Living Abroad for the First Time

Silhouette of young family and airplane

Susan is finally leaving Colorado. She’s both terrified and excited. The farthest she’s traveled was to California when she pursued her undergraduate degree in economics and MA in international policy at Stanford University. That was more than two years ago. She’s been back in Colorado working for the biggest tech company in the state.

It’s her final week at the company. She got the job she’s been dreaming of: a position at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland. All expenses shall be paid for. But she’s worried about dozens of things. What stuff does she need to sell or keep with her? How will her insurance policy be covered? What’s the living cost like in Switzerland?

If you’re like Susan and you’ve just taken on a two or three-year tour for the first time to work in Cote d’Ivoire for the African Development Bank, this set of ideas might help you in the adjustment process:

Settle affairs that you will leave behind

Not just love affairs. But it could be those, too. Everything can go haywire if you leave plenty of things open-ended at the last minute. Go through a list of possessions, from small ones to big ones. Will you be selling your car? What about your blender? Will you maintain your bank account? From organizing matters related to your possessions to financial matters, you need to settle them.

Family and friends will want to spend time with you. You won’t be able to say goodbye to all of them, but make time for those who are dear to you. In other cultures, friends would organize a going away party for the person leaving.  If you feel that this is not going to happen, organize it yourself or ask someone to organize it for you. That way, all the people you want to see can come.

Learn About Your Destination Country

Flag Globe with different country flags

It’s hard these days not to know anything about a country. There’s plenty of information online about their lifestyle, politics, and cost of living. There are chat groups with people who can share their experiences and give you advice.

You’ll be wanting to get a context of what life is like living in your new country. Asking about the price of eggs or movie tickets might seem trivial, but knowing this will provide you insights on your possible spending habits. If you have time to study the language, do so.

Clarify Your Legal Status

Big organizations like the World Bank or the UN or big multi-national companies are used to handling expatriates. Typically, a specific process takes care of all the logistic requirements of your departure from your country and arrival to another. Your employer should organize your visa, accommodations, and health care

Embrace the New

Do not miss what you left behind too much. Learn to embrace the new—new city, new friends, new language, new food, and new culture.

Learn to be patient. For some, learning a new language comes easy. For others, not so much. Your best language teacher might be the time you’ll spend talking with the nice lady from the market trying to sell you garlic. You’re mispronouncing words, pointing, and gesturing but also listening to her.

Create your new space by meeting the locals, appreciating the local cuisine, and respecting their culture. It’s a magnificent gift.

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