Are you fed up of looking for a job? Have your eyes become bloodshot from scanning online job sites to no avail? Living and working abroad can be very appealing, especially when you feel like there are no opportunities in your area. If you’re tired of pulling pints in the local pub or flipping burgers in the local takeaway, you could be dreaming of greener pastures overseas. However, it is resoundingly true that the grass is always greener on the other side. Before you pack up your student backpack and create a playlist for your excursion, you should seriously contemplate some of the advice put forward in this article. This information is designed to paint a more realistic picture of what living and working abroad is actually like.
I don’t care how adventurous you are, you will get a huge dose of culture shock when you decide to move abroad. You will have that wonderful tourist excitement for about two weeks, but after that reality will soon kick in. There is no other decision in life that can bring such instrumental change and relative chaos than moving abroad. The people are different, the food is different. The most important conclusion you will come to after a few months is this:
Everything is Different.
Even if you’re entertaining the idea of moving to somewhere very ‘Western’ like America, you will simply not believe how different everything is. I can speak quite authoritatively on this because I moved to America. And wow, sometimes the culture shock is absolutely immense. I am not even joking when I say that even basic food items are entirely different. Let’s take bread, for example. The bread in America is sweeter. It lasts in the cupboard wayyyyyyy longer. Honestly, I have taken bread out of the cupboard after five weeks and there is still no mold on it.
When you decide to live and work abroad, you won’t believe how the littlest things will make you miss home. I didn’t know how much I relied on certain foods before I got here and didn’t like the taste of the American version (see below).
You Will Always be an Outsider
This one doesn’t affect you when you first arrive. It’s completely understandable to be perceived as a tourist when you’ve only been living in your new country for a month or two. However, how patient do you think you’ll be when you’ve been living there for a decade and are still called out on your ‘foreign’ accent? This is a decision that needs a lot of contemplation, because there are so many downsides to moving away from your comfort zone. Think about it honestly: how bad are things at home? Do you really hate everything about where you live? Are there really so few opportunities or could you benefit from being more motivated about job-hunting? If you live in a rural area and can’t find a job, why not commute to a city? A train ride everyday is a much simpler choice than choosing to move far away from all your friends and family.
Decide the Location
This sounds obvious, but don’t simply start going to international job sites and hope for the best. I have a great analogy to share about this actually. After graduating from my PhD, I was a bit obsessive about finding a lecturing job. I hail from Ireland, where you can pretty much count the number of universities on one hand, so there was little to no hope of me landing a permanent lecturing position there. So, obsessive me started finding all these nooks and cranny which advertised global lecturing positions. I found one in Abu-Dabi-I-Don’t-Have-A-Clue-Where, and I was so determined to be a lecturer that I was blind to everything about the location. At that point, you could’ve told me I landed a lecturing job at a nuclear power plant and I would’ve jumped at the chance. I probably wouldn’t have even lost enthusiasm about finding out that said power plant was starting to show signs of a radiation leak.
Anyway, long story short, I sat for hours and filled out the longest online application I had ever done in my life. While completing it, I realized I needed references, so I emailed the appropriate people and waited a few weeks until I had the number I needed. I was still good for the deadline, so I added the references and…presto! Done. I had just applied for a lecturing job in Abu-Dabi-I-Don’t-Have-A-Clue-Where.
I was so caught up in my reverie that it was a week or two before I actually decided to research the country I was dreaming of spending the rest of my life in. It turned out that in said country, I would have to wear an abaya (a long black cloak that covers everything but the hands and face). This, along with various other cultural idiosyncrasies made me realize that perhaps Abu-Dabi-I-Don’t-Have-A-Clue-Where wasn’t the place for me.
And so, job hunters, don’t get carried away with a dream that you forget to do your research! It’s easy to say ‘oh, I wouldn’t mind that’, but the reality is very different! Remember, you will probably be starting your life abroad alone, so you need to make sure that you know as much as you can about the place. Plus, you will be surprised about how little things can drive you mad when you live in a foreign country. I emigrated to Florida over two years ago, and I still crave Irish teabags and pork sausages!
No One Cares
Now, I don’t want to sound all sorts of melodramatic, but no one really cares when you move away. This is another factor that you need to consider. Sure, your mum will call you once a week, but if you’re a person who thrives on social engagements, you will feel a big void when you move abroad. Depending on your individual circumstances and personality type, making new friends can be very easy or very difficult. If you make new friends, be prepared for your old ones from back home to slip away. In fact, even if you’re a loner in your new home, be prepared for your old ones from back home to slip away. This is the reality of living and working abroad. Staying in touch with old friends is an admirable endeavor, but as the years pass by those frequent phone calls and emails will soon morph into a big fat old nothing. If you’re not prepared for this aspect of living and working abroad, you’ll soon find yourself blubbing into a tub of weird-tasting foreign ice cream while watching X Factor reruns.
by Gillian Rixey
(Gillian is a PhD qualified freelance writer and scholar born in Ireland but currently residing in the United States.)