Seven tips to help you follow your dream of living and working overseas
Love the idea of living and working overseas? One woman who successfully made the leap shares her top seven tips on how to do it.
Who hasn’t watched the rain drizzle down the office windows on a grey Monday morning whilst trying to suppress niggling thoughts of warmer climes, exotic food, vivid landscapes, quaint villages and a curiosity for a more enriching 9-5?
If you’ve done your research and are about to turn the dream into a reality, Sue Hanley, co-founder of Dordogne Vineyard Tours shares her top seven tips.
1) (Em)brace! (Em)brace!
It’s highly likely that a desire to experience different cultures and ways of life is a main driver when embarking on an overseas move. Nevertheless, be prepared for culture shock.
However open-minded you are, however well you speak the language, you will settle in a lot quicker if you embrace the fact that people behave, act, eat and live differently to what you have been hiterto accustomed.
So when things don’t run to your ‘norms’… (Shop opening / closing times, meal times, lack of local online info, varying approaches to punctuality, saying hello (or not) to a neighbour in the road) take a deep breath and repeat ‘when in Rome / Dordogne / Provence / Malaga…’ Delete as applicable!
2) Get the basics done ASAP
Address, Bank Account, Social Security number. You can’t do much without these. Put them into place as soon as possible. The local town hall can help with the latter.
3) Build your network
Establishing contacts offers many things: a source of practical info, instant allies, an antidote to loneliness / homesickness and a true sense that you are integrating and getting started in your new life.
Before you arrive: Research and join local online groups: mum’s groups, language conversation classes, hiking or walking groups, book clubs.
After you arrive: Become a regular at your local café, say hello to neighbours and school-gate parents, don’t turn down any invitation however unappealing or however shy you are feeling. Making contacts will only lead to more contacts and more knowledge; currency when you are a newcomer.
A note on Expat groups: Whilst they can certainly provide comfort and knowledge, you will not broaden your horizons or satiate your thirst for adventure / all things new if stick solely within this group. Make local friends too.
4) Make an effort to speak the language
As a Brit, our reputation for language-learning precedes us and luckily, most people don’t expect us to speak their language fluently. But making an effort pays dividends. An attempt at a sentence may instigate your fellow converser to speak in English or at least try to help you in your quest.
Launching into immediate English will put up barriers (and heckles). Consider joining a local language class (which will also provide instant contacts / friends – see point 3 above)
5) Getting a J.O.B.
If you are lucky enough to have a job to go to then you already have a sure-fire way of integrating into the local community – excellent.
If you will be looking for a job on arrival but are unsure of where to start, there is plenty you can do: In a small community, the contacts that you have made will be of best value here – be clear in telling them what sort of role you are seeking, design a simple CV and drop it round (in person is better than email) to local businesses, post your skills and experience on local online forums.
Even if you don’t speak the language, there are always things you can do – manual work like grape-picking / gite cleaning / gardening. If you are moving to a tourist destination, then speaking English can be a very valuable asset: hotel receptionists, tourist officer, bar or waiting staff. You can even take TEFL courses and work as an English teacher.
You don’t have to do that role for ever – your first job will undoubtedly be a stepping stone to other things. Hard work and a good attitude can often be more attractive then experience or qualifications. In a small community especially there are always jobs for people who want to work!
If you are lucky enough to have funds to not have to work you may want to consider it anyway. A work place provides an instant network and is a great way of taking a deep-dive into the culture / nitty-gritties of a place
6) Don’t over think things
The admin involved in starting a new life in an unknown place can seem daunting and it’s easy to let doubt creep in. If you over analyse what you need to do, you’ll talk yourself out of it. The key is to focus on the long-term and why you wanted to go in the first place… and then just go for it!
7) Be patient
Give it the 12 months you said you would…. and then give it the same amount of time again. Realise that there will be dark days when you long for the comforts of home but persevere.
Pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone will reap rewards. At the very least you’ll gain a new perspective, an increase in self-confidence and a greater ability to problem solve. And if all goes to plan you’ll have a richer and more rewarding lifestyle. And who doesn’t want that?! Good luck and enjoy!
Sue Hanley is co-founder of Dordogne Vineyard Tours.