I moved to Milan and found living abroad is emotionally exhausting
- Julia Wheeler moved from Montreal, Canada to Milan, Italy.
- She's "grateful and happy" that she made the move abroad.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Julia Wheeler about the lessons she learnt from her experience living abroad in Milan, Italy. The following account has been edited for length and clarity.
I lived in the same house with the same people on a quiet street in the suburbs of Montreal, Canada for 25 years.
But during the pandemic, I quit my job and moved to Milan to do a master's in luxury and fashion brand management.
I'm grateful and happy that I went for it, and I feel like I've found a second home, which is a privilege.
But there are some silent truths that no one feels comfortable talking about.
The unspoken truths about living abroad
One of the biggest myths is that you're going to instantly fall in love with your new city and find friends.
But the reality is that living abroad is emotionally exhausting, and the first months are lonely and difficult.
I thought that within three months I'd be settled in, but that wasn't the case.
After going home for Christmas, I didn't really want to go back. You're in a city where if you get sick, no one's going to knock on your door with soup or bring you medicine.
I had never cried on my birthday before, but this year it was one of my most challenging days. It took me about seven months to feel at home.
The cultural differences can also be very daunting.
You're constantly reminded that you're not from here. I can get by in Italian, but all-the-same it was extremely difficult having an English last name.
I felt that the Italian students in my class were getting interview after interview for internships but the international people were not.
Of course I can't speak to what it's like for an Italian coming to North America looking for work and once I found somewhere, they welcomed me with open arms. But it was a shock to see how much more they prioritized their own.
Living a double life
I shared my honest thoughts about living abroad on TikTok and the video has now had over a million views. It started a conversation that seemed to really resonate with so many people.
You do this really great thing for yourself but then you can't help but feel guilty for leaving behind all the people you love at home.
You become a spectator to the lives of people you love, which is a sad and confusing feeling.
You feel guilty for second guessing your life here because you should be grateful for the chance to live in a new city.
Despite these challenges, I've grown up through this experience. I'm less scared to take bigger leaps in life and it's opened my eyes to a whole new culture and way of living.
My grandmother came from a town near Naples, and my grandfather from a town near Venice in the 1950s.
I never got to meet them, but they came to Canada looking for a better way of life, and I feel closer to them through this experience.
So if you want to go for it, then I absolutely say try it. But if it doesn't change your life and do all these amazing things that people on social media say it will, then be prepared to come back home and move on.
It's a nice chapter in your story, but you can always move on to the next one.
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