Last week, we shared the story of a job seeker who found a great opportunity working on conflict resolution in India. However, if you are looking to work in a different country, it helps to spend some time figuring out the logistics of moving and adapting to a new culture in addition to learning job-search techniques. Today, Wenna Price—an education specialist from the United Kingdom whose work has sent her around the globe—shares her tips for preparing for your big move.
Do you have a story to share? Contact us here.
by Wenna Price
Over the past eight years my work has taken me to four different countries. Originally from the UK I taught in schools in Austria, Lesotho, Ethiopia, and moved to the US six months ago when my family relocated. Each move has brought with it incredible memories and opportunities. However, as with most things in life, relocation is far from easy. Although each move has brought unique challenges, each time I have learned a little more about how to smooth the transition.
- Ask for advice on what to pack. Before I moved to Lesotho a friend connected me to another Brit in Maseru who gave me the useful advice “Leave all your clothes at home and bring electronics!” I was skeptical but followed instructions and was so glad I did! It turned out that anything electrical cost twice as much as it did at home, and often involved a journey of several hours. Clothes on the other hand were abundant and cheap, plus much better suited to my lifestyle there.
- Set aside money for “start up” costs. Not only do you have to get there but you have all the start up costs – mobile phone, internet, pots and pans, furniture, rent, maybe a car. Try and take enough cash to cover your start up costs and living expenses plus to allow you to get out and meet people in your first month. You don’t want to be stuck inside lonely and far from home counting every penny and wishing you could have accepted the dinner invite. Trust me.
- Prepare yourself for the adventure of everyday life. Daily tasks such as catching the bus and doing your grocery shopping may require whole new levels of effort. In Austria I learned the hard way that grocery shops remain closed for most of the weekend. In Ethiopia I walked for miles every day for weeks until my ears were attuned to hearing which part of town the identical, unmarked minibuses were heading towards.
- Be patient. Although there will be all manner of things which are superior to your current location (“So this how mangoes are supposed to taste!”) there will inevitably be things you find frustrating. For example, maybe you spend two hours in line to get a document stamped, then go to another office and spend another two hours in line only to discover that the first stamp is in the wrong place and you have to start all over again. Resist the temptation to tear out your own (or anybody else’s) hair. It’s all part of the yin and yang of an international lifestyle.
- Learn the language. Even if you only remember enough to be able to say “hello” and “thank you” a little effort often goes a long way. People will be much more likely to humor you and your mad sign language if you make an effort too. And your colleagues could become your best teachers. In Addis Ababa the school security guard would refuse to let me pass in the mornings until I got all my greetings correct. And I still remember them.
- Understand cultural norms. To my horror I had been in Lesotho for six months before a close friend told me that my knee length skirts had caused a scandal in the staffroom and among parents for being too short. While just-below-the-knee was considered conservative everywhere else I had worked, here it was provocative. Needless to say they went straight back in my suitcase after that!
International relocation is an amazing opportunity to develop another perspective on life and to develop new skills. With a sense of humor and an open mind you can have an unforgettable experience. Good luck!
Originally from the UK, Wenna Price works in education, studies international development, and for fun she experiments with rooftop gardening. Her prized possession is her tea pot and her guilty pleasure is a cup of Yorkshire tea. She lives in D.C. with a German and a cat.