I moved home last summer after spending 6 years away from Belfast. I spent over 3 years in London and another 2.5 years in China- yea, that’s right China. And I would recommend everyone to do it. If not China, at least get out of your comfort zone and work abroad for a few months. Ireland is a fantastic country but the experience of living abroad will enrich your perspectives of people, work and stresses. I understand not everyone can do it and honestly, it isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been seriously thinking about it, then this listicle is for you. So without further delay, here are my top tips for living abroad:
- Just do it.
Nike had some sense with this line. Just go for it. This is the biggest challenge of moving away and is the hurdle that most people fall at. Living in another country, let alone a completely different culture is scary but you have to just trust me on this one, the benefits out-weigh any negatives you have. Now go, book your one way flight!
- Learn the language
This is my biggest regret. I have mediocre Mandarin, or as the Laowai (foreigners) in Shanghai call it; taxi Chinese. I know how to order a cold beer or ask for someone’s name but if I had a HSK2, it would do wonders for my career prospects. Whether you did GCSE Spanish or French, take some lessons before you go and while you’re there. Not only will it help you after you leave that country, it’ll also stop any confusion when you say ‘horse’ instead of asking a question- very easily done in Chinese.
- Find a club
I don’t mean party-til-6am club, even though they are great, I mean a sport’s club or knitting group or a ‘I love my Cat’ group. Whatever tickles your fancy! I joined the Shanghai GAA club and I met fellow Irish expats plus people from all around the world and locals. It was a great place for me to meet friends and help me find my feet. I recommend you do it as well. Having work friends is nice but you need a life outside the office as well.
This seems like a silly point given you’re in a new country, possibly continent; why would you not travel? But honestly, it is something you’re going to have to remind yourself to do every month. When work, leaving parties and birthday parties start to build up, you’ll find yourself in a position when you haven’t left the city in 5 months. Not only does that drive you up the city walls, it’s a wasted opportunity when you live in this brilliant new country.
- Phone home
This is an iffy tip. Yes phone home, it’s nice for your parents to know you’re alive but also, don’t let it hold you back. Being homesick is awful and is something you’re going to have to deal with at least once. I didn’t get my first bout of homesickness until after 2 years in China. It can hit at any point, but don’t let it control your life and decisions. If you do get homesick, I’d suggest getting out of the house. Get your mates and go for a hike, go discover a new part of the city or book a weekend away. There’s nothing like exploring the country you live in to remind you why it’s so good to live there.
- You’ll get ‘those days’
And nicely leading on from homesickness, you will get days where you hate everything about that country. This is acutely different from homesickness- we called them ‘China Days’. Sometimes it’s the culture difference that gets you or the work culture, or the simple fact you can’t communicate that you want a Fanta, not an orange juice (see point 2). They start to kick in around the year mark, once you’re properly settled in and feeling at home. They’re normal. Just carry on, have a tea or beer, have a rant and then forget about it.
And that’s it. There are many more things I haven’t mentioned but I believe these are the main things to remember when you move away. And honestly, whether you’re thinking about doing a J1 this summer or moving to Singapore, do it. If you have any questions or want to talk about moving, shoot me a message.
Emma Catney is a MSc student in Communications, & PR with Advertising at Ulster University. Contact her on Twitter at @emma_catney