How to: Talk to Your Family About Moving Abroad
The decision to move abroad (for both short-term and long-term plans) is HUGE and has likely had you contemplating the pros and cons for a long time. Although you are now feeling certain and confident about your choice, your family may not be equally jazzed about the idea. It’s not unheard of for parents to be skeptical and resistant to the idea of you “throwing away your life” back home and choosing to “run away from the real world.” Assuming that neither of those are your intentions, let’s talk about how you can explain this to your family.
“You just don’t understand” is never a winning argument
If you feel like your parents* aren’t being fair with you by not supporting your decision, don’t be unfair back to them. I’m going to make a potentially controversial statement here, but typically I feel like the problem is that parents who are unsupportive actually DON’T understand why you would want to make this move. And it’s literally their lack of understanding of your reasoning that is standing between arguments and approval. Many of our family members simply never had the opportunity to study, live, or even travel abroad and may not be aware of all its benefits. Pointing out their lack of understanding is not going to help the matter; instead help them understand by explaining yourself!
Know your “Big Why”
I recently came across this concept through a Worldtowning video (if you’re interesting in seeing new places through a unique form of traveling, you should definitely check this family out!) and it perfectly summarizes what you’ll most need to do when talking to your family. Why do you want to move abroad? Why the country/job/school/timing you have chosen? Why don’t you feel like you could find that at home? Why, why, why?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s quite understandable that your parents are leery about your decision. On the other hand, having clear, concrete answers to these questions is likely exactly what they need to hear in order to be persuaded. Truly take some time to think about these questions! Once you feel certain about your Big Why, choose a calm moment with your family to bring it up. (Or if you really don’t feel like your family will hear you out, consider writing your explanations down in a letter or even making a short video clip to send to them. Actually, this is not a bad idea for your own reminders down the road!)
Demonstrate Planning and Forethought
Unsupportive family members are often under the incorrect assumption that you are throwing caution to the wind and turning your back on responsibilities by moving abroad. In reality, moving abroad often requires even more planning and forethought than staying in your home country.
For starters, you will need to figure out the bureaucratic system of another country in order to obtain the correct visas and/or work permits, get your finances in order so as to have the smoothest international transactions (potentially changing banks in your home country and/or finding a new one where you move), possibly figure out a new repayment plan for student loans, and make important decisions about any property and responsibilities you have at the moment (i.e. apartment, furniture, car, car insurance, health insurance, etc). And that’s not even considering the ‘adulting’ you’ll have to do once you arrive, starting right out of the gate with finding an apartment! Moral of the story is, the more forethought you put into planning out your move, the more details you can share with your family, and more convinced they will be of your ability to thrive in this new country.
Be empathetic and Play Your Cards Right
For the most part, talking to your family about moving abroad is most successful when you take the time to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand the reasons they may be unsupportive—these likely come from a place of love (wanting you to have the best future and make the best decisions for yourself, on top of wanting you near to them). Try to hone in on what seems to be the main cause of their resistance and level with them on those terms.
Are your parents concerned that it’s not a smart move in terms of your future? Talk to them about how major companies in this globalized world value living abroad and cultivating your cultural competences. Or perhaps they’re concerned you will blow all of your saving on traveling? In that case, you can talk to them about how much less expensive travel is there, how you will further minimize those costs by using money-saving (and fun!) travel communities like Couchsurfing and Bla Bla Car, and how you will be staying on top of your financial responsibilities overall. On the other hand, if they’re already worried about your safety, maybe it’s not best to mention house- and ride-sharing with strangers. Point is: Take the time to actually listen to your parents' concerns so that you know how best to set them at ease.
There are many specific techniques that will work on certain family members more than others, but I believe if you keep these four main ones in mind you will have a much more successful experience when talking to anyone. As with any important conversation, be sure to let the other side speak and to be an active listener. If you’re looking to move abroad, your communication with family is definitely going to get tested by new challenges so now is a great time to focus on strengthening it!
Have you had difficulty getting your family to understand your decision? What techniques have or have not worked for you?
*I will refer to parents as they are typically the most vocal and important family member you may feel resistance from, but of course this advice can also apply to siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc.