How to move to a new country #1: before the leap

On the brink of another international move, I sat down to think about all the things I do to settle in to a new job, in a new city, in a new country.

This will be the third move in just over five years, not including briefer sojourns such as short contracts and a recent study break in Thailand. The basics – packing up the house, planning the move etc. – are common to any moving experience. The removals might be handled by international shipping rather than Uncle John, and if you’re moving pets internationally there’s a whole raft of paperwork, depending on where you’re going, but it’s manageable and your new job will probably have a lot of experience supporting people through the practicalities.

This is the extra stuff for when you really are boldly exploring a strange new land and have no previous point of reference on What To Expect. What are the dos and don’ts in your new home-to-be? What’s the local language? How will you find like-minded people? How do the buses work?

You will notice as this post progresses that a lot of what I do post-interview but pre-actual-moving involves the Internet as the key line of information from the greatest number and variety of sources. Nothing in this post is revolutionary; everything is common sense, but here’s my one-stop guide to how I go about answering those questions.

Kimchi jiggae at the Hanok HouseNew sights, new friends, new food, new culture

The basics

First things first: with the burst of excitement after accepting that job offer in a place you’ve a) never heard of before b) heard of but couldn’t previously pinpoint on a map or c) known of and dreamed of living in since, like, forever (delete as appropriate, so far my experiences have included at least the latter two) you’ll probably be straight back on the Wikipedia page you glanced at before deciding to apply for the job to remind yourself what it was (besides the job specs) that attracted you to the place initially. I always head for the climate table to remind myself how much sunshine I can expect. Sometimes I compare it to my hometown to really make myself smile.

Comparing climates

Comparing climates

Next I execute some practical searches. A quick search on availability and quality of healthcare and dental facilities and practitioners who speak English, just to set my mind at rest. Wonderboy has a fascination for supermarkets and knowing, quite literally, the price of eggs, so “cost of living in x” searches often reveal a wealth of information about your selected destination, from grocery prices to housing to a night at the movies. A glance at famous people / places and interesting factettes can be interesting, too, and will yield helpful conversation tidbits when making friends after you arrive!

Finding those who’ve gone before

After cheering myself up with a quick Wiki, I head straight for the blog community using search terms such as, “life / living / living and working in x,” “expats x,” and simply, “x blogs.” ‘x’ might be both the city and the country that I’m moving to. As a blogger, it’s a community I understand and enjoy reading, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to connect with people who are already there and who may have useful and relevant experience I can draw on. Most blogs I find and refer to frequently are happy to receive comments, queries and contact from readers and fellow bloggers, and it’s a good way to ask a question to a real person who is, in some way at least, Just Like Me.

The local low-down

Your internet searches will probably highlight some key sites for useful information. Each place I’ve been so far has had at least one. In Peru, it was Expat Peru. Despite the general conversation forum being notoriously full of grumpy long term residents complaining, it can be a good place to get questions answered. The jobs pages – particularly for teaching English – are informative and regularly updated, the community is lively, and the moderators actively engaged.

In Korea the useful site for TEFL teachers moving to or living in Korea is Waygook.org (waygook being Korean for foreigner). Again, practice caution when reading to sift experience and wisdom from disillusionment and sour grapes. More generally there’s the excellent Seoulistic.com – a one man mission to help foreigners to love Korea with everything from cultural advice to great days out.

Thailand’s site is Ajarn.com. A go-to for English teachers living in Thailand with useful teaching advice, local blogs, and an active forum.

Of course, these are places where there’s a high concentration of TEFL teachers. These range from gap-year volunteers who need some good print-n-go resources, to people who’ve fallen for the country (or an inhabitant of the country) and find teaching a useful line of work that can keep them there. This latter group share a lot of useful advice on reputable companies or schools as well as cultural dos and don’ts.There’s advice on general information – how to use the trains or buses, reliable health providers who speak your language – as well as the lowdown on the state of the TEFL industry in different parts of the country. So far, Oman appears to have a much higher concentration of non-teaching professionals, so the TEFL community doesn’t seem to have a high online presence.

General go-to sites

For everything else, there are of course global sites dedicated to the shifting community of ex-pats, but as they are more general, I have relied on them less frequently. Internations.org, AngloINFO.com and Expat.com are free to join and have pages of information, forums, and events for a number of countries and cities around the world, one or other of them is bound to have an answer you need at some point.

Preparing for landing – language

The other thing I do in advance of arriving somewhere new is try to find some basic free online resources to pick up a bit of the language. If you’ve got the time and money, a proper course, either face to face or through CDs is great. If not there are a number of good free web resources out there. Depending on how you learn best, I’ve found searching for podcasts can reveal simple, short and fun podcast series for each of the languages I’ve needed to learn so far. A bit of deeper searching has also provided literacy tools for harder languages with a non-Latin script. Take time to find something that will work for you. In my experience, there’s always something out there!

And in the run-up…

Lastly, I hate turning up and jumping into work straight away, with all the legwork of trying to find a place to live and get hold of furniture and white goods while you’re trying to deal with a new job, new colleagues, new students, new culture. In the couple of weeks before landing, I’ll be searching for information on housing: what areas have what facilities, where’s near the shops or market, where’s close to transport, and how much can I expect for my budget? A lot of this will be in the next post, but pre-move the Internet is again your best friend. A quick search on ‘x real estate’ and even international go-to site Craigslist or OLX.com will help you get an idea of what’s available for what prices.

Settling in - empty house

Settling in – empty house

This means there’s a good starting point for your first couple of days, and any better information you get once you arrive can only make your time more productive.

***

I’m currently doing all of the above for a move I expect to make within the month. I’ll be putting together a ‘Part 2 – after the move’ once I land. If you’re a fellow transient being, what are your best tips for setting up all over again? What do you frequently struggle with in a new location?

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