So you’re about to move abroad…

10 Aug

It’s now been 4 months and a bit since I packed up my old life and moved to Denver, I can honestly say that I’m still learning and adapting every single day so I’m nowhere near living-abroad-Nirvana. With that said I’d like to offer 5 tips; bits of advice etc that (should I find a handy time machine) I would want to tell my pre-USA self. Also, if you find yourself in a similar situation, about to move far away from home then hopefully these might be of some use. Everyone’s different so I’m not sure how applicable these titbits will be for everyone about to take the big step, anyway, enough with the apologetic preamble: These are the 5 things I would definitely bear in mind.

1. Finding friends:
So if you’re at all like me your friends are pretty much your world and one of the most exciting/terrifying experiences is having to start from scratch. As soon as moving to the US my first goal was to find friends, I had set myself a friend finding mission! Now, call me arrogant, but I didn’t think it would be too hard to make a new set of mates. I think I envisioned it as being a repeat of Fresher’s week, rather stressful but after 2 weeks I’d have all my BFFs sorted. NOT SO! If you are moving in your mid-twenties or later remember that most people your age have already found their friendship groups so unlike Fresher’s week it is JUST YOU on ‘the friend finding mission’. And as they are unaware of ‘the mission’ this means that whilst many people will be friendly, chatty and more than happy to share their evening with you, don’t expect to find those deep kind of friendships that you had back home straight away. I met a few people in a bar who seemed reasonably friendly, we swapped numbers and I patted myself (metaphorically) on the back, Mission Achieved! Or was it… I went out with said people and felt like a total hanger on the entire night. Whilst these guys were friendly enough it turned out we had very little in common and I found the number of injokes whipping over my head completely bewildering. Safe to say I ended up feeling drunk and more homesick than ever before. So my advice, be constantly open to making friends BUT, remember, it may take some time till you meet ‘your people’. Don’t be hard on yourself, enjoy the company of all those you meet but don’t worry if it takes a while. (Also, don’t drink at altitude whilst homesick and slightly lost in a new city… not fun!)

2. Work IS good for you:
Maybe you’re moving with work, if so ignore this. If on the other hand you don’t have a job lined up then read this it’s important! I came to the US without work, without even a work permit or social security company. Whilst I had tried to mentally prepare myself for a number of months without work I still think I underestimated the impact it would have. It really is worth mentioning that being jobless and friendless in a new place is not at all easy. The first 2 weeks were fine, I had so much to see, there were so many things to organise that I barely had a free moment anyway. It was a month or so down the line where I found myself watching yet another episode of Flashforward in my underwear (eating scrambled eggs out the pan) that things got rough. Now of course if you’re the kind of person who can set yourself exciting projects and tasks then more power to you. Unfortunately whilst I had all these ideas for projects (start a website, edit a showreel and write a story) the incentive to do them was often lacking. Personally I am a product of living in highly controlled work-orientated western society, I need structure even if I don’t think I do! So my tips to those of you moving abroad without work, obviously try and manoeuvre yourself into a position to get work as soon as possible but before then KEEP BUSY! The best thing for me has been volunteering, not only will this fill time, make you feel useful, it will also help you make connections that could end with gainful employment. (Those of you moving to the states definitely look up the American Red Cross, they’re a great organisation and have really helped me keep myself occupied.) Also coffee shops are your friend, take your laptop and a book, buy a Starbucks and you’ll suddenly find yourself being 100x more productive. Not only that but the simple process of leaving the house and going out to a place with people is an incredibly positive experience!

3. Don’t be a Troglodyte:
Thank god I live in the 21st century. Skype is really your friend when you move a kabillion miles from home. Talking with your friends and family and being able to see them is really really good. It makes you feel the distance between you drop away, and being able to share all your new experiences with them via facebook is just fantastic. I worried about overusing these tools, I feared they would become a crutch and thought I would have to be more hard on myself. Luckily a well-travelled friend (thanks Tom!) told me that I should not try and hold myself back. Being able to drop in on your friends back home does NOT make you feel more homesick, the opposite is true, it reassures you that they are still there and still thinking of you. Embrace the future people!

4. Homesickness, there is no vaccine:
Some people never feel homesick when they move and that’s great but most of us will and do. Either way prepare yourself for it, you probably will have moments where you miss your friends and family terribly. Sometimes really stupid things can trigger it, finding a note of your own currency in an old bag, not being able to find the same brand of cream at the supermarket or seeing your friend’s photos from a night out. With this in mind just see it as part of the process, you WILL be fine just give yourself 25 minutes to wallow then go out and do something in your new home. Go for a walk around downtown, find a new cafe or get a bus to anywhere. Even if you feel like crap whilst you’re doing it, it will help you cement the idea that this is home now and you’ll soon be too distracted to feel lonely. Also, why not send your friends an email telling them about what you’ve seen, keep it positive and upbeat, sharing your experiences helps. You knew this wasn’t going to be easy right? So be strong and keeps busy.

5. Embrace the cultureshock:
Things will be different, possibly very very different, from home. Even if the language is the same, the food people eat, the things people say, what is acceptable humour and all those other little cultural nuances may be new and frightening. Very rarely have I found this to be a huge problem, in fact I’ve quite enjoyed all the cultural differences I’ve noticed, that’s part of the reason I moved. This leads into my point, embrace the differences, this is your home now so try the local cuisine, see the local sports and adapt. This doesn’t mean change yourself to fit in, I just think that if you’re flexible to what’s on offer in your new home then you’ll get so much more out of the experience. Also, if you resist everything and anything that differs, people may regard you as a snob and nobody wants to buy a snob a drink. Cases in point: I would never snowboard in London: This winter I am going to embrace the winter sports here as much as possible. I would cringe at anyone saying ‘dude’ in the UK: here is the US if you bump into someone ‘sorry dude’ is informal, courteous and not ridiculous.

3 Responses to “So you’re about to move abroad…”

  1. Zac Ryon August 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Nice post, Sasha. I especially like the ‘sorry, dude’ not being ridiculous. Even though everyone here says ‘cheers’, I have to say it to myself a few times before saying it out loud.

    We’ve been having similar experiences over here. It’s quite hard making new friends, especially when you work from home.

    – Zac

    • commandpluszed August 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      Haha, yeah I say ‘cheers’ all the time out here which people seem to love! How’re you boys settling into my hometown? It’s a crazy time to be moving to London, what with the Olympics, are you enjoying the madness or is it hellish?!

      All the best, Sacha

  2. Abbi August 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Eight years after moving to the UK on what was mostly a whim, I think this is all very sound advice. Embracing the slang is essential and kind of inevitable. When I go home now I have to consciously adjust back to South African slang… especially around the word “cheers”, which means good-bye where I come from!

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