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14 Things Only People Who Have Worked Overseas Can Understand

14 Things Only People Who Have Worked Overseas Can Understand

Some two and a half years ago, I decided to make a bold decision and follow my partner to the far away land of art, cheese, and fine wine — France. He had just landed a five-year work contract there. While a long-distance relationship did take place at first, eventually I decided to sort out all the loose ends at home, pack up my entire life into two suitcases, and move to another country for an indefinite period of time.

While I did have my fair share of the “expat blues,” cultural faux pas, and difficulties with navigating the paperwork, in the long-run, moving overseas and starting a job abroad proved to be a tremendously positive life experience.

As an expat, you are likely to encounter numerous misconceptions and false assumptions about your lifestyle that people back at home make. Additionally, you are likely to deal with a number of odd questions from the new acquaintances you’ll soon meet in your newly adopted homeland. If you have ever worked or lived overseas, I’m pretty sure you can relate to the following 15 things!

1. We do not automatically become fluent in another language

A lot of people assume that changing your geographic location serves as a super-booster to your language learning skills. The truth is, it doesn’t. You don’t wake up on the next day after your arrival, go to the grocery store, and start casual chit-chatting with a cashier. Even if you have spent months studying the language back at home, you won’t magically become fluent from day one. Language adoption takes time and has a number of factors that play into a person’s level of fluency. In fact, asking us why we are fluent already most likely will make us feel embarrassed, as we haven’t yet reached our desired level of proficiency.

2. We are not “lucky” or “blessed”

It may seem that we are now living in a better country with amazing job prospects and sun 365 days per year judging by our Instagram or Facebook feed, but that’s not 100% true. In fact, finding a job and sorting out all the moving stuff and paperwork requires anything but luck. It’s more like hard work, persistence, and tremendous dedication to making things work that plays a major part.

Anyone can choose to work and play where we are now. For some reason, most people decide not to make the leap of faith and put effort into the potential prospects elsewhere (and there are always opportunities available for those who seek them).

It’s not that we were “lucky” or “blessed” to get that opportunity and you didn’t. It’s just the fact that we played hard to get it and you’ve chosen not to.

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3. We do miss our friends and lose contacts

The friendships you establish abroad as an adult cannot be compared to those nurtured for years at home. When you first move, you are likely to miss all the little things — like being part of the annoying gossip at the water cooler in your old office, not to mention more strong bonds like you had with your college mates and childhood friends.

While working aboard, you will inevitably miss friends’ weddings, will have to decline invitations to college anniversary meetups, and miss out on other social gatherings you would have gladly attended.

While scrolling my Facebook feed, I still feel really sad when I see yet another close friend getting married, or my old gang having great times together on a night out, without me. Sadly, the price you have to pay for your decision is losing some important social ties and missing out on important events like your nephew’s graduation or your BFF’s son’s christening.

4. We have bad days too

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    Another shocker — moving abroad does not automatically solve all your life problems. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns.

    Some days, we lash out aggressively on social media about the officials losing our carefully gathered, 40-page-long personal dossier, or the incorrect spelling on our credit card — and then being asking to pay on top for the issuing of a new card. Or not knowing where the nearest grocery store is and walking five blocks in the wrong direction in search for food for breakfast.

    When you write back with things like: “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. You are living in France/on the beach/in the most beautiful place on Earth. It can’t be that bad,” you are not winning our affections.

    Yes, the weather might be better and my new place might be gorgeous. Or perhaps the cost of living is cheaper, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with the same routine and problems that you face at home.

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    5. We don’t make instant connections with the locals

    Making friends as an adult expat in a non-English speaking country isn’t as easy as you may think. You don’t just walk into a bar and make everyone instantly attracted to you by speaking a few local words with your foreign accent.

    Yes, you have the new coworkers who may eventually invite you out for beers in a month, or three, or a year (depending on the host country’s social culture). In fact, you are likely to act odd (and foreign) enough to scare off some potential buddies by breaking the informal cultural rules like trying to hug someone instead of doing cheek kisses (faire la bise) in France. Also, don’t assume everyone hates you or is acting rude because they don’t smile back, like in Russia, for instance.

    Making local friends abroad isn’t as easy as one might think. Most often, new transplants tend to mingle with other expats mostly — and there’s nothing bad about that.

    6. We feel extremely lonely at times

    Yes, living abroad can be marvelous. And yes, it can get extremely lonely on some days too. Sometimes, we think that no one back at home understands our true woes and life challenges. However, a lot of other people travel long term and work abroad. Maybe they are not facing the same problems as you, but they know exactly how you feel. Try connecting with other expats through Facebook groups or expat forums to help you beat the initial blues.

