How to succeed in your international relocation

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An expatriate’s tale: how to survive and thrive when relocating internationally. By Karn G. Bulsuk

An expatriate’s tale: how to survive and thrive when relocating internationally.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

I have had the good fortune of living in some of fastest, most urban and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Hong Kong is one of the fastest places you’ll ever be, where people walk fast, talk fast, eat fast and never stop for a break. Bangkok is a place where things are literally open 24/7, with never a break even during New Year’s or public holidays.

Coming to Melbourne required a paradigm change, in which I knew that I would have to throw out many of my assumptions and adaptations out of the door, and build them again from scratch. From little things like which side of the escalator you stand on (the left) to having to discover that things close early (5:00 or 6:00 pm instead of 10:00 pm or midnight), all of things are a journey that the expatriate needs to take to fit in, adapt and maintain a sense of normality and sanity in one’s life.

Adapting to a new country is easiest when you don’t have any expectations of what things need to be. Keep an infinitely open mind, and even if you think you already have an open mind, assume you’ll need to open it further.

Things will be significantly different, and so it’s important to assume from the offset that you’ll be moving from your comfort zone and have to rethink and relearn things which you found obvious. What you considered “common sense” may not be so in your new country.

When arriving on the ground, it’s also important to learn the local language. If English is the spoken language, then it’s easier as all you need to do is then discover the variations on the language, and start using them yourself. Imitating their accent is not recommended, as it is difficult to do it naturally and continuously unless you’re a trained actor, and you may risk offending someone.

Instead, choose to use the phrases they use. In Singapore for example, “Can” is a very useful phrase which can be used to respond to the affirmative for just about any situation, while “no worries” seems to be the Australian way of saying “no problems”. Refer to a five pound note as a “fiver” in London and you’ll sound that more British. Using such phrases lets you blend in quicker, and allows locals to accept you as one of them in a shorter period of time.

Of course, if moving to a country with a completely different language, it is always good to at least start learning the language in order to allow you to function normally. Going to Japan for example, it would be extremely difficult to function on a long-term basis without any Japanese knowledge. Learning a new language not only increases your marketability, but it also opens up a fascinating new world of culture for you to discover.

Travel light and bring only the essentials. Avoid bringing furniture unless you absolutely need it, as the stress and cost of moving will be even higher. Bring plenty of money, as the first 1-2 months will be expensive, give you need to buy everything, from basic household goods and condiments, from scratch. Bring much more than what you think you would need, as unexpected expenses normally will crop up.

If you’re lucky enough for your relocation package to help you find a place to stay, then you’ve removed one major challenge. If not, give yourself at least a month to find somewhere new. I managed it in two weeks when moving to Melbourne, but I attribute that to luck more than skill. Each country has their own unique conditions for renting, and it’s good to read up on how to rent before you leave the country.

In some places, real estate agents are willing to help you before you even arrive. In others, they will ignore you. Factor in the required time for formalities, paperwork and give yourself plenty of time to inspect each flat. Some countries have a lot more red tape before allowing you to rent, and I’ve discovered that the red tape, ironically, tends to exist more in developed countries than developing countries.

The most important thing is to enjoy your relocation. As a proportion of the world’s population, very few ever have the opportunity to step on a plane and go to another country, yet alone be able to work elsewhere. Remember that each and every step is a learning experience and that such international skills will only become more valued in the future.


Photo credit: Fly For Fun

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: How to succeed in your international relocation
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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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