No matter where you go, moving to a new country has the potential to be both daunting and exciting. We go into ‘flight or fight’ mode when faced with new and unexpected situations, learning a lot about ourselves along the way. When I moved from the UK to Vietnam it felt like everyday was a new and unexpected situation, even when I had tried to plan as thoroughly as possible.
These are the lessons I learnt along the way:
1. Expect the Unexpected
Things are often not as straightforward as you are used to. For me, trying to open a bank account took several visits to different branches, a lot of miscommunication, returning home to pick up the correct documents and finally (after a full day) it was done.
Expect to try something two or three times before you are able to do it successfully and, more importantly, give yourself time to do this. I now only give myself one or two chores to complete in a day, rather than four or five which would’ve been feasible in the UK.
Try not to get flustered when you’re faced with these unexpected bumps in the road. Everything will be sorted eventually, you may just need to take note of my second lesson to get there.
2. Body Language and Gestures
Don’t be afraid to be as extravagant as necessary when you are trying to communicate with a local without a shared language. Body language and gestures will go a long way and you will probably find the answer you are looking for.
When I first moved, I expected to rely on translation apps heavily, but I’ve found that using body language and gestures is often a more reliable way to get what I want. It has been useful when looking for a particular food or product in a store, when I have needed help with directions and even when ordering food in a restaurant with no English menu.
Each country is different, but here in Vietnam I am still surprised by how friendly many locals are. Don’t be afraid to seek advice, even if you don’t share a language.
3. Being Resourceful
Use local Facebook groups to ask questions of any kind. Here in Hanoi we have ‘Where to get Hanoi’ to ask about specific items you’re looking for, ‘Hanoi Beautiful’ specifically for women, ‘Foodies in Hanoi’ for food and drink queries and a range of other useful groups which are easy to join.
If you type ‘[the name of your new country] + expat’ into your Facebook search bar, you are likely to find similar groups to these.
I have found this to be the most reliable way to gather information as an expat, as well as asking local staff in my workplace and older neighbours who know my area very well.
4. Determine your ‘Lifestyle Non-negotiables’
Before moving, I thoroughly researched job opportunities, cost of living, apartment options and other practical information I needed.
What I didn’t research are the things I need in order for a place to be livable. For me it is the ability to exercise, opportunities to socialise and access to fresh ingredients for cooking. These are my ‘lifestyle non-negotiables’.
Think about what yours are and research how easily you will be able to do or access them in your new country. It may affect the district you want to live in, or make you review some details of your relocation plan.
5. Make Your House a Home
Furnishing your home and making it as comfortable as possible can be difficult when you have just moved and have so many other things to do. You don’t always know where to find things and would rather focus on your new job or making friends.
Aim to prioritise this, even if it seems like a chore. You will inevitably have times of quiet or homesickness as you adjust to your new surroundings and being able to retreat to a comfortable home will be so beneficial in these moments.
It is also a great way to make you feel like you are settling into your new town and gives a sense of permanence which can be important in those first few months.
If you are preparing to move overseas, remember to enjoy the lessons you are about to learn and have fun along the way!
Abigail Burrow is an English teacher from the UK, living and working in Vietnam. After graduating with a Bachelors in English Language and Linguistics and completing her PGCE, she began her teaching career in UK secondary schools before moving into the ESL field. She is passionate about international travel and experiencing different cultures.