Packing up your possessions and picking up your life to move to another country is something I recommend everyone to do at least once in your lifetime.
It takes away that comfortable and familiar feeling and replaces with uncertainty, but is absolutely life-affirming.
It’s exciting to find a new place to live and a job, discovering a fresh circle of friends and searching out those pockets of a new place to reintroduce the familiar, to the point where eventually it feels like home.
Of course adding the difficulty of having to learn a new language inevitably bumps up the stress factors but in my experience has forced me to keep making the effort. Depending on how much energy we put into learning, this can result in beautiful consequences.
I have picked up my life and moved to another country four times and each time it’s offered me something totally different and wonderful.
Moving to another country
Here are the five most important things to do after arriving to a new city.
1 – Discover
The first thing I do having arrived to a new city is find a café somewhere central and people watch. This is the perfect way for me to feel the individual pulse of my surroundings, and see how people go about even the most mundane of everyday tasks. It’s also a great place to strike up a conversation and learn those important nuggets of information which only a local can give you (feel free to throw your guide book into the rubbish). Then explore the city as much as you can. Choose a different area each time to wander around, take note of street names, wander in and out of shops, and generally be aware of what is around and where new paths lead. The sooner you familiarise where you’re going, the quicker you’ll gain your confidence.
2 – Meet Local People
This is key. Meeting the locals will unlock the city and help relieve loneliness. They’ll help you learn about restaurants, transport, bars and generally what does and doesn’t work. If language is a barrier you’ll learn quickly from them but ultimately, meeting people will help take away the stress of being alone. After all, who wants to learn about a new place from a guide book when you’re literally surrounded by ‘unofficial’ tour guides who could quickly become friends.
3 – Local Transport
Don’t fight it as you’ll need to understand how to use public transport and quickly. If you’re unwilling to learn from your mistakes, ask someone to explain but try every mode of transport available and go different places each time. Learn the buses and subway system, how much you should pay for a taxi, how long it will take you to walk and what type of travel pass you need?
4 – Learning the language
If you move to a country where you don’t need to learn a new language then lucky you, but if not you’ll need to have a plan of action. Fear not, you won’t need to enter the matrix and learn an entire language in the first week, just learn enough to get by with the basics. Join an evening class to help you, plus it’s a great way to get to meet people. Research your conversation before going to the supermarket and practice, practice. Over time it will come but keep at it and you’ll be feeling at home in no time.
5 – Make it work
It sounds extremely cliché but you’ll only get out of the experience what you put in. Don’t finish work and just go straight home, go out and sit in a bar or join a club to meet people. Get out walking in the weekend and don’t be afraid to speak to people to help your journey.
So what countries have I set up home in and what makes them so special?
I left New Zealand a fresh-faced 22 year old and extremely wet behind the ears. I lived on my sister’s floor until she could bare it no longer and kicked me out after we had a blazing argument on Turnpike Lane High Street; that is when I started to grow up. Obviously throughout the years I’ve fought this every step of the way, but I loved living in London when I first arrived, and still do to this day.
What do I enjoy most about London?
Well London is packed to the rafters with green space including Hampstead Heath and Highgate Woods which is a real treat, even in central London. The other thing which never fails to amaze me is there is always something going on from food markets, to live music and everything in between. Every time I left to go travelling I return, and each time I’ve moved away I always return despite the hustle and bustle. You can eat any type of food any day of the week, see top Broadway shows or headline music, find outdoor festivals in the summer and the snow typically makes an appearance for a few days most years, and is gone before the novelty wears off.
I moved out to China as an adventure tour guide to lead public transport tours. I had a flat in the southern town of Yangshuo but never used it, and eventually gave it up. China is a massive culture shock as things are very different, and they make no apologies for it (not that they should). It wasn’t rare (or wasn’t 10 years ago) to meet Chinese people who spoke English which was a great motivation for me to learn enough Mandarin (and various tones) to be understood. I was constantly on the move so I got to see a fair amount of the country, but the more I returned to the same places, I began to recognise people and my surroundings. I was totally blown away by my time in China and left prematurely in all honesty.
What did I enjoy most about China?
I loved being constantly reminded I was in another country, that to me is real travelling but also just my preference. When walking down the road, street signs were emblazoned with abstract Mandarin characters, new smells wafted and bikes flooded the streets with organised chaos. But travel into rural China and buzzing streets opened up to 360degree views of layered rice terraces, cascading from mountain top to valley floor. Strange tastes filled dinner plates, customs and diverse history merged with modern aspirations like a beautiful supernova. Also at 6ft, I constantly felt as though I was towering over people.
I moved out to Egypt again to guide tours and had a flat in Cairo which I shared with a bunch of other leaders from around the world. The flat was a total dump in all honesty, but it was our dump and even though the mattresses were sweat soaked and the place stunk of cigarettes, we had a nice group to head out exploring with. I arrived into Egypt at the perfect age of 27, nothing fazed me and as a result had one of the best times of my life, something I look back fondly on now.
What did I enjoy most about Egypt?
I had been to Egypt previously but on a very short and superficial level. However, being in Cairo every week or two allowed me to explore the city on foot, get lost in the maze of interconnecting labyrinth corridors dotted with ornate mosques, smoking kofta stalls and market traders. In truth I opted out of visiting the pyramids as much as possible to avoid tiring of seeing them. Some days I would take a felucca down the River Nile and explore villages around Aswan, other times I’d walk around Coptic Cairo and end at Kahn el-Khalili bazaar taking photos along the way. Sometimes when I just needed to escape the noise, harassment and beeping of car horns I’d head to the Red Sea to dive, or sit in the flat and cocoon myself in MTV.
Another place I lived whilst I was guiding but only for four months. This time I didn’t have a flat as I was moving around constantly so my ‘living life’ consisted of hotels and ryokans (traditional Japanese Inns). I had moved from China and was just at the stage of getting my head around Mandarin, when suddenly I was surrounded by new language characters and a culture which is so heavily influenced by good manners. I wasn’t a fan of seafood the whole time I stayed in Japan, so existed on a diet from the 7-11 convenience store, delicious ‘hida beef’ and vegetarian sushi (which made me feel like a fraud). Kyoto was one of my favourite places in Japan and one I never tired of visiting.
What did I enjoy most about Japan?
Japan is awash with neon-decorated cities embracing the modern, and stunning rural areas with customs very much concreted with old-time beliefs. One thing I liked about Japan was that the culture is very much entrenched in a shared belief system which rates good manners highly. I remember one street corner in Tawaramachi in Tokyo where the street cleaners would leave cardboard out for people living on the street, and come clean it up the following day. Completely awesome!
Everything was clean which after China was refreshing, and the changing of slippers when entering a new room was a fun novelty. Communal ryokan bathing facilities were not just a place for getting clean, but also the meeting place where men discussed their days, wives and a joke on business trips.
So there you have it, these are my reasons why I recommend you to quit your job, pack your bags, and book that one way flight ticket!
What are you waiting for?