Top 5 Tips for Moving to a New Country
Jess McIvor, one of our fabulous international teachers currently teaching Secondary School Science in the UK, has put together her 5 top tips on moving to a new country. If you’re thinking of starting your overseas teaching adventure with Teach In, read on for the low down from someone who’s done exactly that!
I’d waited a long time for this. It’d been 17 years since my 15 year old self first fell in love with travel and the idea of living abroad. 4 years since I stood on a street in Glasgow and knew that one day I would live in the U.K. 6 months since I’d quit my job and announced to the world that I had taken a teaching job in Buckinghamshire, England for god-knows how long. Excited? I couldn’t get out of the country fast enough.
So it was a bit of a surprise when, upon landing in London, I wasn’t overwhelmed with a flood of excitement and adventure-spirit. On the contrary, it felt ordinary – mundane, even, and that absence of expected excitement triggered a flood of anxiety. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t this feel right? What if this whole experience turned out to be a massive flop?
Though the anxiety passed, the first few months living in the U.K. were not quite the carefree, picture-perfect existence I had envisaged. I found my feet and I’m having an absolute blast, but the settling in was tough, and has been for most expats I’ve spoken to.
Your international journey will be as unique as you are and you may feel differently to the way I did, however here are a few lessons that I learned along my way that might help to ease your transition – distilled, of course, into a convenient “Top 5” list. For what is life without lists?
Take a Few Pieces of Home with You
Shipping from overseas to the U.K. is not cheap, so no doubt you’ll be looking to take only the bare essentials in order to cut costs. Nonetheless, consider taking a few small but treasured trinkets to remind you of home. In those first few months everything will be new and unfamiliar which can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming.
Simple tasks that you would do at home without a thought become exhausting. On those days when I felt like crying over not being able to find the vegetable I wanted (only once, but it happened) it was a huge comfort to be able to pull on my favourite sloppy hoodie or slippers. I also took a few nick knacks – some printed photos, a painting, and an ornament. These things were small, but incredibly precious to me, and helped me to feel like myself on days when I was feeling a little lost at sea
Find Your Tribe – Find Them Fast
It doesn’t take a genius to realise the importance of a support network in your life or that the need is exacerbated by moving overseas. Work will, of course, give you plenty of opportunities to meet new people and there are many excellent Aussie-expat social groups all over England (travellers truly are the most beautiful, kind-hearted people!). However, teaching can be all-consuming and I have found a life outside of work to be essential to maintain a healthy balance. I also feel that whilst Aussies rock (obviously), I didn’t move 1000’s miles to meet people from home. So if, like me, you’re looking to cast your net a little further afield, there are some great apps around to help break the ice and take the “awkward” out of meeting new people.
MeetUp – set up your account, enter your interests and the app will hook you into a whole lot of groups operating in your area that are open to newcomers. Book clubs, walking groups, camping groups, movie goers….I even saw a group that just have dinner at a new restaurant every week. Please – you had me at food. A great way to find like-minded people that have nothing to do with your job.
ParkRun – one for the runners out there. Basically a low-key running club. Look up your local group, where they run and you can just show up and go for a nice run at your own pace. Most groups are pretty social and will invite newcomers along for a post-run coffee.
Bumble – more than just a dating app, Bumble also has a “friends” setting that allows you to network with people with zero romantic intent.
I also highly recommend house shares as a way to grow your social circle. Rather than accepting Teach In’s generous offer of help with housing, I opted to find myself a room through sites like EasyRoommate and SpareRoom (what do all these apps have against spaces between words??). Whilst it took some time to find people I was comfortable with in a convenient location, I now have great friends in my housemates. They are local to the area and are not teachers, which is a welcome contrast when I get home from work. They also have great mates themselves who I’ve been able to get to know through our many excursions to the pub. Win/win.
Do a Recce Trip
That’s short for “reconnaissance”, in case you were wondering. Now I realise that coming over early and spending a week in your future hometown is not always logistically possible, but if you can manage it I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.
I booked an AirBnB for the week, and it gave me the freedom to wander around town, get to know the lay of the land, and even spend a couple of days at my new job before they finished for the summer. More importantly, perhaps, it allowed me to house hunt in person. I must have looked at about 8 or 9 rooms that week, but going to see them for myself, having to navigate the bus network and meet the people who lived there, gave me an invaluable insight into the town. This allowed me to make an informed choice about where I would live and who I would live with.
When I officially moved into my house share 2 weeks before school started, I was confident with my choice and happy I’d found somewhere I could actually make my home.
Take Care of Yourself
This is one for the new graduate teachers. Gather in, little ones, because Aunty Jess is about to impart some of her world famous wisdom. Are you ready? Here it comes:
Your first year of teaching is HARD.
We all hear the stories, read the papers, and hear it on the news – of course teaching is difficult. Your first year especially can challenge in ways you didn’t know possible. Add onto that living on the other side of the world, far away from all of your usual support networks, and you’ve got a recipe for a very draining year.
But before you cancel your plane ticket and start browsing for your new career close to home, let me assure you that this year will also be the most mind-blowing, fun, amazing, fulfilling experience you’ve ever had. I mean it – you wouldn’t believe how much fun you can have with a room full of students once you’ve earnt their trust and built a strong relationship with them. There’s absolutely nothing that beats it. So the trick is to take care of yourself and maintain your emotional energy during those tough early months.
One way to do this is to take it easy for that first half term. (Remember that in the U.K. you do 13 week terms with a 1-week break in the middle, so you only have to get through 6- 7 weeks before you can have a wee rest.) For me this meant a conscious decision not to book any travel plans until the half-term break. No day trips, no whirlwind weekend adventures. I spent my weekends hanging with mates, catching up on work, vegging out on the couch, and (as previously mentioned) trying to figure out where to get the groceries I wanted.
Whilst it may sound like a dull way to spend your first weeks in a new country, it allowed me time to recharge my batteries and prioritise the things that I had long-since learnt would keep me sane. Things like walks in the woods, cooking good food, and spending time with friends and family (both in the U.K and via Skype). By half-term I couldn’t WAIT to get travelling – after all, that was what had I come to do! – but looking back I still feel that I was right to takes things slowly until I had found my feet.
Make the Most of It!
Let’s be honest, if you’re going to all this trouble to live overseas, there’s just one thing on your mind: travel! We all know there are amazing travel opportunities in the U.K. (check out Reyne’s blog on travel tips for more info), and once I’d made it through that first half-term I couldn’t wait to do as much as possible. I found the best way to ensure I made the most of my time was to sit down for a night with my calendar and my laptop and start booking stuff in. Day trips, show tickets, weekends away – but never 2 weekends in a row. After all, I still had to teach and didn’t want to run myself into the ground. But having those things booked in before school went back gave me something to look forward to, something that was just for me and my enjoyment.
Moving overseas is a thrilling, wild, wondrous choice to make. It fills us with a sense of excitement as our minds overflow with the possibilities in front of us. Like everything worth doing though, it also has its challenges – that’s what makes it so rewarding.
Let me finish by saying that despite these initial challenges, I wouldn’t change a thing. Some days I actually have to pinch myself because I can’t believe I’m really here, that I’m really doing it. I mean, right now I’m sitting in my friend’s kitchen in Glasgow having spent a white Christmas in Scotland. Tomorrow I leave for Edinburgh for Hogmanay celebrations. It’s the dream, and I’m living it! No doubt you will also have some wonderful, adventure-ridden path to tread. Just don’t freak out if it takes a little time to find it – the best things are worth waiting for.
I’d love to hear from you! Follow my adventures or share your own with me on Instagram @just_another_aussie_gypsy.