Living AbroadMexico

Expectation vs. Reality of Living Abroad

reality of living abroad

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When people hear that I’ve lived abroad, they assumed that meant I was on some kind of 24/7 jaunt around the city, in a perpetual state of travel and enjoyment, failing to acknowledge the fact that I worked, paid rent, and spent more time than was probably healthy sat in bed on my laptop (what’s new?).

But it’s not really their fault for thinking that. I don’t post photos of my Maruchan on Instagram after all.

And just like people who heard I lived abroad had their expectations of what that entailed, I had mine. In fact, there were many things I expected of living abroad in Mexico, and there were many realities I actually faced.

If you’re reading this, you (maybe) know, you’ve (probably) been there. Or, if you’re reading this because you want to live abroad, well…buckle in for some home truths, friend, and indulge my witty observations.

Because, and after a little reflection on my naïve innocence when I first moved to Mexico at the tender age of 19 (yes, really, it seems wild to me too), I’m about to be hilarious about the expectations vs. the realities of living abroad. In Mexico. As a human woman.*

*Just covering my bases for when someone inevitably comments that my experiences don’t represent theirs. Yeah, no shit, old white man?



I’m going to be a Working Woman, you tell yourself, imagining a life where you willingly wear work trousers instead of, oh, I don’t know, pyjamas, every single day.

Also, I am a riot to be around, you add. Fun (mostly)! Intelligent (I graduated?)! Definitely totally informed on everything about which I spout my valuable opinion (lol, no)!

I even speak the goddamn language. How could I not make friends?

You of course are forgetting all the times you failed to make friends as a teenager. In your home country. Surrounded by people who share the same cultural references.


Ugh, Debbie Downer, amirite? Well, suck it up because it’s true. Sure, you work-with-a-capital-W, but you work from home. You have only your weird neighbours for company on a daily basis and you don’t even know their names. In fact, you’re not even sure they exist.

Of course, eventually you’ll make some friends (not before joining a Catalan language class which consists of just two other people in a vain, but ultimately fruitless, effort to socialise). It will just take time.


There’s nothing like the smoggy air of Mexico City in my lungs to get me pumped for a hard day’s work and I’ll for sure be done and ready to call it a night by 6pm, you think, opening up your laptop on day zero of living in your new home and browsing Amazon aimlessly for an hour while your cup of tea goes cold. So productive.

Here, let me walk you through what I expected from a day in my living abroad life:

6am: Wake up refreshed and feeling like new after a great night sleep.

6.30am: Engage in some light yoga and drink a well brewed coffee with very little sugar, because, health.

7am: Sit down at your desk and enjoy a brief spell of replying to emails.

8am: Get started on a productive, snack-food free few hours or so working on some truly revolutionary articles/blog posts/contracts/whatever it is you do as a job.

9am: Hop on the metro and make your way to work on the metro with no delays, no attempted gropings and without developing a layer of inexplicable grime all over your body. Even the parts that are clothed.


Newsflash: Moving abroad does not change you fundamentally as a person. If anything, it just exacerbates everything that’s always been terrible about you, because now you have no friends (see above) to call you out on it. So, if you love going to the gym and eating salads, you’ll probably do the same in a new country. Likewise, if you’re having a love affair with Netflix it looks set to only become more passionate.

And, if you meet someone who tells you that living abroad has like, totally changed them, dude, they’re obviously hiding a very deep, dark secret and you should tread lightly.

And here’s the reality:

6am: Get woken up by bin men noisily emptying the bins, turn off the first (and next seven) of your alarms and go back to sleep.

6.30am: Yoga? Lol, you’re still asleep.

7am: You’re still asleep.

8am: Wake up after sleeping through 15 different alarms because the fucking police patrol cars were flashing their lights outside your window until the early hours.

8.30am: Feel groggy af and chug a massively over-sugared coffee that provokes light to medium spells of nausea. Inhale last night’s leftover pizza.

9am: Load up good ol’ Netflix, because you can’t be fucked with work today. You’re a trash human.


I speak the language, I see no reason why I won’t be understood and/ or hilariously witty right off the bat when I move abroad. It’s not like language has nuance and hilarity requires timing…right?!


You are not funny to anyone here. For a start, your (kind of borderline as it is) sense of humour is not one that’s appreciated in your new country, nor do sarcastic jokes about wanting to die have the same uproarious effect as when you’re with your friends (you still don’t have any of those yet, by the way). Plus, your timings all wrong because you still haven’t mastered the ol’ simultaneous translation yet, so all your comebacks are five minutes too late. And you wouldn’t dare say them out loud for fear you’d misconjugated a subjunctive anyway. So, there’s that.


