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To be or not to be an expat? November 27, 2010

Posted by howibecameawriter in Uncategorized.
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OK, so since the last one what’s happened? In a nutshell:

I have done a writing job (free of charge) for a local company, which will hopefully lead to more jobs I can add to my portfolio. I found the course at www.writersbureau.com.

I’ve completed two modules of my online writing course, another 7 to go!

I joined an online company who distribute writing jobs. Although I did go against most opinion I could find online, I paid a small subscription for this. However, in my defence, I wanted the additional writing tools which came free. At this stage in my career I figured I needed all the help I could get – http://www.realwritingjobs.com/

I joined a (free) worldwide freelance website which has listings for all kind of freelance writing jobs all over the world. http://www.worldwidefreelance.com/

I’m also investigating the possibility of setting up a fan page on Facebook to get my message and writing into the wider community.

How did I do? Well, I definitely made some progress but nowhere near enough if this is really going to take off for me. No more excuses, just need to keep taking massive action.

I’m also going to use this blog to track my progress and also start writing mini articles so I can showcase my work to readers and prospective job opportunities.

To be or not to be an expat?

I’ve just spent several weeks travelling for work, to a place where I have quite a few friends and I wish I’d taken a portable voice recorder with me because I seemed to repeat myself over again. I was hit with the same questions about life in Asia – how do you cope with the heat? (Air con) Do you like the food? (Yes, although having a few days without rice and noodles is nice occasionally). What do you do on weekends? (The same as I did anywhere else I’ve lived – sleep in, dinner with friends, catch up on TV, oh and lounge by the pool – that one might be different!).

I can’t blame people for asking, I would be doing the same. Heck, I do the same when I meet someone who lives in a foreign, exotic land, before I remember that I live in one too! One phrase I never get sick of saying is “Being an expat in Asia means you lead a very pampered life.” And it’s true. We are very spoilt. But apart from the pools, maids, and awesome food, it got me thinking – what does it take for someone to leave behind their home, friends and family to live thousands of miles away in a new and strange land?

According to the Office for National Statistics, despite seeing a reduction on previous years, 368,000 people left the UK for 12 months or more in 2009, citing better job opportunities, studying abroad, a warmer climate and an improved financial economy as the main reasons. It all sounds great but the actual decision to leave the country you’ve grown up in and probably spent most of your life can be more difficult than simply picking a country on a map and booking a flight. Far from it in fact.

It can often be underestimated how difficult moving overseas can be. Some of the major things people will immediately question and worry about, depending on their situation – Will I make friends? Will I stay in touch with friends and family back home? Will I get homesick? What if I don’t like the food/people/climate? Will I need to learn a new language? Will I get a job? Sometimes the decision is made easier by the prospect of a new, and better, career opportunity but often, we get so wrapped up in the excitement of it, planning for the ‘big move’ as if it were more of a holiday than a life change, that we forget what a massive upheaval it is; not just for us as the ones leaving, but also those we are leaving behind.

Once that decision has been made (and don’t underestimate the days, weeks, even months of mulling it over and sleepless nights), the next step is to tell everyone. Who to tell first? If you tell one set of friends will they announce it on Facebook and upset other friends? And what about the family, how do you break it them that you won’t be seeing them for months? When it was time for us to tell people, we tried to coordinate both sets of parents finding out around the same time, then tried to meet with each of our closest friends to tell them individually and then naturally other people found out, such is the way of social networking these days. Some friends thought we were going to announce we were pregnant (maybe also due to the fact I was in a bar and only drinking juice – taking different sets of friends out for drinks over the course of a week to tell them our news meant I had to lay off the alcohol occasionally!). Others took it in their stride and that maybe says more about us than them – we weren’t telling them something so out of the blue for us as a couple. We are adventurous, love travelling and hate the cold weather. Plus our jobs meant there was always the opportunity for overseas travel.

The planning and preparation for the big move can often feel like a whirlwind and before you know it, you’re on the plane on the way to your new life. The whole experience for us seemed to go by in the blink of an eye; one moment we were making the decision whether to stay or go, the next our whole lives were being packed away into boxes, not to be seen for 6-8 weeks. Trying to decide what you would and wouldn’t need for the next two months can be a stress on its own (ask any woman!) and then trying to fit as much as you can into your baggage allowance can often cause more strain on a couple’s relationship than anything else related to the expatriation.

Then comes the big goodbye. Personally I’m not a fan of the big airport goodbyes; tears, crying and lingering embraces; it all gets a bit too much for me and I prefer to head to the airport safe in the knowledge that I have said all my goodbyes in private and can fully concentrate on getting on the plane and starting the adventure. But that’s just me and I know some people wouldn’t have it any other way than the teary, emotion filled send off through the departure gate.

There are a whole host of ways people set up when they move overseas; sometimes one partner has a job to go to, sometimes both do. For women, this can often be a massive change to give up their jobs to effectively become housewives (and I’ve heard of it the other way around too, where the man doesn’t work but the woman does). I had a period of 7 weeks without working and they were both the best and worst. Best because I could completely devote myself to finding us a nice new home, get acquainted with the new areas (and shopping facilities!) and also to be able to completely concentrate on my partner’s new job and support him in the first few weeks instead of us both being in the throes of a new working environment. But also I felt very detached from life at first, not having an instant social network from work and there’s only so much day time TV (especially in a foreign country) and shopping a girl can do (honestly!)

The first few weeks go by quite quickly and there is all the ‘business’ side of things to take care of – bank accounts, mobile phones, finding an apartment, setting up the utilities etc. Just like the initial stages of the move can be a whirlwind, so too can the first few weeks in your new home. Homesickness is not often felt until a few weeks or even months into it. The first time you call (or Skype) home can be the most difficult. You still remember everything exactly from home and still have an involvement, to some degree, in the day-to-day life there – whether it’s catching up on your friends’ gossip or talking about that TV show you’re addicted to – you still feel a part of your old life, but you’re still not completely ‘at home’ in your new environment either. Some people throw themselves completely into their new life and try to detach from their previous routines, often as a protection mechanism. Others, however, try to live two lives and end up living a half life in both countries. I’m afraid I fell into the second category for our first overseas move and it did nothing to help me integrate into my new life. I constantly checked Facebook and emails for any news from home, felt pangs of sadness whenever I was missing a night out with old friends, or even worse a wedding, christening, family get together etc. I would pore over pictures from friends and wondered what on earth I was doing removing myself from this network of people who I cared about and who loved me?

Whilst doing this, it also meant that I wasn’t devoting enough time to my new life and making new friends. The result? One miserable person! Luckily though I learnt my lesson and when we uprooted and moved the second time, I made a conscious effort to make the most of my new home and the opportunities which awaited me; and I can honestly say I had the best time (and still am). It doesn’t mean you forget about people back home, and nor do they forget you, but everyone has to move on and live their own lives – not try to live in two different places at once.

Of course, this doesn’t explain all the positive, exciting and funny experiences you can have when moving overseas.

But I’ll save that for another time.

Thanks for reading and I promise not to leave it so long next time…

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