Maybe not everyone is cut out for expat life. Want to know if life abroad is for you? Want to try before you fly? Test the waters before you cross them? Here are ten ways to judge if you can hack expat life before you actually become an expat.
1. Put Yourself in Isolation
Spend one month in almost complete physical isolation from your family and friends. In fact, if you want to go for the ultimate test, isolate yourself from anyone who speaks your language. You may Skype, Facebook, text or call loved ones but absolutely no visits in person. This is how it feels when you first move abroad. Feeling lonely?
2. Think Back to Toddler Days
Think back to when you were two years old. (This one is easier to do if you are a parent.) Can you remember your capacity for language back then? Revert to that level of communication for a week. You can use your hands, mime your wishes and use two word sentences to express yourself in public with other real live human beings. The only proper verbal conversation you may have is with your family via the phone or Skype (see 1). This is how it is to live in a country where you do not speak the language, and they don’t speak yours. Frustrated yet?
3. Gobbledygook Shopping
Let’s move on to shopping. Imagine going to your local supermarket one day and all the words on all the food items have been turned into gobbledygook. You do not understand a single word on any of the products and so have to do your grocery shopping entirely based pictures on the labels and how the product looks. Fruit and vegetables are probably easy, but what meat are you buying? What ingredients are actually in that tin? Still managing to put healthy, delicious meals together every night?
4. Sorry Sir, We Don’t do Your Size
Imagine going to your local shoe shop to be told they don’t make adult shoes in your size. Your feet are too small by local standards – perhaps you could try the children’s section? Now head to a clothes shop and try on a pair of trousers. The leg is so long you could actually get one and a half of your own leg in one trouser length. But you have to buy them because that’s the best fit you’re going to get. You can pay a tailor to fix them for you later right?
5. Eating Goodness Knows What Out
Go to a restaurant and ask for the menu. The entire list is incomprehensible to you. The waiter doesn’t understand what you are saying (see number 2), has no other menu for you and you are clueless what he means when he waves his hands around at you. You must choose something to eat. Now. Had a good meal?
6. A Glass of Froth
Go to a bar and order a glass of your favourite beer. Oh wait, they don’t have the beer you usually drink. Order any beer you think you may be able to drink. Point to the beer tap and mime drinking to order your beverage (see number 2). The bartender presents you with a small glass of what, when all is said and done, is mainly froth. Drink it. Will you get used to it?
7. Nothing is Familiar
Imagine you wake up morning after morning for a week and when you look out of your bedroom window you recognise nothing. You step outside your home and nothing is familiar. You feel a deep, primal ache for just one little thing that feels familiar but you know you are months away from that happening. That’s culture shock and homesickness.
8. An Administration Headache
You need to open a bank account but have no idea where to start; the forms you need to fill in are in a foreign language and you need to show documents you don’t have. You need to get your electricity, internet and telephone switched on but you need to have a bank account to get connected. You are no longer allowed to drive a car until you have a new driving licence, which means you must take a new driving test, so must learn to read road signs and learn the rules of the road in a language you don’t speak. Got a bureaucratic headache yet?
9. Stop Working
You love your career. You’ve done well for yourself. However, you are now, with immediate effect, no longer allowed to work. That vocational qualification or university degree you have spent years earning? It’s suddenly not valid so you can’t practice your career anymore. So you decide to do something else, you’re multi-skilled. First, you need a permit to work. That means more paperwork, including showing documents that you don’t yet have, and when you get hold of them getting them certified to show that they are genuine. It will take months before you can do any kind of work, and it will likely not match your education and qualifications. That ok?
10. See the World Through Different Eyes
Pretend you are heading off on a huge adventure where everything you see is new, every new sound sends jolts of excitement through you. Imagine that every person you meet is new, and that they all have a fascinating story to tell from all the nooks and crannies of the world. Every experience you have, from the mundane day to day to the one off breathtaking events, teaches you something valuable about yourself and the world around you. You see a world so different to the one you have lived in so far. You learn different ways to do things. You try new foods, new ways of cooking, new ways of shopping. You experience new climates, new religions, new traditions, new customs. You see the world in new colours. Seem like fun?
If this all seems like a walk in the park, pack your bags and go. If number 10 is enough to counteract every single one of the other 9 then what are you waiting for? Expat life awaits!
Of course, this is tongue in cheek – my point is that expat life is not a bed of roses. At times it is damn hard, harder than you can imagine but the payback is huge. Life changing. And worth the jump if you are willing to overcome the obstacles!