Discarding your cushy life to move halfway around the world and start from scratch is a feat few can manage. Many expats / aspiring bloggers will ooze online about how moving abroad to teach English was the best decision of their life; and it is. But if you’re serious about making the move, you might struggle to imagine what life will realistically be like in a totally different culture. Here’s a 10-point reality check on how to mentally prepare yourself to move abroad.
1. Location, location, location
Where you end up teaching will have a huge impact on your time overseas. Are you looking for big city life, or something a little more lowkey? An international environment, or culturally indulgent? Choose wisely.
2. Pack light, pack right
One of the biggest questions first time expats have is how and what to pack. Two rules of thumb: pack a little for every season, and stock up on favorite products or brands you won’t be able to find abroad. Otherwise, everything can be bought once you arrive; there is no need to overpack. Hint: the electrical outlets and voltage are likely different, so there’s no point in weighing down your bags with bulky blow dryers and flat irons you won’t be able to use anyways.
Even if you’re in an international city like Shanghai, chances are you won’t be able to find all your favorite foods. It’s all about embracing the culture while you can. Eat what the locals eat, and shop where the locals shop. Don’t worry though, if you’re really in the mood for homey comfort food there are tons of McDonald’s (and the occasional Taco Bell).
4. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
The Chinese government blocks all things Google and social media. So, if you can’t go without Netflix or Instagram, you’ll need to get a VPN before you come.
5. Adjustment period
It takes between 2 and 3 months before you become completely adjusted to your life abroad. Gathering a friend group, learning all the good places to shop and eat, and figuring out transportation, all these things take time. Many expats become homesick and discouraged within their first month because the culture shock can be difficult to overcome. My advice is to surround yourself with positivity and keep busy. Keep up with your friends and family at home, sure, but make sure you’re also building a community in your new country.
6. Letting go of your lifestyle
A large part of the culture shock that new expats struggle with is the process of releasing your old lifestyle and embracing the new. You may not be met with many of the luxuries you had back home, such as driving your own car, or tossing your wet clothes in a dryer. Take the opportunity to pick up a new habit or hobby in place of an old one.
7. Teaching is a mental state
If you’re new to teaching, you may be shocked by how much work teachers put in for their students. Lesson planning, graduations, activities, grading tests; all these extra pieces of the puzzle you didn’t realize existed will give you so much more appreciation for your teachers. Be aware before you come that teaching entails the ability to multitask.
8. Time will fly by
It feels like every time you blink another week has gone past. Then a month, then two, and suddenly time is up. Take advantage of the precious little time you have; and certainly, don’t take it for granted.
9. It’s not all about the ‘Gram
Be warned that behind every expats’ exotic, colorful Instagram post is a life of hard work and dedication. When you live in another country, you experience daily ups and downs; just like you would back home. Don’t trick yourself into the mindset that your life overseas will be 110% travel all the time. Not every day is beach cocktails and scenic hikes. Many days it’s squealing children and mounds of ungraded tests. The point is that those grueling days make the beach cocktail days, worth it.
10. It’s a priceless experience
As cheesy as it sounds, there truly is no other feeling like living in a foreign country. To have your eyes and mind opened to how enormous the world really is; it’s an unparalleled experience. The education you receive simply from living in a different culture is something you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
ARE YOU READY?
Teach, travel, and train with EF English First
Post by: Arianna Bennett
Arianna is a self-proclaimed travel photographer and adventurer. After her passion for travel took off in 2018, she made the decision to create a home base in Taizhou, Zheijiang, China. She now focuses on integrating into the true Chinese culture and experiencing the country as a local. You can read more of Arianna’s adventures on her blog, We Travel.