It’s the season where lots of people have accepted jobs abroad and are preparing to shift their lives to a new country, a new culture and a completely foreign lifestyle.
Often the people who are moving are bombarded with advice when they’re about to leave- from the internet, from people around them and from their new employers. But it’s the people around them who actually need some advice to. They often have no idea what to do or how to act when confronted with the eventuality that their loved ones will be leaving.
Over the years I’ve moved countries a lot; from my first stint teaching abroad in South Korea to Kuwait and now the United Arab Emirates (or as most people just call it- Dubai). I can’t tell you the ridiculous reactions I’ve had to me moving. At first people’s advice terrified me but as the years went on (and my experiences expanded unlike theirs which stayed the same), I learned to smile politely and roll my eyes inwardly rather than outwardly.
If your friend, family member, colleague or anyone you know is moving abroad, here are some simple do’s and dont’s when it comes to what will help/hinder the potential expat:
Say “You’re so lucky”
Luck often has little to do with someone moving abroad. By the stage they’ve announced their plans to you, they’ve probably applied to over 100 suitable jobs, had a few frustrating interviews (where everything from a slow internet connection to a thick accent hindered progress), not to mention a mountain of documentation they had to amass that is a pricey and tedious process. All of this has been achieved through their determination and perseverance (the road to moving abroad is a long one that most people just leave after hitting an obstacle).
LUCK, I can assure you, accounts for 0.5% if the process and your suggestion that it’s responsible for it degrades the effort people have put in to making this life changing decision.
Give advice if you’ve never been to that country
When I said I was first moving to Korea people told me things like,
“Make sure not to eat dogs and cats! It’s all they eat there!
You won’t find any familiar ingredients… they don’t even have onions, you’ll have to use leeks.
Be careful of the ongoing military action against North Korea.”
I can assure that none of this advice was remotely accurate or helpful because none of these people could even point to South Korea on a map.
I never met a Korean who ate dogs or cats, never ate a leek in my life and North Korea doesn’t affect daily life in South Korea one bit. Unless you’ve been to the country in question, please don’t offer advice you’ve “heard or read about”. This also applies for neighbouring countries; just because you’ve been to Zimbabwe, do not attempt to offer advice to someone moving to Botswana (the two are poles apart). I personally would not give the same advice to a person moving to Kuwait or a person moving to the United Arab Emirates- they are worlds apart.
Waste their time visiting if you aren’t actually planning to keep in touch
When people announce their plans to move abroad, suddenly it seems like they’re celebrities. After I posted about my move to Kuwait on Facebook, I had the most random people crawling out of the woodwork- people I hadn’t spoke to IN YEARS- asking to see me and spend time with me. Of course I never heard from them once I moved abroad. Truthfully, moving abroad is a stressful time than includes packing ones home into boxes and ones life into 2 23kg suitcases. If you’re just meeting the person to find out how they secured a job abroad, please just send them a message on Facebook instead of wasting their time (and until they’re settled in their new country to do this too). If want to see them to give them advice please consider point #2 above and ask yourself how qualified you are to give advice.
Offer your help in constructive ways
If you’re really happy for your loved one and wish to help, ask them what they need rather than think you know what’s best. As mentioned before this help may be needed in the form of packing, collecting documents or just emotional support. All of these things may sound tedious but having someone to help with mundane tasks is always a relief. When I moved to Kuwait I had a fantastic friend who came over on her day off and helped me pack my entire apartment up. I had another friend who printed things out and made photocopies for me because I had no facilities to do so at my home. That was valuable help and I’ll never forget it. The best way you can help is to listen to their needs and try to acquiesce.
Promise to keep in touch and then DO IT
When you first move to a country, it can be an extremely lonely and isolating time. If you’ve never done it, I cannot explain miserable this period is and even if you move with a partner, you will still feel isolated from a society you don’t belong to. I thought I would resign and run back home every single month for 6 months when I first moved to Korea. In fact every expat I know has felt the same way in their first year even those who went on to spend a decade in that country! I felt the same in the last 6 months of my time in Kuwait. It’s so unbelievably hard.
So if you’re serious about sustaining a relationship then remember that this person is not always going to be having the time of their life; they will need to hear a family voice & accent now and then and having your support during those lonely times will be invaluable. Also be prepared for and understanding that setting up internet in a new country can take time so it might be while before you’re able to Skype regularly. (If they’re moving to the UAE, be aware that voice calls over the internet are all blocked like Skype, WhatsApp calls, FaceTime, Facebook calling etc.)
I moved to Korea with no laptop and in the pre smartphone days. Other than emails from my mother and 2 friends, I never heard or got replies from 80% of the people who promised to stay in touch with me. It helped a lot because now I have such genuine friends that have been with me through so much (and of course mummy panda is still in the picture but she doesn’t have a choice but to tolerate me!).
Most importantly- be excited for your friend
No one leaves home and lives abroad without a lot of guilt. Guilt that they’ve left their loved ones behind, guilt that they’re missing significant milestones, guilt that they’re not doing more to better their own country and just an all consuming guilt at all times. As you get older, it becomes like a dull throb that’s always there and at certain times it will sting more than ever.
As a result, people don’t talk about how excited they are to be moving and they just bottle it up until they’ve left. Believe me, that’s so incredibly stressful. Being visibly excited for the person who is leaving will help alleviate that guilt for a while and they will have someone to share their excitement with. Research the destination and discuss it with your friend. Talk logically about language barriers, culture shock and how their lives will change. If you think people are always happy for the one who is moving away, think again. People are more likely to be jealous wishing that they/their kids were the ones moving and that makes the person who is moving to feel worse. I even had someone say to me, “You have a good job here, I don’t see why you want to go so far.” It’s not for YOU to decide whether that decision is good for them and if you can’t be supportive then at least, refrain from being judgmental. When I thought about how I cried almost every afternoon due to that “good job”, it took all my strength not to respond to that comment.
Having a loved one move away can be a sad experience. If you’re used to seeing someone every day, a long distance relationship can be difficult to adjust to. However, if you really love or care about someone, you will make every effort to support their decisions and be genuinely helpful when its time for them to move. Or at least try to!
Have you ever had someone you loved move away or abroad? How did you cope? Let me know in the comments below?