Are you considering a move abroad? Our guest blogger Ben discusses important points to think about before you leave.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend. During our conversation, she told me that she was thinking about relocating abroad for a while. Her life was in a rut and she needed a change.
My friend asked me for some tips because she knew I had some experience with this. I was flattered that she came to me for advice and that some of my stories about living abroad had provided the impetus to think about doing the same.
I completely understand and empathize with her feelings. I think at some point in our lives, we all feel that things are not going the right way and we need some kind of change to get us out of a funk. I didn’t tell her what to do because I feel the only person that knows what is best for you is you.
However, I did ask her a series of questions (a very long series, actually) that I hoped would help her understand her motivations and emotions better. I thought these questions would be helpful for all those who are also contemplating moving to a foreign country.
Since our conversation was very long, I broke this blog post up into two parts, the “psychological” and the “practical”. Let’s start with the psychological aspects of relocation:
1) Why do you want to go and what do you hope to achieve?
This is an important question because it gets to the heart of your motivation.
A friend of mine, who happens to be an expert marketer, once told me before making any decision for his company, he asks the question, “Why should we do that?” After coming up with an answer, he then asks “why” again four more times and that is how he gets to the root intention.
2) What do your friends and family think about your idea and how will your absence impact them?
None of us live on a desert island. We all have friends and family who we care about and who may even depend on us. While going away may change your life, it could also affect theirs as well.
3) How adaptable are you to situations that are completely foreign?
Are you prepared to be immersed into a totally different language, culture and mentality; one you might not understand for a long time?
There is a very romantic notion of running away to some distant exotic land, into the sunset if you will, and you live happily ever after.
However, that is often not the case and sooner or later reality hits you. Just have a look at my earlier post “The Stages of Culture Shock” to see how this worked out for me.
Once you realize that it’s no longer fun and games and there are real challenges to deal with, are you mentally flexible enough to handle them and resilient enough to endure them?
4) How do you handle loneliness?
There will be many times when you feel incredibly alone, especially in the beginning – can you cope?
This is piggy backing on the question above. When you encounter hardships, sometimes you feel like no one understands and you are completely alone. This feeling is compounded when you are in a foreign environment.
At the end of the day, when all your tasks have been completed and challenges handled, sometimes you find yourself sitting alone in a dark, uncomfortable place with only your thoughts for company.
5) How do you handle racism in a foreign country?
This is important, because although the vast majority of people are kind, warm, and welcoming, unfortunately racism is a reality. Growing up as an ethnic minority in the US, I have experienced racism there, too, but it’s different when it happens at home versus abroad.
At home, you can find comfort and safety with your friends, your family, and with the things you are familiar with. When abroad, you are not surrounded by these sanctuaries, and although the action may be the same, it’s a completely different feeling.
6) Are you prepared for the time when your journey comes to an end, you will be a completely different person and you have no idea in what way?
I believe that it is our experiences that shape our identity and I have never met a person who has lived abroad and not been changed by that experience. Oftentimes the experience is positive, but not always.
I think many people focus on the “going” part, but don’t pay enough attention to the “coming back” part, including myself. The “going” is exciting and fun, and “coming back” is mundane, but it is upon coming back that you will realize the extent of the change you’ve undergone.
Look out for my next post “Preparing for Your Move (Part II – Practical)” in the coming weeks!
(Image credit: iStockphoto)
Man with Van Bow Ltd. says
Hello, Fantastic article. The most useful advice is to understand how adaptable you are in foreign country. Always the most adaptive people survive ! Greetings!
Hi I am moving to bahrain in January with my wife to work and live and I would like any information on culture and life style
If you’re interested in getting information on moving to Bahrain, you might want to consider signing up for expat community there:
Even though all these things may be to some extend, experience varies person to person. Working abroad or in different places will help bring out the talent in person as some people thrive in some environments. It will offer great economic prospect, career growth opportunities. Know first hand many people for whom working in abroad has given them 20000% growth or more
Ann Marie Stachurski says
Being resilient is critical, specially when choosing to live abroad. Sooner or later the novelty wears off and the challenges come to the surface. Or things can go wrong. That’s life.
Before heading off, it is possible to get familiar with the skills and strategies to building resilience, then you have them at your fingertips. Interestingly, building resilience is a key aspect in developing social skills in early childhood teaching in New Zealand these days!
For me, culture shock happens on returning home. Again thinking ahead means having those strategies up our sleeves ready to pull them out if or when needed. Happy travels! Ann
That is a good point Larry. Sometimes when you are prepared mentally for everything to be totally different, you are better off than when you go somewhere and expect things to be more similar to your home.
KEY POINT – don’t let the fact that they speak English in the country (say moving from USA to UK or Australia). English speaking they may be (some would argue that but …) The culture is different, maybe even deceptively so. May not appear as different as say USA to France or Germany, but subtly maybe even worse. Language alone can be simple – like US cell phones = Australia mobile phones to more significant like US – rubber = french letter vs Australia – rubber = eraser (like on pencil)!
2014OC17 17:45 Sydney Australia