In my experience, I’ve made decisions on where to live abroad based on very simple, almost too simple of, criteria.
I went to study abroad in Buenos Aires solely due of its mix of European and South American cultures. At the time, I didn’t realize it would be an awful place to learn Spanish, and I struggled in doing so. The accent and new verb tenses were a shock to my system. In result, I failed one of my classes.
I then choose to do an internship in Quito, Ecuador, on the entire basis that it was the opposite of Buenos Aires. I wanted to force myself into something new. Upon arrival, I realized the hard way that I’d suffer from awful altitude sickness and also have a difficult time with the safety of the city.
After college graduation, I choose to teach in South Korea mostly due to one aspect: the salary and benefits. I never really considered how much I might struggle with the culture, extreme climate and language.
And as for Spain? Well, that was based on simple criteria, too. Because, SPAIN. Luckily, this time, I think I finally got it right.
Regardless of the ups and downs, I don’t regret any of my transcontinental moves. Each granted me with amazing experiences and life lessons. However, after HiFX recently got in touch and asked me to contribute to their expat tip campaign, I thought I would share my set-off tips to help people choose their best possible location.
Although it seems obvious, language is a widely overlooked aspect of moving abroad, especially for those going to teach English. When you are hired to move somewhere on the sole purpose of teaching your native language, it is easy to forget the importance of learning the local language. I know I did in Korea.
I now know how important it is to choose a country which you have a desire, even the smallest desire, to learn the language. This not only makes studying it more rewarding for you, but it’ll also improve your time in such country greatly. Even having the slightest ability to communicate with people who don’t speak English makes day-to-day tasks exponentially easier. In hindsight, I realized that my lack of Korean not only made my time harder, but now I’m embarrassed by how little I picked up.
It doesn’t matter how “useless” that language might seem for your future, try to learn it anyway.
Also, don’t forget to consider different dialects when moving abroad. If your sole purpose is to learn a language, pick a place where it will be easy to do so. Hint hint, if you want to learn Spanish, don’t start doing so in Argentina. The accent and verb tenses are disastrous to a basic speaker, I know from experience.
As a native Southern Californian, I rarely had to factor weather into my day-to-day life, that is, until I moved to South Korea. From sticky heat and monsoon rains, to freezing temperatures lasting for 6+ months, I had a rough time dealing with all the seasonal changes. In fact, I had such a hard time that I couldn’t cope and dealt with my first bout of what I would later realize was seasonal depression.
Before going to South Korea I didn’t even know seasonal depression was actually a thing.
Most times, the desire to go to a certain country will overshadow the more logical aspects in need of consideration, like weather. If you’re from a Mediterranean climate like myself, it is worth considering how that first winter might affect you. In my case, I initially had no idea the heavy slump I was in had anything to do with the cold and lack of sunlight. It wasn’t until the next winter that I started to realize a pattern.
Ease of international travel
No matter how much you love your new adopted home, there are many times in which you’ll just want to get away. Some countries and regions make this much easier than others. For example, Korea is basically an island. North Korea is well, to the north, and the rest of the peninsula is surrounded by water. Flying to both Japan or China is too costly for just a weekend so most travel is limited to inside the country.
While of course traveling around the hidden gems of your chosen country is never a bad thing, like I said, sometimes you just want out. Luckily, the vacation time was good in Korea and every 4-6 months I could take an extended vacation somewhere.
I usually chose places with good weather.
Being in Europe makes travel so much easier, and a trip to a neighboring country over the weekend is almost the norm. Flights around the continent are cheap and flights to the rest of the world are pretty moderately priced. This makes Europe a great place for someone whose main objective is to travel in their free time.
For me, food is a huge aspect on where I choose to live these days. Three months in Ecuador while being fed dry rice and mystery meats by a host family will do that to you. After that experience I told myself I would never, ever, live somewhere again where I didn’t enjoy the food.
Luckily for me, I don’t have any food allergies and my decisions can be made on purely taste alone. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who don’t have this luxury.
When moving abroad, don’t just assume you’ll be able to get gluten-free or soy products. Do your research before hand. Although many countries are catching up on the vegetarian, gluten-free or lactose specific lifestyles these days, some countries are much farther ahead than others.
One of my best friends moved to Cambodia with a shellfish allergy. To her surprise, oyster sauce played a much larger role in the dishes than she originally assumed, and she ended up having a hard time. What was worse for her was how some dishes didn’t even state they included oyster sauce, but ended up being contaminated by bad preparation habits anyway.
Although none of these should dissuade you from moving somewhere, it is better to come to a new country knowing what to expect. Being aware of the possible struggles is far better than just packing a pair of rose-colored glasses. Take the time to research all the pros and cons of each location, because every country has them, and make the best decision for you. It’s always a leap of faith when moving abroad, but make it an educated one.
What did you forget to consider when moving abroad?