A new life abroad: the golden pastures of a better life. At least, that’s what we are told, but it’s not all sunshine and buttercups, is it?
OK, let’s get one thing out there straight away: moving to a new place (let alone a new life abroad) can put nail-biting, boot-quaking, ugly face-crying fear into the strongest of women, or men.
Your new home could be 3km past your local Post Office, or left at the supermarket and continue on for 3000km, either way the change is monumental. Moving to a new house, postcode, country of continent marks the point at which you made the decision to change the path that your life was following. You have taken your future into your own hands, and moving is often one of the first steps in a totally new direction. Suddenly, you are wearing your big girl (or boy) pants, and it’s OK if you just peed in them a little bit.
There are a variety of things that might push you to move. You may have just been through a painful break-up, you may have been struggling with a mental illness, you might have lost someone very close to your heart, you might be lonely, or you might just be bored of your daily routine.
I left the UK in September 2014 to pursue a job opportunity in the United Arab Emirates. It was a very last minute and unexpected step – I found out that I was leaving two weeks before my departure date. I had just finished a MSc from one of the best universities in the world, a majority of my friends had been offered high-paid, London-based, environmental jobs, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I did not belong in the UK at this time in my life. So, I decided that I was going to go and live in a country that, to be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about. In addition to this, at the age of 22 I would be sharing a bedroom with three more young women, and living in a centre, with around 20 other 18 – 28 year olds, spending a majority of my time surrounded by young children trying to incentivise them about the environment. So, last September, in a blind fog of tears of pure terror, my flight departed Heathrow, and took me on to a completely unfamiliar world.
It was the best decision that I have ever made.
My time in Ras Al Khaimah, Northern UAE, taught me so much about myself. In any new environment, there will be ups and downs, it goes with the territory. I learnt to welcome the down times. I taught myself new ways to cope with them. I found new distractions and passions. Most of all, however, I made incredible friends who helped me through these times, whether they were aware of it or not, many of whom I know that I will be in contact with for as long as possible. However, this was my first job out of university, and I quickly learnt that it was not where I wanted to settle. I knew that I had to trust my instincts, and I wanted to leave the company that had taught me so much whilst on a high, and a good note. I had known nothing about the country I moved to, and I had my eyes and my heart set on the jewel of my dreams.
The month of May dragged itself in across the Arabian desert, at temperatures in the high 30s (cool for the UAE, I might add), and my contract came to an end. I was about to put myself through the exciting turmoil of moving to a completely new country, that was even further from my original home: Thailand. This had been a decision in the making for two years. I had first made contact with my future boss in the Summer between my final year of undergraduate study, and my MSc. The idea had been growing and growing all this time. If I had been nervous the first time, now I was petrified. I had a job lined up that was several ranks higher than what I had been doing. What if I didn’t like it? What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I got fired? What if I made no friends? I had to constantly reassure myself that I was being overdramatic, and that if it was that bad, I could go home to my Mum.
Here’s the thing: I hate failure. I cannot fail, I hate to seem weak, I hate taking instructions from patronising people. My biggest fear is that I will not measure up to some invisible standard that I have set myself. This is one of my biggest faults, but do you know what made it even worse in these circumstances? Many of my initial concerns about coming to Thailand proved to be true. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t like it. I was struggling with determining what was expected of me at work, which made me feel inferior. I missed my Mum and Dad. I missed the ocean, and I was frightfully embarrassed to admit the fact that I might be failing.
If this happens to you, do not be disheartened, ride it out. Take a step back and let yourself breathe, look around you – you made it! Go you! Of course you are struggling to fit in. Many countries have cultures and traditions that are totally alien to what we are used to in the Western world, and it was after many conversations with Westerners living in Thailand, that I realised this was the core of my issues. I had literally stormed into a culture that is notorious for being very polite, careful, traditional, and courteous. I was ready to make my mark, shake up my company, bring in my fresh new ideas and get the ball rolling. However, the way that I was working was the opposite way that Thailand works, so I felt like I was meeting dead ends on a daily basis. Once I had acknowledged the reasons behind this, and learnt more about the way to broach new ideas in a Thai office, life got a whole lot easier. I am happy to say that I am now on the road to happiness, living an ex-pat life in a beautiful city, and country. I get to float down rivers on tractor tyre inner tubes between forested mountains. I get to try new food every day. I get to eat fresh, exotic fruits for a fraction of the price of the UK. I get to explore an entire new world by stepping out of my front door.
In summary, if you are thinking of moving abroad, or know somebody that is, there are a few vital things that you must remember:
1. Expect the downs as much as you expect the ups. Look forward to both, the lessons that you will learn about yourself are invaluable.
2. You will miss home. It could be your family, your best friend, or your dog. But don’t forget with the glory of modern day technology, you can talk to them whenever you want (I frequently have conversations with my dog over Skype), and now that you’re based in a new place, you can offer yourself out as a holiday destination to your loved ones!
3. You will miss things. I don’t mean ‘miss’ in the same way as above. You will miss family events, birthdays, weddings, births, and funerals. You will feel tremendously guilty about this, but this is the time to remember that you are living your own life, for yourself, and anybody that loves you will understand that.
4. You will learn who your friends are. Some people will struggle with the idea of you leaving, some people will be jealous, some people will be living their own lives elsewhere, whatever the reason, you will drift apart from friends. However, there will always be the solid few that you continue to talk to regularly, and they will also be the ones that you make an effort to see when you go home, and vice versa (friendship is a two-way relationship). Don’t despair, you will meet so many new people to share foreign experiences with along the way. New friends can be as close to you as the ones that you’ve had your whole life.
5. Trust your instincts, you know your limits. If you feel that your time in a country is coming to an end, and that it is time for you to move on, do it. Always be on the look out for new horizons and opportunities. Be open to change, an international life is as volatile and exciting as chasing an escaped hamster around your living room at 2am when drunk.
6. Reality check yourself frequently. Look around, breathe, admire the nature and the landforms around you. You are living somewhere that people would choose to go on holiday, and it’s just an everyday part of your life. You are lucky, and you are strong and determined, you got yourself here.
7. You are not alone. Never feel like you are lost and isolated. There are people everywhere who are going through the same negative feelings and fears as you are, you just need to find them. I have been in Thailand for 2 months, and I have met many people who made the decision to move here on their own, and started off with no friends. Facebook, in all its evils, can be a fantastic tool for meeting new people. Search for sports teams, meet-ups, groups and so on. If you can’t find one, make one yourself. You will never be truly alone.