Friday, May 4, 2007

Relocation Abroad: Ahhh!

By Mona Sutherland

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Moving is exciting for some and dreadful for others. The chore of packing all your personal belongings, making new friends and confronting the unknown can be daunting. However, a change of scenery, great job opportunity or better lifestyle can be extremely motivating factors. Regardless of whether you are looking forward to the big day or looking for anything to do but think about it, relocation is sure to bring a host of different experiences, ranging from complete excitement to an absolute nightmare, especially when moving overseas.

The packing process can be tricky, including the crucial decision when only one box is left: Is placing cleaning products and dry foods in the same box a bad idea? An enquiry that today remains unanswered. However, there are even more issues to solve when this move is being made to another country, including import taxes and “Where they heck do I pick up my stuff anyway?!”

So, after packing up your life as you know it, managing to get it to another country and into your new home, the fun part begins: Living abroad!

The expatriate is sure to ride the emotional rollercoaster after arriving in the host country, and a great majority of these ups and downs has to do with cultural differences. Cultural differences are here to stay and are what make life interesting. If you arrive in a new country with your ethnocentric thinking cap on, then all you’re going to get is a lot of migraines (the only plus being the funky Panamanian Panadol). However, despite how open we are to new things, cultural differences can make transitioning to a new country difficult. So, it is the responsibility of the expatriate to learn more about the host country’s customs and norms and be prepared for the bumpy ride ahead.

With regards to educating oneself about a country’s cultural nuances, I recommend the crash course lesson, which is showing up at the local watering hole and getting knackered with the natives. However, a more civilized approach would be to surf the internet, checking out a variety of online resources, such as blogs, forums and travel sites. Forums are excellent because one can post a question and get an assortment of answers from different individuals. Good expatriate websites with great forums are The Expat Exchange and Expat Forums. Also, Escape Artist provides an array of articles about living, working, investing & traveling overseas - including international real estate.

In addition to learning more about the country to which one will immigrate, expatriates can also develop a better understanding about the emotions they will undergo after relocation. (She said “emotion,” ahhhh! Don’t worry!) According to Professor Steve Barnett of the University of Louisville, most expatriates experience a common series of emotions upon arrival in a foreign country.

Before the move, you usually feel nervous, excited, scared, and/or all of the above. Upon arrival, you are on cloud nine. After all, life is exciting! Walking around the block is guaranteed to be barrels of fun, all the while ruminating as to why you did not make the move sooner. After a couple of months, the honeymoon is over. Walking around the block would be possible if they fixed that darn sidewalk or implemented some form of traffic control! The language barrier is finally getting to you and practicing has become more of a chore than a novelty. The expected, but dreaded, culture shock has arrived. But, you cannot go back now! After all, you just got here. So, you put on a smile, sonrisa, sourire or whatever the heck it is called, and get on with your life. Then, one day, you realize that you have been doing just that, getting on with your life. Wow! You have been living in a foreign country and actually learned how to grocery shop (200-grams of meat, none of that pound nonsense!) and pay your electricity bill. You find yourself becoming more competent and more familiar with the insider knowledge. Hooray!

For expatriates returning to their native country after a work assignment, they are expected to experience a reverse culture shock upon arrival, which will eventually subside.

For individuals that plan to relocate abroad permanently, whether for retirement, a better life or to be with a spouse, then I hope this finds them well. If you are in the stages of culture shock, then let this serve as a sort of pick-me-up. If you have already fought the good fight and can laugh at the fact that “nothing works,” then I hope this brings a smile to your face. :-D

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