Sometimes we work towards something, towards one goal, this light in the tunnel, but then at some point we forget why we even started…
Living abroad for a while might have been something you wanted to try for a long time. You might have been working towards it, planning your career and activities in a way that brings you closer to this goal.
Think about where this idea first came from. Why did you think it would be a good idea to move abroad? What did you want to get from that experience? Is this still what you want?
I’d like to share my story with you of how I was developing my cultural interest and what can you take away from my story if you are planning to move abroad for the first time as an adult person.
When I was still at school, I really liked geography. Not so much all that stuff about volcanoes and earthquakes and rocks, but rather the cartography and sociological aspects of how different cultures function, as well as how the area and climate they live in might have impacted that.
I also used to learn countries and their capitals just for fun. Yes, for real. Back then I never thought it would be so useful in my work to be honest, I was more at a stage where I thought “That’s a cool knowledge to have, you know, if I take part in a TV quiz or something. Because how can it be useful otherwise?”.
Then I started high school, International Baccalaureate in English. And this has opened so many doors and ideas for me. First of all, it was obviously the language that I got to know really well and it has become a great tool for me in the future. But it was also then when teachers and some of the classmates started talking about studying abroad, how IB helps people achieve this, how this is such a great experience and just generally how other places can be so different from Poland, where I’m from. This sparked a thought that it would indeed be great to do this. I would love to go abroad more and see what it’s like to live somewhere else in the world (bear in mind that back then I have not been on a plane at all and have only been abroad 3 times for short trips).
A lot of my high school friends went to study at a university abroad. I didn’t, for multiple reasons. One of them, looking back now, was that I simply wasn’t ready. Going away to uni was already quite a big change. I thought I still have time to do this if I wanted to.
Nurturing the dream
University was the time of truly international experiences. It wasn’t really possible for me to go on a student exchange (I decided that other things were more important to me at the time), but I tried to use every opportunity to interact with people from other cultures and nourish my dream of living abroad that was slowly starting to appear as something that I really want to pursue.
It was occasional volunteering with AIESEC to welcome their interns in the city I studied in.
It was singing in an amazing choir with which I travelled to some really cool places.
It was supporting the organisation of the International Choir Festival with that same choir, where we would welcome choirs from around the world every two years and create music together.
It was doing a business trainer course and meeting Aga, who is an intercultural trainer, which I found was a fascinating thing to do as a profession (that I hadn’t even known existed!).
It was studying psychology and reading research about how values and behaviours differ around the world.
And finally, it was starting work in a multinational company and connecting with colleagues from offices around the world on a daily basis.
Dreams versus reality
All of those experiences made me feel ready for an international adventure. I definitely knew I wanted to try this path as I was so fascinated by it! And I was lucky enough that my partner wanted to join me.
But, this terrifying question came up – where should we go? So many options, The world is so open these days, so many possibilities. We started narrowing down the list, approached this very thoroughly with pros and cons lists etc., and landed on a safe choice, which was reasonable given that we have never lived abroad! We chose a place that is not so far from home, where English is spoken, which is the language we were (thought we were? :D) speaking fluently, where the job market is supportive for immigrants and where we don’t need additional visas to work. London, UK.
Soon the reality of the move kicked in – finding a job, finalising all the things back home, arranging everything in London. Soon after the logistics, we started experiencing the emotional swings. At the time, this is not how I imagined it! The friends who were abroad for a student exchange were all super happy, met so many great people so easily, had so much fun, came back so sad and dreamt of going back. So that was the kind of image I had in my head. I technically knew about the culture shock, that adaptation takes a while etc, but at the same time, emotionally, I thought it would be easier.
Turns out, not surprisingly, that moving as an adult is a bit different and a bit more difficult from going for a short term student exchange.
Take-aways for you
What this experience taught me is that moving abroad is not such an easy thing to do, that you just think of and bam! it’s happening. For some people I guess that can be true, they can just pack up and go, whatever happens – happens. But if you’re more like me and wanted such a move to be a part of your career, a puzzle that fits in nicely with the rest of the picture that is already emerging, you realise that it takes some planning and awareness to make such move a success. Even more so, if you are moving with a partner and/or children and you want this move to be equally satisfying for them as well.
There are different ways you can define what a successful move means for you. I created a Move Planning Card that can help you determine that – it is available to all the newsletter subscribers.
Here’s a list of things that helped me make my move what I consider a success:
- Narrowing down the possible locations based on chosen criteria
- Creating a list of non-negotiables (for example, ours was speaking the language of the country we go to)
- Starting to look at jobs abroad in a chosen country before actually moving, to see what the market looks like for my particular profession
- Preparing in advance by creating a list of to-dos to minimize the amount of logistical flops that could happen
- Speaking to friends and colleagues who are already living in the UK to get their perspective
- Giving myself some time from when the thought ‘I will move abroad’ appeared, to actually moving abroad to try out this thought and explore whether that’s indeed what I want to do and commit to
- Knowing why I’m doing this helped me go through the tough times and openly talk with my friends and family whenever some difficult conversation came up
What everyone should keep in mind when moving as an adult?
- It’s not just partying and socialising all the time – it’s normal life where after all wherever you are in the world you need to do your shopping, pay your bills and work
- It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and make some new international connections, but it takes time and effort
- People will miss you and you will miss them too – the longer you’ve known them, the more difficult it would be
- Being spontaneous is great, but moving abroad is a huge undertaking, so plan it wisely. Running away from something in your home country and hoping your life and you will magically change in another location can be rather misleading.
You can also read:
I am extremely keen to hear your stories. How did it happen that you’ve moved abroad? Was it your conscious choice that you were planning for? If so, what helped you make this move a success? What challenges you’ve encountered?