Learning about life when working abroad

Somethings in life are not for everyone. That has to be the caveat I’ll start with because hurling yourself into a new job in a new country that is saturated with new cultures and ways of doing things is not everyone’s mug of Earl Grey.

It can’t be.

But for those that have decided this is the route they want to go, wow, it is one of the most amazing ways of boosting your career and one of the most exciting ways to grow as a person.

Having the right attitude may only be part of it, but it’s definitely the foundation you need in order to make a success of your decision, especially when you hit that three-month wall.

It doesn’t matter where you are going or what you’ll be doing, there is a huge transition to prepare yourself for. There will be a new working culture to wrap your head around and embrace.

New standards of what is considered to be professional behavior. New working hours and working environments to adapt to. All of that while trying to learn the ropes of a new culture outside of work, what is considered polite, what is considered terrible and maybe, just maybe, a language barrier to overcome too.

Talk about overwhelming. Talk about an assault on the senses. Talk about exciting.

So, to help you navigate this transition a little bit better, see below some top tips and bits of advice to make sure your leap across the border is as easy and smooth as possible, while also helping you to avoid some rookie mistakes that can ruin even the most thrilling adventure.


Your Priority is where the Heck are you Going to Live

If we are to strip it back to the very basics, then you are homeless in a foreign country.

Even if you are lucky enough to have found a sofa to crash on, or a hostel to call home or a hotel room that you can afford, you need to know that this won’t last forever, or even a few weeks. That is why you need to find a suitable and permanent abode.

Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. As simple as you think it may be to find a lovely apartment in the downtown district near all the amenities and bars that is within your price range, you’ll probably have your hopes crushed.

To find housing, you need to know where to look. If you are heading to a New York or a London then your best bet is to speak to a local estate agent and have them help you. If you are heading to South Jakarta then your best bet is to set aside an hour and scroll through somewhere like http://rumahdijual.com/ and see what you can find within your budget.

If you are heading to a Cape Town or a Sydney, then Airbnb could prove useful, while a local expat forum is your best bet for somewhere like Hong Kong where people are constantly coming and going.

And if you’re heading to Canada, then http://viewit.ca/, Airbnb, or https://www.kijiji.ca/ may come in handy.

Just make sure you know what you can afford, how much all the fees add up to, what your internet and utility bills will cost, what sort of contract you are signing into and what is important to you when choosing a location.


Making friends is not as Easy as it Once was

Now that you have got a base – a place to call home – you’ll want to fill your life with people that you can call friends. People that can show you around your new home, share your adventure with and create stories alongside.

Being in a foreign country can feel incredibly lonely, especially when you hit the three-month wall. You are on alien soil and away from all your friends and family. It’s daunting. The big problem here is, well, you don’t know where to find friends.

This isn’t school where you can choose a clique that suits you and find people with similar interests and you are backpacking which means making a series of half-hour friendships is out of the question.

Chances are, your new coworkers are going to become your nearest and dearest, at least for a while. If this doesn’t sit well with you – and that is totally understandable, especially if you are the only non-local in your department – then there are other options available to you.

The best of the bunch, in our eyes, is finding friends online. There are sites that are specifically aimed at connecting travellers, there are bloggers that will be able to help you out (like me *haha), local meetups going on and couch-surfing events too.

Just make sure you are safe when meeting up with anyone off the internet though, that means sticking to public places. The other thing I recommend doing is joining a local organisation or a club. No matter what you are interested in, there will no doubt be something that brings people together around this.

Cooking, rock climbing, hiking, chasing the sunrise, mountain biking, anything. Seek these out and you will find people that share your interests, and that can be a real sanity-saver when you are living abroad.


Foreign Bureaucracy is Important (And so is Transport)

With the basics down – somewhere to live and friends to call on – your next big hurdle is learning how to go about actually living in your new country. Trust me, this is not as simple as you may have once presumed it to be.

Even the most basic things – the things you took for granted back home – can become a real challenge abroad. Your best hope is to embrace a strong degree of patience, young grasshopper. The first time you make it from your home to your work and back again on public transport without getting lost or ripped off will be your biggest accomplishment in life, ever.

That is the kind of thing I’m talking about. It’s being able to count out your change, using automated ticket machines, understanding the billions of bus, subway and tram links that seem to go in any which direction and getting used to the fact transport abroad is untimely, unreliable and packed with people; too many people.

But being able to work transport isn’t all you’ll need to navigate your new home. You’ll need to have your visa in order, know where the government buildings are and have some idea of what the waiting times are like (told you, bureaucracy).

As a tip, always take a good book to read when you need to go. The other thing that constitutes crucial is knowing which way the traffic flows. This may sound totally rudimental, but you’ll want to know which side of the road cars drive on, whether they stop at zebra crossings and pay attention to how they treat cyclists.

If you don’t, well, you’ll be playing a game of survival you might not want to.


You will not have the Etiquette Down to Begin with

No one wants to play the role of the ugly foreigner when they arrive in someone else’s country, but you need to accept that you are going to make plenty of mistakes before you start understanding the etiquette properly.

The important thing is to make any mistakes with a charming level of sympathy and courtesy. It’s also up to you to be proactive when it comes to learning about the new culture you are living amongst.

That means reading up on certain cultural traits in your free time and showing off the manners you used to reserve only for your grandparents (although, try not to share your grandparent’s opinions).

The kind of things you will want to find out is what is considered to be insulting in the eyes of the locals. It could be not finishing your food, or it could be finishing your food. It could be using your left hand to eat with or presenting your feet to someone completely unwittingly.

Every culture has different offences, so do a little research. Another thing you should try and do is learn a few phrases in the local language, especially when it comes to greeting people. Knowing a few local phrases will go a long way in making you feel more at home and more welcomed, which is why you should look at this list on https://www.fluentin3months.com.

Who knows, you may even get invited to someone’s home for dinner like I did when I first arrived Canada. A new friend organized a birthday party for me at her parents’ house. It was really thoughtful and I felt welcome.

Another thing that could be to your benefit is knowing exactly when the local holidays are and what they are for. Not only will this allow you to converse with the locals and learn about their history a bit more, it will also let you invest in some earplugs before a night of non-stop fireworks gets underway, or you get covered in powdered-paint on your way to work.

And last but not least, never refuse a kind offer. It doesn’t matter how disgusting something may look, you need to be grateful for their gesture. Trust me, the taste of six-day-old fermented mare’s milk doesn’t last forever.

I know this is a long read, but I’m so happy to have collaborated on this post because I believe it’ll be of value to you on your new adventure.

Share with me in the comment section, where did you relocate or immigrate to, and why?

*This is a collaborative post.