An international move is equal parts exciting and frightening. Taking off somewhere you may not have even visited before takes a peculiar mix of courage, desire for new experiences and sheer foolishness 🙂
Here are some tips to make moving overseas and setting up a new home easier. This is partly for people who have never done it before and partly to remind Tanya and I as we're about to head back out into the big wide world for a second time.
1) Find accommodation when you arrive
If you are going to find your own accommodation rather than having it supplied by a company book a hotel or hostel for 2 or 3 nights. Spend those 2 or 3 days exploring as much of your new location as possible and finding accommodation. In some places this is as simple as walking around town going into apartment buildings asking to see rooms. Once you're on the ground you will almost certainly be able to find better and cheaper accommodation than if you arranged something on the net. It will also be quickly apparent which part of town you want to live in. The good and bad parts of town are almost impossible to figure out until you have physically been to a place. Once you're there and you've spoken to a few people they are easy to spot. Commit to a six month lease in a city you've never been to at your peril.
2) Expect home sickness
You will go through either one or two waves of "what have i done? I think I want to go home." Expect them and realize that they are part of adjusting to a different environment.
You may get one when you first arrive. The first few weeks are hard and simple activities like buying food, getting around town and finding a toilet can be challenging. Feeling a bit overwhelmed is a sign that you're pushing your boundaries and growing as a person.
The second will arrive after you've been there for between 6 and 18 months. In that time the rose colored glasses will have kicked in you'll have romanticised your home town. You may also have started really missing your family and friends. Consider visiting home but make sure you have a return flight because you'll get home and immediately remember "oh yeah, that's why I left." If you don't have your return ticket already it can be really easy to spend months or even years kicking around your home town before finally getting back on a plane.
Occasional feelings of being overwhelmed or wanting to go home are perfectly normal. They will pass. The next three tips can help reduce them.
3) Take language lessons
It wouldn't hurt to do this before you go but you should definitely do it once you arrive. Regular lessons combined with having to speak the language in your everday life means you will learn the local language surprisingly quickly. Without formal lessons you tend to plateau once you know enough to perform basic tasks like buying lunch and ordering a drink. Lessons can help you push past this plateau. If its a language you can use in multiple places like Spanish or if you're going to be somewhere for quite a while then increase the number of lessons you're having. You won't ever regret speaking another language too well and it really opens door in the local community.
4) Make an effort to make friends
This might sound a bit odd to anyone who has lived most of their life in one location however you need to make a conscious effort to make friends. This means having your "nice person" radar on all the time and not being afraid to suggest doing stuff when you meet one. Loneliness feeds home sickness and, even if you're part of a couple, you need other people to share your triumphs and your struggles.
There are expat clubs in a lot of places that exist specifically to help people meet other expats. Just be aware that long time expats can be a bit standoffish with new arrivals as they will expect you to throw in the towel and go home at any moment until you have been there long enough to prove them wrong.
Language classes will get you in a room with a bunch of people who are new in town. This is possibly preferable to expat clubs as you'll probably find yourself mostly hanging out with other new arrivals. When a bunch of people all arrive knowing no one they tend to clump together. You all don't know anyone and eating alone every night sucks so you might as well eat together.
Make the effort to encourage and sustain these friendships. You will go through a lot with these people. Out of the shared struggles of your new lives you may well develop friendships as strong or stronger than those you developed in the comfort of your home country.
5) Take on obligations
If you don't have a job then get one. If you can't work or you don't have to (lucky you) then commit to some ongoing volunteer work. The important thing is to make yourself useful. When people are depending on you and you're contributing to the community you'll find your overall motivation and general happiness will benefit.
While it might seem romantic to spend your days sitting on the beach with no demands on you from anyone this quickly becomes boring and can become really depressing. Your chances of successfully sticking it out in your new home go way down if you don't have people who depend on you. Until you put down roots in the community you are still a semi-transient and that makes it much easier to be swayed by bouts of home sickness.
Moving overseas is a huge challenge. It may well be one of the more difficult things you ever do. However, it can also be one of the most rewarding. You will visit places, learn things and meet people that will change you forever. Hopefully the above will make this process more manageable.
If you're in a foreign country reading this wondering "what was I thinking?" just remember that it does get better. In three months when you're catching up with some friends for a beer after work you'll wonder what you were so worked up about.
If you're sitting in a cubicle reading this and imagining what could be then get off your arse and book the flight. Do it now.
Good luck 🙂