I had a conversation with another expat working for the first time away from her home country and away from her family. She asked for tips in how to survive working abroad, considering that I have been an overseas foreign worker for 6 years in Singapore plus my few years studying high school in Saudi Arabia. I don’t consider myself an expert in expat living but I shared with her some of the things I did learn along the way in my few years working abroad. These tips somehow worked for me and I hope it would help other expats especially new expats in thriving and making the most of their time in a foreign land.
So here goes:
1. Follow the rules & respect the culture
When my whole family moved to Saudi Arabia, one of the things I would never forget my mother told me after a year of living there was that we should always to follow the rules & respect the country’s culture. Coming from my mother it means a lot because she can be a rebel and argue her way into bending the rules if it is an ill-defined rule. There were many rules we have to take note but we followed it and respected it. As expats, we are “guests” in the country that welcomed us to live, study and work. We must be gracious to return the hospitality by respecting their culture and their people.
2. Mingle with the locals
When I was working in Singapore, I was the only foreigner in the clinic. All my Filipino friends were living far from my area too. So I learned to make friends with the wonderful locals and I am so glad I did. There is a disadvantage if we box ourselves to the circle of people we are accustomed to and that we are familiar or similar to. We don’t get to open our mindset and learn new things if we don’t make new acquaintances. I love that I get to interact and hang out with the locals of the country I am living in. They give you the best tips about their country. You get to learn the language very fast too. That is why I learned lots of Singlish phrases because of that and now, Arabic too. They also would take you and tell you the best places for the local foods which is a big plus for a foodie like me.
3. Manage your expectations
Some people would think living abroad is like a dream, a new land of many possibilities, a step up from the home country, easy life, lots of money, etc. But it is best to manage your expectations pragmatically. Do your research before you go to the country. Ask questions if you know anyone who are currently residing in the country. Some expect living abroad would be going to la-la-land but you must realised that moving away from your home country, there will always be an adjustment stage. Depending on the individual but it would take roughly around 6-8 months of adjustment. Some can adapt to the new country at 3 months and some can take 1 year. It is never going to be easy, I will tell you that. Many new changes and challenges are encountered. So be mindful of your expectations so you won’t get disappointed.
4. Handle your finances wisely
If you are working abroad, one thing that you should keep a very close eye on is your finances. You can easily get swayed into mishandling your finances if you are earning well and you would be influenced to spend unnecessarily on frivolous things because of several reasons like: everyone is doing it, out of boredom, a cure for stress or peer pressure. You must remember you are temporarily working in a country. It is not forever. You will have to take better care of your finances and use the work opportunity to save, save and save.
5. If all else fails, be kind
Living abroad has its ups and down. You will get to meet different people from all walks of life. You will meet difficult people who would occasionally ignite anger or stress or anxiety within you. But take a deep breath, say your piece firmly if you want to be heard but always remain kind and polite. Again, I will remind you that this is not our place. We cannot afford to throw a massive tantrum. I have seen people sadly who did & even some jokingly and it end up really badly with public humiliation and jail time involved. Yikes, let us avoid that. There are things sometimes that we cannot win. So the best response would always be kindness without being a pushover. Kindness reaps good results always.
6. Stop complaining and looks at all things in a positive light
When the going gets tough, we tend to compare the comfortable life back home and we end up hating and complaining about the life abroad. We should take note that living abroad will always be uncomfortable and tough but we have chosen this life. If you cannot bear it, leave and deal with that decision. But while you are in it, just look at it in a positive way. Living abroad is an adventure. And like all adventures, during the journey, there will be rocky waters, difficult terrain, air turbulence but there are also blue skies, calming breeze, panoramic views, twinkling star and new wonderful experiences. So take heart, change your perspectives.
7. Be flexible and open to new experiences
If you are living abroad, take that opportunity to discover new things. Do not live in your comfortable cocoon of the familiar. Try out the local food. Explore the place. Do not dismiss the offer to try out a new experience as long as it is safe and does not clash with your internal beliefs.
8. Set boundaries
Though I advised you to make lots of friends, explore and be kind, it doesn’t mean you also have to be totally naïve. Living outside of your comfort zones exposes you to a larger circle of new people, be wary in who to trust and open up to. Protect yourself. Be selective in who you can allow to show your vulnerabilities. Set boundaries to allow only people you know for sure has your best interest at heart.
9. Always remain humble
Sometimes if you are exposed to the world, earning well and living a jet-set lifestyle, it can go up in to your head and think you are a “woman of the world” (or “man of the world”). Hold your horses for a minutes, Your Royal Highness but I am sorry, you are not. We may have created a filtered version of ourselves in our brain that we are all that but we are not. Sorry but some people living & working abroad would go home and act like they are better than those who have never left the country to work. We may work in a different land but we and our fellow citizens back home have the same purpose, working to earn a living and support our family. There is no competition who is better or who is superior. Remain humble.
10. Be resilient
One trait that will make you survive living abroad is resiliency, a word I learn in medical school. You must have a tough spirit, an ability to be flexible and adaptable, proactive rather than reactive and learning to stand up again & again when you fall.
I hope these tips would help those fellow expats surviving in the foreign country they are in. If you have other tips, please do share with us too.