Yes! I will never need to cook again (true, for what it’s worth), because I can eat tacos all day, erry day, no problem. I live for chili after all, and I don’t see how copious amounts of fried masa products and 70% daily sugar allowance Mexican Coke will negatively affect me in any way.

Related Post: 33 Popular Mexican Foods to Eat in Puebla, Mexico


You poo three times more than you did before (and not in a good ‘I’ve been eating lots of fibre’ way), yet you’ve still put on a stone in weight.

(OK, this one is perhaps the only one that didn’t happen to me. First time round, in Guadalajara, I lived off quesadillas and got super skinny. Second time round, I lived off quesadillas and…did not get super skinny. Either way, this can be a truly terrifying reality when you move somewhere with entirely new food and what seems to be a chili fetish.)


I’m going to live in the Big Apple/ the home of the Eiffel Tower/ the land of the Romans (delete as appropriate), so naturally I’ll be cultured af by the end of my first week museum hopping and latte sipping, your brain gleefully and wilfully lies to you as you’re preparing to go live abroad for the first time.

Related Post: Must-Read Books About Mexico


Remember that thing about living abroad not fundamentally changing you as a person? Yeah, you hate museums, who were you kidding?! Instead, you spend your first week wondering why you packed that going out top from four years ago you wore once, but didn’t think to bring more than two pairs of socks (true story).

OK, you do sip some coffee though, except it’s from the convenience store because you haven’t figured out where anything is yet.

Related Post: These are All the Free Museums in Mexico City




Oh, no(t for long, I promise).

Did you enjoy this post? Pay me for your laughter! I’m just kidding. Sort of. But here’s my Paypal donate button if you’re keen to help keep this blog up and running. (I won’t judge if you skip it.)

And if you’re absolutely convinced that living abroad is the right option for you, head to my posts about living in Mexico City, packing for a move to Mexico and things no one tells you about life in Mexico. Oh, and how not to tell your mum about your plans. Don’t forget to leave me a comment below if you have any (positive) feedback or questions!


  1. Elina 2 May, 2018 at 08:29 Reply

    Lol I relate to your packing crisis. Currently on a 4 day holiday and I only packed one shirt but two coats… In central europe… In may… Where ive been living for months so I know exactly that the temperatures gonna be +20 every day… Who let me go abroad?

    Loved the whole post and this is so true! Why the hell is making friends so hard.

    • Lauren 2 May, 2018 at 15:14 Reply

      Thank you so much! Oh man, you really did not pack well haha. Makng friends IS hard. I’m convinced anyone who says otherwise is a liar!

  2. Alma 3 May, 2018 at 23:28 Reply

    You know me! I work online teaching Chinese kids at 4AM. Anywhoo. For a long time, I only had been to one museum in Mexico City! The Metro Museum. Not too bad though. Now I have been to Delores someone in Xochimilco. Wow! I now live with a Mexican family but now I don’t understand the culture sometimes but it is better. Before, I was so, so, lonely.

  3. Anne 5 May, 2018 at 19:57 Reply

    This is funny, but so true. After years of travelling and living in different places I still think I’ll somehow be a different person just because I’ve gone somewhere new. Note to self: never gonna happen!

  4. Katherine 5 May, 2018 at 20:45 Reply

    I consider myself a funny person until I went abroad hahaha. There are just jokes that are difficult to translate or perhaps better left unsaid bec they may be misunderstood. I swear there were times I made a joke and I was the only one who laughed. Tsss.

    I have a draft like this too. This makes me want to finish and post it now.

  5. Sarah 5 May, 2018 at 21:52 Reply

    I have a husband with whom I live abroad which means I don’t get too lonely but that I’m even less inclined to make friends! I completely agree that this situation only exacerbates the things about yourself you wish you could change. At home I was a TV addict. Now I’m a Netflix addict. Sigh.

  6. unaveronicavagante 5 May, 2018 at 22:58 Reply

    I loved finding this article.
    There’s nothing more that I appreciate than honesty.
    I will be living abroad for a period for an internship, and even if it’s not my first time, I didn’t know what to expect from working abroad.

    • Lauren 5 May, 2018 at 23:55 Reply

      Please take this piece with a pinch of salt then! Expect the bad times but know that they’ll be balanced with just as many, if not far more, good ones 🙂

  7. Abbi @ Spin the Windrose 6 May, 2018 at 11:06 Reply

    Pahaha totally enjoyed this, love the tone of your writing, as a fellow brit it’s always great to read funny pieces like this post! And I found it so relatable, I’ve lived and worked abroad too. Particularly when not wanting to say a comeback for fear of conjugating my verbs wrong… bloody subjunctive!!

