You will never be ready to live overseas.
No matter how much you’ve travelled, how often you’ve moved house, how much experience you’ve had in navigating this world of ours, you will never be ready for the reality of moving overseas for a long period of time.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it.
Living overseas will change you in ways you can’t even imagine. It will test all of your abilities and reveal strengths and weaknesses you weren’t even aware of and it will give you impossible amounts of strength and confidence.
It will do this by forcing your mind wider. It will make you face things you were able to turn a blind eye to back at home. The spotlight that makes everything so bright and clear when you’re on holiday will also show you the bad parts of the world, the sad parts, and won’t let you turn away from them. You will have days when you just want to crawl into bed and never get out again, when the greatest act of strength you’ve ever imagined will be in getting up again and facing the world with a fuller knowledge of what can be in it. And you will have days that will be etched so beautifully into your memory that you will revisit them when the world seems dark and grey.
But you will never know any of this, never experience it and never make it a part of your reality if you don’t take that first step.
So when you are preparing to leave your home, saying goodbye to loved ones and waving goodbye to your job and to the places where you spend your day to day life. When you are packing up all of your belongings, putting them in boxes or throwing them away, here are several things to keep in mind.
1. Pack however you want to pack.
There is a great deal of division between people who swear by packing lightly and people who take everything but their family members along with them. Whichever end of the spectrum you are closest to, or whether you are somewhere in the middle, pack however you prefer to pack. Just remember that you are going to be the one carrying it around, and not everywhere has elevators the way they would back home.
2. Think carefully about sizes.
If you are going to a city in Asia, this can take some thought. If you are tall, if you have big feet, if you need large shirts or long sleeves then you may need to take clothes with you that will fit and last. People in Asia tend to be smaller than in Western countries, though there are exceptions, and you may not be able to get clothes in the size you need. As someone who has been wearing trousers bought here that fit perfectly around the waist but end mid-shin, I cannot tell you how annoying or how cold this can be.
3. Accept that you are going to get sick.
Everything is different. The food is different, the water is different and the habits around how food is kept and cooked are different. Even the bugs are different. So accept that you will get sick. You will get an upset stomach. You will get colds. Prepare for it. Bring tablets from home, there’s nothing worse than trying to navigate a pharmacy in a foreign language when you just want to curl up and die, and hope that your school has a helpful person who can speak the local language and is willing to run errands for you when you need something.
4. Set up ways to talk to people at home.
This is for when you’re homesick, and you will get homesick. One of the hardest things about travelling is that even though you can and will meet some amazing people while away, there is nothing quite like someone who has known you and loved you for years when you want to talk about the really personal stuff. You will miss that connection when you’re overseas, the comfort of it, and so make sure you have a lot of ways to contact them. And try to convince them to visit you while you’re abroad.
5. Leave your expectations at home.
This is easier said than done. You can holiday overseas without realising just how different another country can really be, but when you live in that country the differences become glaringly obvious. If you bring with you expectations of how people should behave, what they should believe, how they should treat others, than you will be in for a lot of frustration and unhappiness. Different countries are different. Travel with an open mind, really look around you at how other people do things and try to understand how and why it makes sense to them. It might not change your mind about how things should be done, but it will give you a much broader view of the world and will help you understand your new home better. It will also make your day to day life smoother and happier.
6. Don’t leave all of your life behind.
When you live and teach overseas there can be a lot of downtime. You may envision yourself getting a tan on the beach in some fabulous foreign location, but the reality is that you are in another country to work, with all the bits that come along with having a job. You will not be spending all of your time moving from one tourist attraction to another, with lots to do and see, you will be setting up a life in another city and mostly staying there to live and work. So bring your hobbies, your interests, whatever you do to fill your life at home, with you. You will be amazed at how quickly you acclimatise to your new city, see everything you want to see there, and start to live a normal, settled life. You’re going to need things to do then.
7. Prepare yourself to work hard, in every way.
The first few months in a new place can be difficult. There is a steep learning curve at work, you have to work out how to navigate your neighbourhood and the corner store and the local market and all in a language you probably don’t speak yet. And you will probably have to start doing it when you are jet lagged and shell shocked from the culture shock of suddenly being in a very different country. So in the days before you leave get plenty of sleep, eat well and prepare yourself mentally as best you can for the change.
No matter how long I make this piece, there will never be enough words to express all the things you need to know before moving overseas. And most of it you need to experience to truly understand. Living and working overseas is an amazing experience. It’s challenging and exciting and forces you to adapt to a very different culture and way of doing things. You will return from your time changed, in ways that people at home will comment on, and in subtler ways that only you really notice. With the right preparation and the right mindset, it could be one of the greatest experiences of your life.
Gayle Aggiss is a former teacher of York English from Australia.