Having recently moved to a new country for a third time – this time to Singapore – I have been reflecting on what I have experienced. I always say to people who ask, if you get the chance to live and work abroad – do it! It isn’t easy, and it will make you step out of your comfort zone, but it is hugely rewarding and fun, and I do believe you grow as a result. When you have overcome the challenge of something unfamiliar or in a different language, it puts everything back home into perspective. (The rules for garbage sorting and bin collection in Germany with GCSE level German. The list of questions at the checkout in Chile with next to no Spanish. The car park barriers in Singapore when you haven’t got enough credit and no one is answering the intercom.) The good bits far outweigh the challenges: the friendships you form with global like-minded people, the camaraderie with others who have experienced the same challenges, the places you can visit and the things you can see.
So if you are considering a move, I have surveyed a sample of my expat friends around the world* and here are our top tips:
1. Relocate lightly. Be ruthless with your packing. Declutter. Marie Kondo the heck out of your stuff – if it isn’t useful or doesn’t spark joy, ditch it. Also consider the climate of where you are moving to. I really didn’t need the boots and coats in Singapore.
2. Expect it to be hard especially at the beginning. Even on my third move I had forgotten how tough the first few days are, with jetlag, temporary accommodation, no local mobile phone, and no friends. Be prepared for tears or a ‘what have I done’ moment. If it is the first time you have done an international move it is likely to be even more of a shock. I remember when I moved to Germany in 2003, my boss warned me l would ‘hit a wall’ in a few weeks (i.e. have a meltdown). I did.
3. Be patient. Waiting for your shipping, with your loved ones, but mostly with yourself. You may find you are forced to slow down. This isn’t easy for all of us, especially if you are naturally driven or like ticking things off your to do list.
4. Proactively build your network in your new location. Go on mate dates. Meet professional contacts. A great way to do this is to ask your existing friends and contacts on social media for intros. Also join the expat Facebook groups in your area. Be brave and get out there.
5. Say yes to things (but not forever). I am a big fan of Shonda Rhimes’ book The Year of Yes. Even if activities or events aren’t what you would normally do, consider them. You might make some new friends or interests, and it is a bit of a numbers game when you are looking for your tribe.
6. Look after your health and wellbeing. It’s easy (and tempting) to socialise hard as you meet people. This might involve lots of cake or wine. Try to find healthy activities too – I have started an exercise class in the botanic gardens with a new friend and have fun and do some exercise in an amazing location.
7. Stay open to the experience leading you. Be flexible and don’t try to control everything. Easier said than done for some of us.
8. Don’t expect all of your family and friends back home to understand your new life or your motivations for moving internationally. Some will be disinterested or even unsupportive. Some people will live their whole life in the town they grew up in and think you are crazy.
9. Be prepared that expat friends come and go. This for me has been the most poignant heart-breaking part of expat life. You form wonderful friendships quickly, spending more time with people than you would back home and they become your family. Then one of you moves geographically. You will always share the memories of being in a certain place and time together, and you can keep in touch, but you will never get that place and time back again.
10. Get settled in your new place before travelling. Explore locally and get your bearings. There will be plenty of time for travel and trips back home but don’t go too soon.
11. Be kind to yourself. Your brain will be full. You will forget things, lose things or put things in weird places. I am super organised and everything normally has its place. Even I have already lost a bank card since moving.
12. Realise that moving alone won’t change you. I love this quote by Suzy Walker of Psychologies Magazine, ‘You can’t change your life by changing location – wherever you go, there you are’. But you can use the time to proactively reflect on what is important to you in your new chapter. (See below for some transition coaching questions.)
13. Smile and sail on. Don’t take challenges to heart. Observe things and let them wash over you. For all the wonderful friends you will make, you will meet others with different attitudes and values. Don’t dwell on it. Keep your sense of humour.
14. Pay it forwards. People are so generous with their time and tips when you are a newcomer. Kind people rescue you when you are stuck in car parks. Don’t forget how it felt. Do the same for others.
15. Enjoy it. It is a huge privilege to live in another country. Slow down, observe and listen. It is a deeply enriching experience for both your character and your conscience.
Three transition coaching questions which may be helpful:
1. What would you like to let go of?
2. What learnings would it be helpful to take with you?
3. What do you want to experience in this next phase?
If you are new to Singapore and would be interested in joining a small coaching and support group please get in touch. Wherever you are in the world, if you would like to chat about my one to one transition coaching for your career or life I would love to hear from you.
*Thank you. You know who you are.