It can be summed up in nine little words.
Just tell me what I need to do next.
Amid all the packing, the paperwork and the moving, that’s all I really wanted. Someone to tell me exactly what I needed to do to make the process simpler, stop me going around in circles, and keep the chaos at bay. So over the next few weeks and months, that’s exactly what we are going to do – compile a series of checklists, templates and worksheets that tell you exactly that. What to do next.
For those of you who like to fly by the seat of your pants, we’re probably taking out most of the fun, but for those of us who are already struggling to hold on to our sanity, we’re going to try the novel route of looking before we leap.. Ingenious, hey?
In my world, relocation, international assignment, diplomatic posting, call it what you will, currently goes like this:
1. Vague mutterings and rumblings in the workplace about overseas roles.
2. Conversations at home about the idea of living overseas, including discussion on increased family time, exotic locations, waving palm trees and the ability of the accompanying partner to spend days immersing him/herself in the local culture, and writing their magnum opus.
3. The previsit, where your time is spent staying in a 4 star hotel, driving around neighborhoods , eating out, anjoying a brief sojourn sans children and generally feeling like you are on holiday. Further discussion on how much family time you would have, how the children would benefit from a global perspective, how you could use your increased income to build a nest egg and how it would be an excellent career development opportunity.
4. The offer. Cue reality, in the form of a deluge of paperwork, including 400 page expat assignment policy, 150 page temporary assignment contract, 80 page medical insurance paperwork packet, 27 page moving household goods inventory and a 3 page Relocation and Cultural Orientation Guide. And a three week timeframe.
5. The abyss. Three weeks of frantic home maintenance, notification of school, mail, family, friends, of impending departure, vaccinations, medical examinations, pet transporting, home searching, home renting, school finding, signing documents without even reading them,
6. The arrival. Stumble off plane in an already exhausted state, navigate a painful journey through customs, including intense scrutiny of passports and visas, intrusive questioning and a thorough rummage through your underwear (if you are lucky, the ones in your suitcase, not on your person). Exit airport, only to remember you have to find the cargo section to retrieve family dog. Reenter airport, bribe customs officers in cargo section, regain dog.
7. Settling in. Reach housing, only to discover no utilities. Spend 4 days using candles and eating sandwiches, while negotiating to establish services. Get lost three times on way to new school, eventually arrive 2 hours late with sobbing children. Rashly agree to join PTA and realize that any spare time you might have had will now be spent baking cupcakes, supervising school trips and wiping paint off classroom ceilings. Spend two weeks locating grocery stores, two months eating strange foodstuffs because you can’t read the labels, and six months wishing your cultural orientation had covered some of the basics like ‘toilet tissue’ and ‘aspirin’. Finally find a friend, and realize that you might survive this after all..
The more observant amongst you will notice that there is a complete absence of any sort of real plan, and that through most of the journey, you are a naïve and innocent passenger on a speeding relocation roller coaster. Once the ride has started, it’s too late to get off, your protests are lost in the speed of the transition, and you spend much of the time upside down. So over the next few weeks, we are going to try it a little differently.
We’re going to take it step by step, and you all get to add your comments, suggestions, strategies for success or disaster stories. And hopefully in the end, we will have a definitive guide developed by those of us at the prickly end of the pineapple..
I think this could be fun.
Photo of an original Ferris Wheel, Chicago, United States, 1893, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum Archives