Three Questions you Should Ask yourself Before Moving Overseas

Three Questions you Should Ask yourself Before Moving Overseas

Crossing cultures by going and living abroad is not for the fainthearted. I can still remember the first morning I woke up after moving to Amsterdam in 1986 to do post-graduate studies and asking myself “what in the world am I doing here”?

How can you know for certain if going and living overseas is the right thing for you and if you are married if it is the right thing to do for you and your family. Well, you’ll probably never know with absolute certainty until you actually move and spend a year or two abroad. But based on my 20 years living and working as an American in Europe I can offer 3 tips which you should consider before making the decision to move.

1) Why?

What drives a person to go and live abroad will probably be the single most important factor as to whether or not a person “survives” a long-term overseas experience and actually makes a success of it. Many individuals who decide to go overseas are ill-prepared for the many challenges that await them as they encounter a culture that is different from the one they grew up in. Depending on the country you live in seemingly little things like navigating the supermarket can become a major ordeal, especially if you do not speak the local language. Adventure seekers be warned. When the going gets tough, and it will, it’s the sense of purpose, drive and commitment to the task that made you go in the first place that will enable you to endure the loneliness, misunderstandings and missing the familiar that await you. Do some serious soul-searching and examine your reasons for wanting to move abroad before making that important decision. Also, ask a trusted friend or family member to test your motives.

2) Where?

There may be some cases when you don’t have a choice on where you move. For example, if your company sends you on an overseas assignment or you work for the state department or military and are assigned a specific overseas post you may have very little if any say on where you end up. However, in these cases you will likely be part of an infrastructure that provides the support network you need to make a more seamless transition into life overseas. On the other hand, if you move abroad to study or apply for a job that means moving overseas consider the country you will be moving to. If you were born and raised in the United States and move to Europe as I did, the transition will be bumpy and life will be hard at times, especially the early years, but if you are adaptable and outgoing you will probably survive. However, moving to the African continent or Asia will present numerous challenges that will be unfamiliar to a person raised in a western culture. Do your homework and learn everything there is to know about the country you are moving to including local customs, the history, predominate religion, climate and government system. This may all seem obvious but I was amazed by the number of foreigners I met during my years in Europe who knew almost nothing about the local culture, its customs and people before they moved there.

3) When?

This may seem like an odd question but actually timing is everything, especially when it involves an international move with a family. If the timing is not right and you are not adequately prepared you will be in for a very rough ride. My daughter was 14 years old when we left The Netherlands, where she was born and spent her early years, to move to England. While you may think Great Britain and The Netherlands are the same because they are part of the same continent, they are actually far more different than you could imagine. The first year we lived in England was miserable for my 14 year old as she tried to adapt to a new high school and language. Had we moved a year or two earlier her life and ours would have been much easier.

If you have a children that will be attending local schools and not a private American or British school, my advice is not to move when your children have already reached High School age. The younger your children are the easier it will be for your family to adapt and the less strain it will be on you as a parent trying to help them adjust. If they attend a private British or American school, age is less important because they will transition into a school system and language that is familiar to them.

These three questions may not come as a surprise to the causal reader who is thinking about moving overseas. However, when considering a major transition to living in a different culture asking yourself why, when and where and being honest about the answers will make a huge difference in helping you to make the right decision about whether or not to move abroad.

If you have found this article helpful and would like to know more about how you can adequately prepare for your move overseas please visit my website I offer workshops and training to prepare individuals and families get the most out of their overseas experience.

Copyright 2007. CrossingCulturesConsulting. All rights reserved

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