Living Abroad: Working vs Studying


After having done both, studying abroad (in my very early twenties) and working abroad (in my mid and very late twenties), I can now compare these two quite different, and exciting, experiences by pointing out the main similarities and differences. Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that the partying behavior has changed significantly in the last couple of years and may mark the biggest difference…but let´s see what else is different ..

The Similarities

1. “Nope, I am not on holiday!”

People always tend to think that studying or working abroad equals being on vacation. “How come you live in South America and you are not sun tanned at all?”, I got asked quite often when spending Christmas at home. Well…

2. You will feel lonely for the very first time in your life

Being alone for the very first time in your life in a new city without knowing anyone is one of the key experiences everyone who has ever lived abroad usually needs to go through. As a student, it´s quite easy to make friends, as you are usually all in the same boat, spending hours and hours together at university and in pubs, clubs etc.

When working abroad you are more likely to end up having dinner alone after work and roaming around like a lone wolf, or binge-watching whatever series is on Netflix, especially in the first weeks of living in a new city. Being alone will likely push you to get out of your comfort zone and do things that would be labeled  “ridiculous” and “embarrassing” in your own social circle at home; like, for example, reaching out to a complete stranger, mumbling  “hi…hmm…so, you are from here?” and trying to get into a conversation, whilst tensely clasping your drink, blushing and smiling awkwardly…(my personal experience is that this method has a 90% success rate …and if it’s not successful the first time – to quote Paulo Coelho – “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience”.)

3. Birds of a feather flock together

Everyone who moves abroad for the first time imagines becoming best friends with locals in your host country. However, most expats have the same experience with regards to this; it´s quite hard to become close friends with the locals when you are the foreigner, so it’s more common to make friends within the expat community. This makes sense, as many expats go through the same phases (see point 2) and share the same experiences while getting to know the new, often unfamiliar culture, language and customs in a new country (now you know how it feels to be an immigrant…).

The Differences

1. Going-out: What´s my age again?

The money you spent on partying during your study year abroad is now spent on a nice bottle of wine and dinner, rather than on a bottle of vodka of mediocre quality, some Red Bull and a stop at Burger King at 4am. Going out on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays? What used to be normal when hanging out with your fellow students turns out to be almost impossible to keep up with your now grown–up/working life….oh dear, and let´s not even talk about recovering from those loooong party nights!

2. Comfort is everything

Thinking twice about every penny spent and thus having to cut back when it comes to things like traveling, food, going out, mobility and fashion, is the norm when studying (abroad). When working in another country, you finally should have the money to book a proper hotel room, instead of sleeping on a friend´s couch for weeks and having to suffer from terrible backache afterwards. And yes, as you are not going out that much anymore, Yoga and Spinning classes seem to be welcome alternatives (and turn out to be a good investment too.)

Contributed by: Eva-Maria Zehentner

Eva-Maria is a passionate and experienced worldtraveler. After having lived, studied and worked abroad for a couple of years (Sweden, Singapore, Chile), it became her hobby to write about her experiences and impressions she gathered during the course of time. Feel free to visit her blog:

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