As we just finished our relocation from CZ to UK (which went more or less fine, if you don’t consider four months that we had to spend apart with my husband), I would like to draw up a list of things every expat has to face to some extent. If you’re planning to become an expat, it could be a good idea to go through this list and decide whether you are ready to deal with these challenges.
- Surviving uncertainty
Not being sure about the dates of relocation, visa questions, length of your stay (will or shall the contract be extended?), trying to plan what to do after the stay comes to an end – expat life has a lot of such ‘bonuses’.
I wrote before how we dealt with a dreadful waiting period, time when uncertainty levels are at their high. Will we move? When will we move? Where will we move to? You can read about it here. You might find some of our experiences useful, you would surely come up with some of your own ‘techniques’. One thing I can say for sure – get ready for a life with a larger number of unknown X’s and Y’s in your expat life.
2. Relocation stress
We relocated quite a lot already. We did it on our own and with a help of a relocation company, so we can compare. I would definitely recommend using the services of a relocation company/agent, but even when you do, do not expect the whole relocation process to go smoothly! Main thing is – try not to stress too much about it. I think, expat life in general teaches you to take it easy and not to stress about lots of things – if you do, you might go grey way too early. Here’s a post about a smooth relocation (and how it doesn’t exist).
3. Keeping in touch
Keeping in touch definitely becomes a challenge. More so, if you and your family & friends live in different time zones. It did get easier though with the advance of technology – here’s how I usually communicate with my loved ones.
Another issue to think about is the distance between your home and expat destination – and prices for the flights, of course. You might think that you could often see you friends and family members and they would come and visit you. They might, but don’t really expect them to – now they would have to spend much more to come and see you than they used to, when you lived around the corner.
4. Language barrier
Get ready for this. It might seem all fun and unusual in the beginning, but being a tourist and just briefly experiencing language barrier is absolutely not the same as living your life and not being able to ask for some help in a shop or on a street. Best advice would be – start learning now! As soon as possible, as soon as you get the news about your relocation. You might not need to be fluent, but you should at least learn the most useful phrases and words, from greetings to asking a direction. It is always easier for kids, here’s what I learnt about expat kids and their language skills on my daughter’s example. But whether you’re 4 or 44, don’t stress, just start learning!
5. Culture shock
It’s inevitable, everybody gets it and you will too. As long as you are ready to be often amused and occasionally flabbergasted, you’ll be just fine! Just remember, people around you are not out there to get you with their weird ways – they’re just living their lives as they always did and will do so, whether you find it strange or not. Might as well get used to it ;)
6. Friends vs acquaintances
You would probably feel like a new student at school all over again: lots of strangers around you and no idea how to strike up a conversation with them. Good news – expats are usually quite friendly with each other. You’re all in the same boat after all. Get into various online groups and forums and feel free to ask for expat advice. Chances are high that you will not only get help, but find a new acquaintance to go out for an occasional coffee with. Another good place to meet people – international schools. Those mothers that you see also left their friends back home! Of course, acquaintances are not the same as old friends, but who knows, maybe you will find new friends among them.
7. Getting attached
You find new friends and they have to relocate again. Your kids get used to their school and classmates and you have to go home. You fall in love with the local climate and now you have to go back. After all the troubles of settling into your new expat life, you now have to cut the ties. Just be prepared for such a turn of events – expat ups and downs come as a package. Here’s a list of things that I left behind during my 15 year long expat journey.
8. Third culture kids
TCK’s are a growing group of people in our ever expanding modern world. Keeping in touch with the family’s culture, getting involved in the host country’s culture and forming a mix-n-match culture of their own. Your expat experience can change your kids for life. Is it a good thing? I believe so. If you need more info to make up your mind, I’ve got a collection of posts about multicultural kids, written by my guest bloggers and myself.
9. Repatriation or immigration
It’s not just your kids – you would not be the same again. Opening up to new experiences, you start looking at things at a different angle. This might mean that you won’t be able to carry on with your ‘usual’ lifestyle back at home. Some expats get their minds ready for repatriation and others – embrace the new life and choose immigration. What will it be like for you? Well, you would have to go on that expat adventure and see for yourself ;)