    7. We know that routines can become huge challenges

    Remember your first trip to the local grocery store? For me, that was a total disaster. I had my usual shopping list in mind, yet when I arrived to the store things went slightly amiss. I couldn’t find a lot of the usual brands I buy, and if I did, those things cost a small fortune. I had zero idea of how the local brands would actually taste and simply had to guess. Also, I had no idea what some goods were called in French, thus could neither locate them on the shelves, nor ask an assistant to guide me to the right direction. My trips to the supermarket would take two hours instead of the usual 30 minutes — even for minor shopping.

    Next, figuring out things around your neighborhood will take time too. Where’s the closest corner store, where I can grab some forgotten items from my shopping list? And the pharmacy? And the bakery? What are the working hours? Do they close for lunch? And don’t get me started on figuring out the go-to coffee/lunch/shopping locations in a new city.

    If I could give one piece of advice to my past self, it would be to do your home base research in advance! Post questions in expat groups, browse Foursquare or Yelp or any local alternative if you don’t want to spend two hours running around the neighborhood in search of tea on the day you arrive.

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    8. We can get ill too, and that’s 100 times worse than at home

    Getting seriously ill sucks, but when you are ill abroad, multiply the “sucks” factor by ten. You need to have a good command of language if you want to visit the doctor (in the case that you already have your health insurance stuff figured out). You can’t get a lot of drugs without a prescription abroad, and even if you do, you still need to explain what’s your problem and you may not be able to ask for your usual drugs as they can go under a different brand name. If you need to stay at home, there’s no one to look after you or bring you comforting soup. When you are ill abroad, all you can feel is tremendous self-pity. Don’t make it worse by writing something like: “How did you manage to get a cold in such a warm place?!”

    9. We hate when our loved ones get sick or in trouble at home

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      You know what being desperate is? It’s when your loved one is in trouble and you are miles away with no chance of being next to them in the next few months.

      Sometimes, your phone rings during an odd hour and you know it’s going to be nothing good. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to some of my good expat friends. And when you hear the news is bad, the worst thing is that you can do nothing about it. Just wait and see how it goes without your direct involvement.

      10. We learn to value the simplest things most

      If you ask us how life is going abroad, we probably won’t start telling you about visiting fancy restaurants or having epic adventures. With equal excitement, we’ll talk about how we got into a pleasant chat with an elderly lady and could understand 98% of what she said. Or how we’ve gotten our first piece of praise for speaking so fluently. Or about our first dinner invitation to a local’s home.

      Living abroad makes us value the little things a lot. The most lavish things are not always as enjoyable or as memorable as the cheap, simple things we’ve experienced.

      11. We don’t really like our birthdays

      Usually, your special day ends with the last phone call you get from home and after you’ve browsed through all your greetings on social media. After that, you just get dressed and act as if it’s yet another ordinary day in your life. You may throw a small party with some of your new friends, but it’s going to be nothing compared to the good-old feasts you used to have with your loved ones back at home.

      12. We don’t know when we’ll come home next

      We miss you like crazy too, but too often we simply can’t tell you if we will be coming home for holidays this season. Sometimes, our working/living permits require us to stay in the country for at least a year. Sometimes, we spend our vacation days too lavishly and run out of them well before Christmas. Sometimes, we have important things on our plates and simply can’t leave for even a few days. Add up the flight costs and additional travel expenses, and traveling home becomes quite a challenge for us.

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      13. We may not plan to move back home

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        Another question that often baffles me is: “When are you moving back home?”

        Do you really think that I invested so much time and effort into working my way here and packing my life into a suitcase just to move back in year? Highly unlikely.

        I might decide to come back home someday, but for now, my life is here. And I’m trying to make it work. Please, support me rather than acting like it’s “just a phase.”

        14. We will change

        Living and working abroad shapes your personality a lot. You become more mature, independent, and open-minded. You quickly adopt new rules, social cues, and cultural norms, and may even end up having reverse culture shock when you come back home.

        Usually, you return home as a better person than the one you left as. You now have a bunch of amazing experiences and cool stories to share, and a vast network of personal connections with people from all around the globe — whose couches you are welcome to crash on at any time!

        If you ever get the chance to live or work abroad, grab it!

        photo credit: Pinterest

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        Elena Prokopets

        Elena is a passionate blogger who shares about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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        Last Updated on October 20, 2020

        How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

        How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

        You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

        We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

        The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

        Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

        1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

        Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

        For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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        • (1) Research
        • (2) Deciding the topic
        • (3) Creating the outline
        • (4) Drafting the content
        • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
        • (6) Revision
        • (7) etc.

        Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

        2. Change Your Environment

        Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

        One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

        3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

        Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

        Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

        My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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        Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

        4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

        If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

        Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

        I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

        5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

        I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

        Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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        As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

        6. Get a Buddy

        Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

        I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

        7. Tell Others About Your Goals

        This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

        For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

        8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

        What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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        9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

        If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

        Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

        10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

        Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

        Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

        11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

        At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

        Reality check:

        I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future. Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

        Bonus: Think Like a Rhino

        More Tips for Procrastinators to Start Taking Action

        Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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