Wherever you go, go with all your heart
Considerations for a successful life abroad
Can you recall how you felt buying your first car or house, or even as you signed your marriage certificate or a resignation letter to your boss? We take a lot of time pondering these life changing decisions, seeking advice from experts and friends alike. For most of us, there is always a sense of the unknown and a leap of faith is often required, however much we analyze possible consequences.
I vividly recall the moments before take-off from Gatwick Airport, London, on a twelve hour flight to Zimbabwe in 1988. My heart was pounding with excitement and fear as the engines roared and the smell of jet fuel hung thick in the air. After much consideration, I signed up to a two year teaching contract near the remote Zambezi Valley. Could there possibly be more of a contrast from my friendly and familiar secondary school in Newport, South Wales? Remember these were the days before Skype, there was no phone and the nearest post box was 30 miles from home. I was saying goodbye to great friends, a loving family, a job I loved and even English country pubs! Was I mad? How did I fall for that one? Could I have one last farewell? With a tear in my eye, I might as well have been going to the moon.
Why move abroad?
At this moment you might be considering a move abroad, perhaps a relocation with your company, to seek new challenges or gain new perspectives on yourself and the world. There are many emotional and practical tasks to complete such as selling or renting a home, dealing with a mountain of paperwork as well as how to say farewell to loved ones and familiar places. Dan Rather even suggests that ‘If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all’.
Few people have moved to another country without facing some dilemma, personal challenge or felt at least a whiff of homesickness. Most of us know that making a new life abroad is not the same as an extended holiday and the consequences of our decision can impact our whole lives. The Latin meaning of the word decision literally means ‘to cut off’- we have to be free from endless choices so that we can get to where we want to go.
If you are pulled between staying put or getting on that plane to new horizons, you will be aware of the many conflicting voices. Sometimes it may be right to remain at home, consolidate your employment, relationship or support an elderly parent. Perhaps the opportunity won’t come again, or maybe there is a third option you haven’t considered yet.
Research before you move
As with any major decision, it is often helpful to make a list of the pros and cons of working or living abroad and getting a trusted work colleague or friend to ask questions. Putting your general aspirations into words and seeing how they connect with your life goals promotes clarity and a sense of direction.
There are excellent resources on the internet and bookshops to provide advice on the specific country and nature of work you are considering and the likely challenges to be faced.
You may need assistance in drawing up an action plan and strategies to involve your wider family and friends in the decision. Providing reliable information about one’s destination and maintaining positive, open communication with loved ones back at home is essential to overcoming stereotypes and helps them share in the adventure.
One great way to consolidate your decision to work abroad might be by attending a preparation course at an international briefing centre, such as Farnham Castle in UK. The excellent course, I attended there was led by returned expatriates, nationals of the host country and international recruitment consultants.
They help clients to understand how their motives, attitudes and preparation makes the difference between a successful adventure and an early ticket home. Likewise, cross cultural courses and orientation programs are excellent ways to integrate quickly and smoothly into your new host country by establishing a network of contacts and attending social events.
Being Mentally prepared for the move
To help you gain perspective and see through the endless options, you may consider the services of a life coach who specializes in making a new life abroad. A life coach is not emotionally attached to your decision and can see the overall picture. One of the best ways a life coach can serve a client is to help construct a roadmap for the way ahead.
By gaining clarity on what you hope to achieve abroad and the reasons why, you will have a solid foundation on which decision to make. This will also help you be confident that even when the inevitable challenges come, you’ve made a decision in alignment with your long term life goals. A life coach will help you make a decision, so that if you go, you will go ‘with all your heart’ and optimize your time abroad. .
In case you were wondering, those two years I spent teaching in Zimbabwe were probably the most exciting and rewarding years of my life. I have now worked and lived on four continents and recognize the pitfalls and the immense rewards open to those who, despite butterflies in their stomach, take the leap to discover new things about themselves and the beautiful, big world around us. Living abroad can lead to culture shock, unsuspected challenges and self-questioning. However, going with our eyes and mind wide open, will enable us to make a success of our time abroad and to contribute much on our return.