So You Want to Live Abroad. Here’s Some Advice.
“The world is your oyster,” they keep saying. Being a “digital nomad” is a Thing. #LivingAbroad #adventure. Want to do it? Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
Am I a product of the nomadic millennial generation? Not necessarily. My grandparents moved from Holland to New Zealand. Humanity has been doing it for centuries. Well, some have and others haven’t.
“I wish I travelled more when I was younger.” “I would have loved to see more of the world before I settled down.” I got sick of older people reflecting on their corporate jobs, mortgages and empty passports. The ultimate FOMO.
For the majority of my 20-something’s, I have lived abroad across 4 continents. And I’m very, very fortunate to have done so. It’s been a well-intentioned self-centered search of something. In search of a place to call home, in search of adventure, in search of belonging. I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet — partly because I haven’t delineated what I’m looking for. Other people don’t have this opportunity: these were the cards I was dealt thus far.
Along the way, I have picked up a few lessons about how to go about it smoothly in the 21st century. There’s a lot of unexpected struggles that I can’t prepare you for. Here’s what I know is true.
The Practical Checklist
Living anywhere requires a bit of paperwork and some bare essentials. Wherever you go, these are some of the things you’ll be needing to think about.
- A visa to actually be present in the country
- A place to live / sleep
- Finances / bank account
- Set up a telephone
- Social Security Number / Tax ID / National Insurance Number
- Health Insurance (or understand what happens when you get sick)
- An emergency contingency plan (what happens when something goes wrong)
These things are a given. They can take a bit of time, but they are necessary evils. Each country will have its own bureaucracy nightmares and paper-work hurdles you have to jump through. But you have to do it.
Pre-Departure: Job or No Job? That’s your call.
Having a job lined up before you get on the plane gives you peace of mind: financial security and stability. I’ve had Skype interviews for teaching positions in South Korea, face-to-face interviews in New Zealand before working at Walt Disney World. And it’s made living abroad feel intentioned and having purpose.
But nothing will prepare you for the first day of work. What’s the work environment like? What are your co-workers like? How’s the commute? How much will I really need to live in this new country? You wont know until you arrive. You might not get it right. You might.
Arriving in London, I had no jobs lined up. I built up my network quickly, shared the story of my skill set and found a few jobs through who I knew. I was lucky. It doesn’t always happen like this. But it can.
I know that in the future, I may be relying on recruitment agencies, cold-calling with resumes, hustling through new networks, having faith in the LEAN approach, using the Escape the City teachings, spending hours online job hunting. I’m terrified of this, but I have hope that it’ll work. Being here allows me to build a face-to-face relationship with future employers and feel out the market a lot more naturally.
Learn the language. Unlock more doors.
We all feign that we don’t know the rules. We can’t read the signs. We don’t know on which side of the escalator to stand. We vaguely point to things on the menu like Russian Roulette. Sure, we all play the foreigner card on our down days. But don’t let that become your identity.
You’ll look like the well-despised foreigner if you don’t even attempt to learn the language. Even if you can say “Thank you” or “What’s the best thing on the menu?” you’ll garner a lot more respect from the local people for showing that you try.
Spend an hour or two trying to understand some of the foreign alphabet and you’ll benefit every day you walk out the door.
Going abroad is about new opportunities. Many of us want to go down the unbeaten track. How do you expect all of these to be in English? I wouldn’t have found half the places in the city of Sendai if I hadn’t trawled through Japanese websites, brochures, posters looking for hot springs, famous temples and things to do.
Use a language abroad: you’ll get out of it as much as you put in.
You WILL make friends. You WILL feel alone.
Don’t hole yourself up in your room every day and watch Netflix. Sure, sitting inside and watching Korean dramas might help with your listening skills. But if you’re living in South Korea — why don’t you live your own story? Go out and meet people. Laugh at your own jokes. Write your own memoirs.
Where do you go to find people? Use Meetups. Go to the local (wince) foreigner bar. Talk to locals. Strike a conversation with the mart-owner that you see every day.
The key: focus on doing things you love. And be social about it. Join a House dance class. Listen to podcasts on the train and talk about them. Write reviews about the restaurants you love and collaborate with other food-bloggers. Follow people on instagram who are visiting inspiring places and talk to them. Let yourself shine and others will notice your energy. They’ll take interest in your interests.
Read minimalist books.
You’re about to condense your life into a 20kg suitcase and start afresh. You can’t take everything with you. When you leave your home country, all the material posessions left behind are worthless to your new identity. How do you choose what to take?
Here’s your chance to start again. Redefine your attachment to the material world.
I love tidying and creating systems of organisation. I spend a lot of time trying my best to remove the clutter. Where do I go for inspiration? I read blogs like Zen Habits and books like Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui.
This is your chance to actualise David Bruno’s challenge of only owning 100 things (His book is available on Amazon). Reading people’s experiences such as Be More with Less encouraged me to think about what I own.
Why bother? It teaches you to be economical, frees up your time. It allows you to spend less money on “stuff” and more money on experiences. And this is what living abroad is all about.
Commit to passively keeping in touch. Setup a blog.
Your friends and family will want to know how you are. And you’ll want to share your experiences with them. But I don’t want to write the same copy-and-paste email 20 times.
Solution? I set up a blog and use that to communicate with my family back home. When people email me asking “how’s life going in London?” I can just point them to my blog and let them read it in their own time. This means I can maximise my time abroad by getting out there and doing things.
Don’t pretend you’re a merely tourist / Keep your ears and eyes open, young opportunist.
You want to see everything that this new place has to offer. You committed to living in this new place. You want to see more than the bucket list of tourist options from the Lonely Planet.
Great. Now how do you go about finding those? I previously wrote about this on my side-project adbentures.
Follow travel blogs. Always pick up a copy of the Timeout magazine. “Like” some local Facebook pages. Read (and contribute) to Atlas Obscura. Ask the locals for recommendations. Scour through the notice board at your local cafe / art gallery. Pay at attention to the posters at metro stations. Overhear others’ conversations.
You’ve got no excuse to not know what’s going on in your new city / town. You live there.
It doesn’t mean you have to go to everything. Time, money, commitments will get in the way. The amount of opportunities in London is overwhelming. But it’s always good to have a list.
Reflect on your mindset.
You’re about to move to a new place. It’s probably going to be temporary. Along the way, people will come and go.
What are you want to get out of this experience?
How will you maximise your opportunities?
How will you honour your “self”?
What compromises are you un/willing to make?
These answers won’t be straight-forward or intuitive. Even now, I am re-questioning my relationship with “living abroad”. Be aware of them. Meditate, journal, talk about them. Living abroad is an opportunity for self-growth.
Set some realistic expectations and measure them as you create your adventure.
Living abroad will be one of the best things you ever do. Maximise these impermanent opportunities. Get out there, see the world and grow. Don’t just admire the oyster; eat it.