Saturday, January 28, 2012

Practical Tips for Moving Overseas (or making any big change in life)

This week, we'll continue to look at the realities of moving and living overseas.

Almost seven years ago, Brad and I sat in one of our favorite restaurants for our last meal. I knew I’d eat again, but I figured it would be years before I ate pizza or hamburgers or spaghetti. We were scheduled to leave for Indonesia the next day.

Those last few months were full of other “lasts.” Last turkey dinner. Last snowball fight. Last Christmas. Last time with family.

I knew what I was leaving behind. But I didn’t really, truly know what I was getting into. (Or that I’d be eating pizza just a week into my move to Indonesia.)

Though that transition was years ago, the memories are vivid, the lessons sank deep, and the tastes—both the last ones and the first ones—still water my mouth.

So, maybe you are getting ready to move overseas, or have family who are making the transition, or who hope to someday, or maybe you’re making some other big transition in your life and could use a roadmap for surviving changes.

Whatever your situation, I hope you’ll find these next three posts listing my 10 Tips for Surviving a Move Overseas helpful.

1. Expect things to be hard.

If you pack only rose-colored glasses when you move overseas, you may struggle when you face the new realities. The traffic that terrifies you, the fact your husband is deathly ill with a tropical disease, or the rats that move into your oven on Christmas. So, expect things to be different and frustrating and hard and scary.

Picture of our neighborhood in Bandung, where we went to language school. Our house is tucked in among the others.

2. Look for the good things.

When you’re bracing yourself for a hard ride, don’t forget to watch for the “better things.” Those things that are better than you thought they’d be, better than they are in your home country. Like eating sweet pineapple picked from a neighbor's tree. Or staying in a gorgeous resort for really cheap. Or making a special friend. Or getting your hair cut or colored for a fraction of the cost in your home country. Or experiencing the richness of living in another culture.

Believe it or not, I have been known to be a teensy bit frustrated when visiting my home country because of the things I’ve learned to enjoy in Indonesia (that aren’t common in the States).

Some really cute girls in our neighborhood in Bandung.

3. Make friends. Both expat and local.

Other foreigners—whether from your own country or other countries—will understand your life like few others will. They’ll know the places to buy cheese for pizza. They’ll be able to recommend a restaurant that won’t make you sick. And they are lonely too—far from family, friends and familiarity. Enjoy these relationships.

If you’re the only foreigner in your location, then search out blogs of other expats living overseas (like BorneoWife) or Web communities or Skype other friends from your organization who are in other countries.

But don’t be tempted to spend all your time with the other foreigners. Seek out relationships with the local people. You won’t always understand them, and they will certainly misunderstand you. But enjoy what they do well (here in Indonesia, its friendliness, hospitality, having time for you). And share with them what you can. Learn from them, lean on them, ask them questions, visit them and welcome them into your home.

Next time I’ll share my next three tips for surviving—and maybe even enjoying—the move overseas.

For those of you who already (or used to) live overseas, what’s your advice?

Another shot of our neighborhood.


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