5 do-or-die things that every new expat needs to know
OK – so ‘die’ might be a little extreme… but seriously, these 5 top expat tips will save you a lot of stress.
1. Your expectations need continuous reassessment
‘We’re going on a Bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one…we’re not scared!’ (Michael Rosen, 1989).
That family set out with unrealistic expectations too – they thought they were swishing through grass, wading through mud and splashing across rivers on a great adventure to catch a bear. The outcome was rather different – they freaked themselves out, ran home and hid under the bed!
You can avoid the same fate by doing your research well in advance of your move and by understanding what your new life is really going to be like. Forget the glossy brochures and the enviable pictures of your friends on Facebook having fun in exotic locations – they’re only showing you what they want you to see. Yes, moving overseas is an adventure, possibly the biggest one you’ll ever embark upon, but it’s not all lip gloss and champagne… you’ll need to shop for food, go to the doctor and dentist, take the kids to school, catch buses, work, cook meals and clean your house… just like you do at home.
When you arrive at your new home, no matter how well prepared you thought you were, there will be a gap between what you were expecting and your new reality. Whether it’s the heat, the noise, the dust, the smells or the people, something will not fit with your expectations.
The fastest way to recover your experience and avoid hiding under the bed, is to reassess those expectations and keep moving forward – it’s far easier to adjust your way of thinking than it is to make physical changes to your environment.
2. DO sweat the small stuff – it’s the little things that make or break you
We’ve all heard the saying ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. In fact, it’s more than a saying; it’s a book, a philosophy and a brand… but on this occasion, forget it. I’m not talking about going into a full meltdown about buying the right coloured suitcase, of course not. I’m talking about planning! No one is ever going to tell you that relocating your entire home and family to the other side of the world is going to be an easy feat, but the fact is, the more planning you do, the more you pin down every detail… the easier it becomes.
You can’t think of everything so focus on your trigger points; what could go wrong that would send you running for that gap under the bed? Have a backup plan for every trigger point, agonise a little bit over the details and the possible outcomes and by the time you get going, you’ll find there’s a lot less to worry about.
For example; you know what time your airport transfer leaves your destination airport to take you to your new home… but do you know how to contact alternative transport/taxis/guides if you miss it or it doesn’t turn up? That’s a small detail because it will probably never happen, but imagine how much stress you’ll avoid if it does happen and, like G.I. Jane, you know exactly what to do!
3. Expat grief is real and it will happen to you.
Be kind to yourself. Yes, moving is exciting and you’re supposed to be happy about it… but leaving people behind is hard. It’s not just people you’ll miss, either. You will miss the comfortable familiarity of everything. So, if you’re not expecting to feel a deep and profound sense of loss then it can really knock you sideways.
Grief is a heavy load and you need to take some action to deal with it. Make plans with loved ones so you have something to look forward to; talk to people about your sadness rather than bottling it up and recognise it for what it is… a grief process like any other that passes through several stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) before arriving at acceptance. Expect it, run with it, don’t let it rule you and ruin your experience.
4. Rigidity leads to failure
We all know people who thrive on routine and experience a mini meltdown if they can’t get their favourite breakfast cereal…those people are not going to make great expats. Travelling the world is all about expecting the unexpected and rolling with the punches.
Be flexible about everything, from what you’ll eat to where you’ll live. Have a plan, yes…but be prepared to change everything on it once you arrive. If you try to control your circumstances, your environment and even the people around you, all you will do is make yourself (and them) unhappy.
This goes hand in hand with reassessing your expectations; when you find something you don’t love, change it. Be flexible, approach every new ‘failure’ with a smile and simply change direction because the road to success is never a straight line.
5. Plans, lists…ACTION
We spend a lot of time telling you to do your research. To plan everything, to risk assess, to make lists and to tick them off as you get every little task done, and we stand by our advice – these things are really important. What we probably don’t tell you enough is to GO FOR IT!
If life as an expat appeals to you, then make it happen. It’s such a cringe worthy cliché to say that you only live once…but seriously, we don’t always get offered second chances so grab it with both hands and enjoy it.