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Working Abroad: 10 Survival Tips

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Working abroad can be a challenging time for even the most confident and level-headed individuals. The stresses of starting a new job while also adapting to a different culture can prove more than a little overwhelming.

The key to smooth international relocation isn’t simply an upbeat outlook and a bit of willpower. Rather, it’s successful management of the process through a number of actions that promote positive change.

Moving abroad for work? Discover ten survival tips that will help you adjust to your new surroundings.

1. Educate Yourself

Your move date is scheduled and you’re ready for relocation. But before you get on that plane, make sure you are prepared for what lies ahead. Prepare for living in a new nation — and working in a new workplace — by gaining a prior understanding of both cultures.

For your country of relocation, learn the language — if it is different — and find resources to help you understand customs and culture. This includes cultural dos and don’ts, differences in laws, daily routines and the like. For your workplace, discuss how to effectively communicate and navigate the office with local HR.

2. Visit as a Tourist

Before making your move abroad and starting your new job, you should visit your relocation destination as a tourist. Why?

Visiting as a tourist allows you to do two things. First, it enables you to scout out the local culture, observe practices as an outsider and slowly gain an understanding. Second, it means you can do so without the pressure of successfully adapting to a new job at the same time.

3. Settle in Quickly

Settling in is a major hurdle in the way of working abroad. If you don’t settle in properly, you can feel alienated from your new home.

When moving into a new place, it can be tempting to sort the essentials — like gas and electricity — and leave the rest until later. Car leases, mobile phone contracts, non-essential insurances, etc.

This sort of procrastination isn’t good for the settling in process, though. The more outstanding stuff you have to do, the less connected you’ll feel to your new home. Don’t be an outsider; get the tasks important to your international relocation sorted and commit to settling in. You’ll feel better for it.  

4. Keep Some Home Comforts

Some people like to throw themselves right into the thick of it, completely surrounding themselves in a new country's culture and customs. This might help them adapt but, for others, this type of tactic can be quite challenging.

Instead, consider a balance. Don’t distance yourself from your new culture, but still keep hold of some home comforts. For example, you could make home cooked meals like you would have at home, enjoy a movie night each week to watch your favourites, or keep regular contact with friends and family back home. Whatever it takes to stave off homesickness without actually being at home.

5. Enjoy the Exciting Parts of Moving

Not every part of the relocation survival process has to be a challenge that must be overcome. Part of being happy in your new surroundings is enjoying the differences between where you used to live and where you live now.

Is the culture different? Are you in a large city and you previously lived somewhere rural? Take the time to enjoy the differences that matter to you.

6. Accept That There Will Be Trials Ahead

Just as every part doesn’t have to be bad, everything doesn’t have to be good, either. Just because you have doubts or low points, it doesn’t mean your move abroad was a bust. In the more challenging times, it can be tempting to give up and head for home, but just remember all the other points in your life when you overcame something hard and reaped the rewards.

Accept that you will have low points, but that you can also overcome them. It’s all too easy to catastrophize over feelings of anxiety, yet these feelings often pass with time, as well as investment in building a new life.  

If you can accept that you will face difficulties at some point, but that you can overcome them, you’ll be set to achieve your dreams overseas.

7. Bolster Your Communication Abilities

Educating yourself by learning a language before a move is a good start, but it takes a long time to become fluent. Don’t give up on your communication skills once they become ‘good enough’. To be a real local, you must communicate like a local, which means continued dedication to learning about how best to do it.

8. Immerse Yourself in Local Community

To be comfortable in your new surroundings, you need to feel like a member of the community, not an outsider. The best way to do that is to get directly involved with what's going on around you and live like a local. Attend community events. Get to know your neighbours. Volunteer and help out in your local area.

You can even take a simpler approach by just going out regularly and becoming more acquainted with your surroundings. Think about how well you knew your old area; how you knew where the best local restaurant was or how well you could navigate the roads. Immerse yourself in your community and local area to the point that you know it just as well.

9. Form Relationships

The most challenging aspect of working abroad can be leaving friends and loved ones behind, but it also presents an opportunity for you to meet new people. Invest time in building friendships and personal relationships. The people you meet can not only help you adapt to life abroad, but also introduce a new dynamic that helps you enjoy your time in a foreign country, hopefully making it feel a lot less foreign.

People are what makes life worth living, after all.

10. Take Part in Things You Like

The key to relocation survival is building a normal life. That includes doing everything you would have done back home, including partaking in hobbies and other recreational activities.

Treat your new home like home. Go out to bars, play sports, go to dancing classes — whatever it is you like. Hobbies are an important part of destressing and being happy, if you avoid making time for yourself, you’ll start to sink into an unhappy state, an unhappy state it is all too easy to blame your relocation on.

Be yourself, do what you would normally do, and soon you’ll feel right at home.

If you take away anything from this list, it should be that successfully surviving a work assignment abroad is about finding a balance. Appreciate that you need to adapt to change, but don’t let your move change who you are. It’s also important that you don’t let work steal focus away from building your new life. If you ignore your personal life, you won’t be happy living abroad, which means you cannot be happy in your new job. If you aren’t happy, how can you expect to bring value to your overseas job and survive your international relocation?

Have you ever worked abroad? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below…

See Also: How Working Abroad Can Boost Your Career

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