Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Preparing yourself for expat life

So you're giving up your life and moving to some far flung, exotic city/town/country that you've only ever been to on a site visit with your partners company? You are the more important person of the couple / family that the company is going to be transferring. They know who they have hired / transferred IS  but what they don't have is control over you and how you feel.

In all my moves as an expat I've met some great people moving around. Moving around all the time you will soon learn that the most important person in your life is your partner / family. I have seen great couples go through some of their most testing times as expats. Some of them were even on their 3rd or 4th move but the happiness of both persons is important to how much everyone enjoys their time as an expat.

I think one of the hardest things (well for me) was giving up my career. When I was younger I had my life all planned out, I knew what career and industry I wanted to be in, I loved working in my first company and thought I would be there forever. The ideal move is that if both of you can move to new jobs! The hardest thing is when one of you is asked to move it leaves the partner  having to either quit a great job, careers, potential promotions. If you've just had a baby, then you're leaving your close network of friends and family.

Here are some tips on coping, and I would even suggest this for companies or people moving anywhere solo.

1. Forget the site visit. Instead book a visit 4-6 months after you move away. The excitement of being in a new location is dying off and some things might still be a complete struggle (i.e. you're still stuck in your hotel room and your things haven't arrived).
2. Make local friends. This is part and parcel of your experience living abroad - learning a new culture. Make friends with your colleagues, language teacher, neighbours!
3. Make expat friends. These are people that are likely to be some of your closest friends for life. You make strong connections very fast; share your deepest, darkest secrets (after a few caipirinhas!)  Your friends you make in your new home are so important to your experience. Put yourself on the line. I was the shyest person until I became an expat... Check out internations.org
3. (Try to) Learn the language. A great way to meet local friends and it can keep small problems relatively small and not so stressful. 
4. Pay for extra luggage if you need when you first move down. Bring any food, essential beauty products, medication that you can't really live without. Though in time you'll soon learn that you actually can live without...
5. Skype is the best invention for everyone living far away from family and friends.
6. Your holiday time ends up being spent on visiting friends and family but make sure to travel your new country too! Get to know and fall in love with it (I hope!). 
7. Know that it's not forever. If you really hate it you can always go home-home. 

It's like giving birth, nothing can prepare you for it!! But aside from the short list I have given above, I think the most important thing was being prepared for hard times. Even though I had moved around, the hardest move was moving after my partner and giving up my independency - particularly my financial independence, which was pretty small in the first place. I had a (an expat friend) before this BIG move tell me about what she felt, her down days, her feeling lonely even though she was talking about her 3rd move. She was also one of the most gregarious, outgoing Aussies I know! It's not easy for anyone. So arrive in your new home knowing that it's not going to be easy, but it will be worth it when you feel like you are at home (away from home). For some people it takes 6 months, other it takes 2 years and others the realisation is only when you return to your original home. Good luck! 

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