  8. Chloe Mason 6 May, 2018 at 14:35 Reply

    Loved this post! It’s so true that you set up unrealistic expectations for yourself which actually will never become a reality. I do it all the time LOL! Especially the part about the yoga thing, I’ve always wanted to do that for a long time, but I’ve failed terribly. I don’t see how those ‘successful’ health-freak-vegan friendly Youtubers do it. They always have such perfect morning routines and I’m just like, well I’m not you! I know that I’m the kind of person that has to have a lot of sleep to function the next day. (Also had no idea that you had to poop 3 times a day eating mexican food! it doesn’t happen in Chile, where I am) And yes, I do think that there’s also a very high chance of gaining weight while being abroad. Latin food is sooo good yummmm

    • Lauren 7 May, 2018 at 14:58 Reply

      Hahahaha — let me just clarify that I definitely don’t shit three times a day, but I do know people who really suffer with the food in Mexico. I think maybe they’re just unlucky with food in general though.

  9. Rob 14 November, 2018 at 18:08 Reply

    So young but so negative? Ah, as tough as it can seem, life is not so bad (okay, I might be lying). I loved your article except for the comment about “old white men” since that is what I am but I chalk it up to “too much experience of one kind and not enough of another.” And besides, you are largely right as I have seen too many of my young white male friends turn into “angry old white men” as they aged (but then, the same for the women). Not sure I understand why.

    Okay, well, I am seriously considering moving to Mexico since I am now retired and money does seem to go a lot further down there. Besides, I am basically an adventurer whose enthusiasm was hijacked for 19 years of marriage. That is over now (she was great, just different than me) and I just got back from a month in Europe…Woohooo!

    A couple of comments, I moved from San Jose, CA to Rocklin, CA nine years ago and I have not made any real friends in Rocklin in all that time. Partly because I am not that far away from my old stomping ground and old friends, partly because most people here are conservative and, perhaps most of all, friends take a lot of time and if they are not a perfect match it just isn’t worth it. I think you get somewhat less flexible and more jealous of your time as you get older. Yes, things can and do get lonely at times but the freedom seems largely worth it. Just make sure you have at least some real friends somewhere you can text, call, or (as us old people do) email.

    Museums…I love them, especially those specializing in modern and contemporary art. Now I tell you what, I did not care a darn about Art museums until I hit 53 or so. Then, semi-retired and for reasons unknown, I decided to take an art class. It was awesome and I took more and more. I say it was awesome but it was also so scary because I was in a junior college class with mostly 17 – 22 year olds who had been painting or drawing their whole life. We had to show our work at the end of each class and I was terrified I’d look like a complete idiot. Well, guess what, turns out everyone has some artistic ability and I actually managed to do fairly well. Well, the point of all this is that along the way I had a teacher who knew something about the history of various famous artists. Here is where you might get interested. Turns out that many of these artists were brilliant, rebellious, souls who expressed many of their socially unacceptable ideas and opinions through their art. They hid their rebellion in their art! Well, they usually, sooner or later, got caught but sometimes they could argue their way out of it claiming a mis-interpretation. Okay, moving on, now art remains a venue for the expression of ideas and thoughts by usually intelligent and creative souls and these thoughts cover a broad range of human endeavor. So, based on what you have written, you also seem to be an intelligent, strong willed, free spirited sort of person and if you learn a little about artists, art history (maybe even take an art class), and visit the “right” museums and exhibitions you might find a whole new world in which you belong.

    Next subject…seems to me the thing one has to watch in Mexico is carbohydrates (including sugar). Too much bread, beans, flour and sugar. You want to know why most people around that world are fat well that is the reason. What most of us were taught about the food pyramid is just bad science or, if more skeptical, a lie. Contrary to what your doctor told you (because they were taught that in med school), saturated and mono-unsaturated fats are great for you and carbs are deadly, especially as you get older. This is especially true as you age as you may be finding out. Just search for “low carb” on YouTube and you can learn all about it. Anyway, figure out how to eat fat, a little protein, and almost no carbs while in Mexico. That applies even if it means chugging a bottle of olive or coconut oil for lunch or dinner (don’t worry there are easier ways to do it).

    Hey Lauren, you wrote a great article and I identified with it and your sarcastic style immediately. The only difference is you seem to have figured out a lot of this at a much earlier age than I did. I’ll keep reading your stuff for fun and knowledge as I continue to research Mexico. And I will go make a little donation too.

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