Perhaps there is nothing so challenging in life as moving to another country. Whether it be for work, love, or simply to have a short-term adventure, preparing to make the leap abroad brings 1,001 questions, concerns, and downright anxieties. While everyone is different in their approach to planning a major life transition, I wanted help anyone thinking about making the leap with a list of a few helpful tips when preparing for the big transition abroad.
1. Read, read, read
I’m not the first one to write it, and I’ve found the same sort of advice from others dealing with culture shock, but one of the best ways cope with moving abroad is to find out as much as you can about your new home. I tried to get my hands on as many books about France as possible, and a few of my stand-out favorites include: Working and Living in France by Monica Larner (who also penned my prior expat fail-safe: Living, Studying, and Working in Italy) and Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong. The former is an excellent nuts and bolts approach to navigating everything from ordering drinks at cafès to setting up your own company; while the later dives deeper into the cultural elements which make the French well, so French. I was given about a million and one France guidebooks (ok, about five) and they were also indispensable for helping me get my bearings; not to mention the grammar books for that little thing called learning the language. Oui, très important.
2. Find a Social Network
The one nice thing about being an expat is that in many places you will already find a built-in social network waiting to take you in. Even if you already know some of the locals in your destination city, sharing the ups and downs with other foreigners in the same circumstance can help you get through those difficult first months. And it goes without saying that expats are the best source of information on where to find housing, jobs, the best markets and also how to navigate bureaucracy (pull up a chair for that one…) in your host country. A good expat networking site to check out is AngloInfo; they have event and classified listings for multiple regions in France.
3. Get Your Professional House in Order
If you are moving to France for work, then you are already in an excellent position for resolving one of the biggest living-abroad challenges. On the other hand, if you find yourself wondering how the heck you’re going to make a living in la belle France, it’s a good idea to channel a significant amount of energy into researching the job market and understanding where your skill-set will fit in. It’s easy to get discouraged as a foreigner in an already tight job market, but being an expat also has several advantages. You bring a unique perspective, and if you are a native English speaker you can leverage this asset into the teaching, training, or tourism industries. The Transitions Abroad site has some good leads as to where to find short and long-term employment in France.
4. Save Money and Have a Plan B
I found the most popular question would-be expats ask is, “How much money do I need to save?”. There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. Some recommend saving enough to live off for three months and others recommend twice as much. While it’s a good idea to have a cushion, you’ll have to determine what your living expenses will be and go from there. Likewise with work; you could find a job immediately or it could take several months. Leaping into the unknown is one of the most thrilling things about moving abroad and also one of the scariest. This is why it’s a good idea to have a Plan B. How long will you wait to find a job and what are your alternate plans if the prospects don’t pan out as you had hoped? Most likely, you’ll find something sooner than later but having a plan B to fall back on helps ease the stress and pressure of the job search, and also gives you something to tell those pesky folks back home. “Don’t worry, if I don’t make it in France, I’m becoming an interior decorator” (I always wanted to get my hands on those color palettes…).
Don’t forget to forget to stop and smell the roses… or eat a ton of pastries.
5. Develop a Strategy for Coping with Stress and Reward Yourself Along the Way
Most of my strategies for coping with stress have to do with wine, chocolate, and French pastries, but everyone knows what works best for them. Books recommend exercising regularly and getting lots of sleep, which are also good ideas, but I much prefer shopping or taking day trips (to bakeries) to take my mind off the stressors of those first few months. Similarly, I enjoy planning for a trip that I’ll take at the end of the 4-6 month transition period. Ok, so it’s just a small camping trip to Italy, but it gives me something to look forward to while I’m conjugating verbs and making a fourth trip to the bank to sign-up for a checking account.
These are just a few of my ideas, what tips have you used while moving abroad or to ease a big transition?