I moved overseas almost three years ago, and have been an ex-pat ever since. I still remember the giddy feeling that enveloped me when I realized that I was really doing this, that I was really moving overseas.
Leading up to the move, I was more excited than nervous, and felt certain that whatever problems or struggles arose, I would figure them out. That proved to be true, but if there is one piece of advice that I would give others who are moving overseas for the first time, it would be this: do your homework.
That may seem fairly obvious but if I recall correctly, I did precious little research before I left the United States for South Korea. Oh sure, I researched Seoul, the neighborhood where I was going to be living and teaching, the safety of the city, the currency exchange rate. But that was about it. I was excited for my upcoming adventure but I was also caught up in finishing up work at my job before I left, saying goodbye to friends and family and handling the logistics of renting out my room, figuring out how to pay bills from overseas and the million and one other things that arise before making a move like that.
When I say do your homework, I don’t just mean about the country to which you’re moving. I mean, find out what strategies for dealing with homesickness or culture shock worked for other expats. Find out about the medical facilities in the area where you’ll be living well ahead of time. You might feel invincible at the time, but frightening health issues arise when you least expect them and you’ll want to have researched the best hospitals well before you’re alone in your room, vomiting up your life at six in the morning after a long night of food poisoning.
Always have enough money for a plane ticket home, or at least to somewhere safe, in your bank account. Dangerous situations can break out, or your job or living set-up may fall apart, leaving you desperate to get the hell out. Give yourself the means to do so.
Research where you’ll be living and keep a list, even just a mental one, of a few sights you’d like to see while there and promise yourself you’ll visit them. When you first move to a new place, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by starting a new job, moving into a new apartment and making new friends that all that culture you were sure you’d experience gets forgotten in the mix.
Having some loose goals of places you want to visit and actually going to see them will make you feel less guilty about the weekends when you let your hangover rule your life and stay in bed eating pizza and watching “The Wire” all day (not that I’d know anything about that).