The trouble with the Relocation Process is that there very rarely is one. Anyone experienced in relocating will tell you that by the time you know you are really going, life becomes a maelstrom of moving trucks, school searches and house hunting, all against a backdrop of a disappearing spouse desperately trying to get to grips with a new role. Focus is inevitably placed on a checklist generated by a Human Resources intern somewhere who has decided that all you need for life fulfillment is a house to live in, a school for your children and a myriad of boxes to unpack. If only they had read Maslow’s ‘Heirarchy of Needs”, this would all be so much easier. Thankfully, there are plenty of people, communities and resources to help you achieve the life you want, so with a little research, some thought, and advance planning, you can get to the good stuff quickly.
As a rough guide, these are my recommended steps to take.
Assessment. The shortest step, but by far the most important. This is where you need to identify what is most important to you, what you want from life, and whether relocating will actually meet those needs… It’s also the time to discover whether your relocation package is all it’s reported to be, and whether your expectations have anything in common with the company’s.. You may be entitled to cultural orientation training, and if so, wonderful. But don’t assume that it will cover your own particular needs, so try to find time to do your own research and use online resources like expat websites, Facebook and Twitter to connect with people who have experienced your new location firsthand. Expatwomen and ExpatBlog both have location specific resource groups, and most expat bloggers will be only too happy to answer questions.
Planning. The nitty gritty of relocation; a seemingly endless cascade of paperwork, documents, internet searches and phone calls. Assuming that you have a source of income in place, key areas to focus on are documentation and finance, schools, neighborhoods, health issues, transportation to and in location, and finding a social network. A pre-assignment visit is by far the best way to make sure that your planning is effective, and that you have realistic expectations, but make sure that you have done background research before you go, or you will come home with more questions than answers. Don’t spend all your time answering the ‘where’ questions, remember to ask ‘how much’ and ‘how long’ too – many an expat has found life far more expensive or far less relaxing than they had expected.
Implementation. If your planning has been effective, at this stage it should just be a case of carrying out your plans, and getting the basics established in location. Expect this stage to take up to six months, and in many cases to be an emotional roller-coaster. Ironically, your new social network will be most valuable at this point, both in terms of cultural and destination orientation, and for emotional support. It’s worth spending time on some of the excellent expat forums online and using social media like Facebook and Twitter to discover already established expat networks that you can tap in to.
Evaluation. At some point, you will begin to get a true picture of your new reality. You have all the essentials in place, you have established a day to day routine, and you have a social network (however small) to smooth the inevitable bumps. Now you can make informed decisions about life in location, and think about what you personally want from it. Up until now, your time is consumed by the practical details, but once those are out of the way, it’s common to feel a sense of loss and a lack of purpose, both for you and your family. Now’s the time to start adding that purpose and quality to your life, whether exploring the local area, starting a new hobby, finding work, whatever floats your boat. Try as much as you can, expect to hate a lot of it, but take pride in the knowledge that you’re getting out there and living life to the full. And don’t forget to take notes – whether photographic, a blog, a diary, whatever. A, inspired friend today confessed that she has a Tumblr account to which she loads a single picture every day, and even after three months, she enjoys looking back and relieving those moments. Chronicling the highs and lows helps to put experiences in perspective, and is a clear reminder of what’s important your own, personal expat life..