In the overall context of your life, a year isn’t a very long time. If we had to compare it to a basketball game, a year of your life is the equivalent to one trip to the free throw line. Yet for some reason, we still meet countless people who act like a year overseas is the equivalent to the first,second, and third quarter of a game.
So why are some people so daunted by the prospect of spending a year overseas? We believe this is because people can’t properly visualize how their year will unfold, and this lack of predictability is what makes so many feel so uncertain.
Luckily, there’s a solution…
After living abroad multiple times, I have noticed that there is a definitive pattern to the evolution of life in a new country. Regardless of where you are from and where you go, there are consistent stages that we all reach at various points in our international stints. Whether it’s the “I love this place” honeymoon phase or the “I hate this place I’m never coming back!” phase, we have all been in a situation where life seems less than perfect abroad, and the end of our contract seems like an eternity away.
So in an attempt to help people better understand some common pitfalls, frustrations, and stages of their life in a new country, we have developed a guide to help you through those times and identify which stages you are in. We believe that by breaking down your stint into smaller chunks, it will help you to deal with the overall acclimations and frustrations and keep a level head.
Month 1: The Honeymoon Phase
Life in a new country is beginning! Swept up into the excitement of where to go and what to do, you get past your initial acclimation with ease and life couldn’t be better! Everything seems to fall into place well, the people are friendly, and you have a full itinerary of research for all the things you want to see and do throughout your stay.
In the Honeymoon Phase nothing can go wrong. Annoyances are easily brushed off, the food couldn’t be better, everyone is nicer than the people that you meet back home, and you can’t wait to tell your new stories to friends and family. Life is good with the newfound love of living in a new country.
Work wise, you’re pumped to hit the ground running. You might not fully understand what you’re doing and how to do it, but it’s time to GSD. You’re excited and slightly intimidated by everything there is to learn, but you’re ready for the challenge. Your boss is enthusiastic to have you on board and wants to make you feel as comfortable as possible.
Month 2–3 : The Annoyances
I would love to make this a perma-happy post, but unfortunately living abroad isn’t always going to be plain sailing. Anger, frustration and fatigue are likely to set in, and without the comforts of home, each feeling is likely to be exacerbated. Whether it’s the food (I’m sick!), transport (why so much traffic?!?), or not knowing the language (what did they say?), there are always plenty of things to get annoyed at.
Life back home was incredibly easy and it’s hard not to feel homesick and try to jump on calls with friends and family. However, you’re the other side of the world, and everyone that you want to touch base with is asleep.
In the workplace, cultural differences become more pronounced. Why do people keep calling and not emailing? And for that instance, why aren’t they answering emails? The questions and worries are still there, and it feels like it will take months just to catch up to where they expect you to be.
Months 4–6 : Resolution and Finding your Rhythm
If you’re going to take one attribute from this experience, it’s going to be adaptability. It’s not possible to change the things that create annoyance- they’re ingrained in the lifestyle of your adopted home. It’s time to take them as part of everyday life and use them to your advantage. Essentially, learning to love the things you hate. You realize you must adapt to the culture because the culture isn’t going to change.
Walking through the city is second nature now. The multitude of different food, drink, and leisure options that await you are incredible. Should I hang out with some expats at the local bar, play some sport at the local park, or hit the coffee shop and get a head start on tomorrow’s tasks?
The world is at your fingertips and you couldn’t feel happier with how your life is unfolding. Work now is a much smoother ride and it’s possible to give more to the position and company. An understanding of the role and what the company wants you to achieve is now finally developed, and you’ve created a culturally-adapted style of work. The business and personal relationships with co-workers are stronger every day and the conversations aren’t a one sided question time.
Months 7–11: Killing Itt
Nothing like waking up and realizing that you’re over halfway through your contract. Where the hell did the last few months go?! Oh yeah… living in dog years.
After being here for months, your friendship circle has grown; last night was a birthday party and this weekend is a trip to the beach. Being the one of the ‘veterans ’ of the city, it’s a pleasure to help recent arrivals figure out the best spots in the city, how to get from A to B, and making recommendations about everything from temples to coffee shops.
Sales are up, code is getting written, trends are being found. Relationships with clients have grown, commendations for your work come flying through. Unlike the one-sided conversations at the start of the year, co-workers are approaching you for your opinions on projects. Being culturally sensitive to both your old and adopted country, ideas flow on how to move products and projects forward in new directions. Everyday is spent at full throttle. Problems can either be fixed on your own, or you go directly to the source. You’ve become an autonomous machine.
Month 12: It’s Nearly Over
Damn, this year has flown by! It’s hard not to reflect on to all the highs; friendships, relationships, work. And the lows; illness (yes, it happens), getting lost, being overwhelmed. You think about how you’ve grown as a person (self esteem, confidence) and how these new experiences have lead to this growth.
You start to consider what your next move will be, and where you would like to go from here. Are you ready to return home or should the international adventure continue? Should you get another job or should you travel for a while? These will be questions that only you can answer yourself. But damn are you happy where life has taken you!
Now that the end is near, it’s time to gradually hand over responsibilities and talk through the most recent projects. Thank goodness for all that documentation! You think back to when all this work was daunting, while now you need to create processes just to keep up with your train of thought! You must decide if you want to stay on board at your job, and if not, how to politely handle the situation so you can maintain the positive relationship you’ve created. More pay and stock options await, but how are you going to handle the choice? As we always say…that’s the fun part!
Afterthought and Philosophy
The journey of living in a new country will always be somewhat of a roller coaster ride. It’s important that, as an individual, you are able to recognize when you are in these different stages and understand your attitudes accordingly. The road to living abroad is one filled with uncertainty and adaptation, and it will never be a clear path to where you want to go. Always remember that when we choose the road less traveled, we must create our own path along the way.
We hope that by looking at your voyage from this perspective, and understanding the up’s and downs, you can better prepare yourself for the inevitable changes you will go through. Thanks for reading and let us know if you have had a similar experience!