Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Part 2: Practical Tips for Moving Overseas

This post continues my 10 Tips for Moving Overseas as part of my week-long series on the Thorny Issues of Living Overseas.

I can still remember the week we had no money. And no home. And no food. To make matters worse, it was our very first week in Indonesia. So, we knew no words either.

We were having problems with our ATM card and had to make middle-of-the-night calls to our bank to get things resolved, while we borrowed cash from friends. Our house wasn’t ready, so we lived in a small hotel where we’d eat the free breakfast buffet until we were overstuffed, because we didn’t have food (or money for food). Thankfully, most nights, another expat family would invite us over for dinner.

But after that hard first week, things got better. Our ATM card started working. We moved into the house MAF had rented for us. And we learned a few critical words in Indonesia.

From these hard things (and more that came later), there were lessons learned, growth that made us stronger, and humility that breeds compassion for others going through hard transitions. So, if that’s you, or someone close to you, here are my next three practical tips for Moving Overseas.

4. Be careful who you believe.

Find other friends, both expats and locals. But understand that the other expats may not truly know all the right answers. The person who has been there for three months longer than you may seem like the expert—they certainly know how to order a pizza on the phone and have figured out the money system. But that doesn’t mean they should become your cultural expert. Better to ask your local neighbor for those kinds of things.

5. Learn the language—for that day.

Believe me, I know how hard it is to learn a language. But remember that you don’t have to (and can’t possibly) learn it all in one day. So, focus on learning something that day. Try it out on the locals. Pat yourself on the back when you seem to have communicated something useful. Smile when you have no idea what they’re saying back to you. And laugh when you’ve called yourself a mosquito, like I did.

6. Take a vacation or a furlough.

It’s normal for life to be harder than it used to be for a while, though each day you’ll learn useful things that will make the next day smoother. But when you feel like you’re ready to give up after a particularly stressful spell, then go take a vacation. Go somewhere nice and beautiful with ice cream and hamburgers, if you can possibly manage it. Enjoy the best that the country has to offers—the beaches of Bali or the cool mountains of Java, or the nice malls of Jakarta. (Discover your own list of spots wherever you live.)

Or maybe you’re a couple of years into your term and you’re barely hanging on and you think there is no way you’re coming back to this place. Before you make a long-term decision when life is dark, consider taking a furlough to your home country. Rest. Spend time with family. Eat your favorite foods. Then take time to figure out if you want to return, or to move onto something else.

Missed tips yesterday's tips? Check them out here.

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