years. Moving from country to country, they felt lost: emotionally, mentally and culturally.

Having lived in 4 countries, I knew the feeling well. Finally, I was struck by an idea: all displaced people could use some inspiration and motivation. After all, international experiences are supposed to be a blessing, not a curse.

We needed to understand the complexity of this topic. We needed something that would go beyond the pros and cons of living abroad. Something that would get to the bottom of it.

So I started writing a book “The Power of Displacement” to talk about the many aspects of the search of global vagabonds for a global meaning.

Whether you’re an Erasmus student, economic migrant, EU expat worker, American in the Eastern Hemisphere or a compulsive traveller, you’ll likely experience some sort of displacement. You may be trying to redefine your life purpose and find a place you could call “home”.

That said, many young people cannot help their hunger for adventure and exploration. After one stay abroad, they’re likely to want more.

Currently, plenty of my expat friends are wondering how to pull themselves together and settle down to a “normal” life, whatever “normal” means — potentially “something more stable and predictable”.

At the same time, they may choose to move from country to country. They may choose to procrastinate (not even realising it’s procrastination and a form of escapism). They may not like the idea of adult responsibilities (I’ve been there, too).

They may feel paralysed by their displacement, preferring to be on the go all the time instead of finding their permanent address and building the life they want.

Living in a few countries has certainly turned me into a life purpose seeker. I’ve had to learn many lessons the hard way. The most important one is that life is about making choices, including making a choice to constantly move from place to place.

My feeling of displacement after moving abroad

At some point, I lost faith that things would ever fall into place. I felt stuck in my meaningless life as a vagabond that I began to curse. Then it dawned on me one day: I had to embrace my displacement and acknowledge its immense power.

I stopped equating displacement with an inescapable doom and gloom. I stopped seeing my way of life as always having to be on the move, which helped me escape responsibility. I replaced my confusion and procrastination with focused actions.

In my head, a new concept popped up: the power of displacement.

This powerful concept helped me understand how much knowledge and wisdom I gained from living abroad in different countries and from my international experiences.

It’s not only about language skills and work experience, but also flexibility, adaptability, open-mindedness, intercultural communication, tolerance, and much, much more.

All this is priceless and I’m feeling grateful not only for the beautiful experiences and adventures abroad, but also the numerous challenges I had to go through.

And that, my dear friend, is the gospel for today. May the power of displacement stay with you!

If you feel you might be suffering from the displacement syndrome, remember that you’re not alone at an international crossroads.

So don’t be afraid to use your international experiences and what you’ve learned abroad to your advantage!

Feel free to share your comments.



Karolina Kulach

Non-fiction writer & content marketing consultant. Author of “The power of displacement”. Keen reality and people observer. Loves writing catchy, rhyming poems.