One of the things I personally find hard about being an expat is that tricky stage when you think a move might be coming up, but nothing is confirmed. I wrote about this in my post ‘We Might be Moving’ (see here). Judging by the comments and messages I received, it’s clear that I am not the only one who has been on several ‘mental world tours’ before finding out that where we were heading was not the place I’d been planning on!
We all have to manage uncertainty in our lives to a greater or lesser extent, and some people find it easier than others. But I do think relocating overseas is a particular kind of pressure – because you know that it’s not just one thing in your life that is going to change. It’s everything – country, job, schools, house…the lot.
So here are some practical tips from my experiences of being in this frustrating ‘holding bay’ position several times. As I said, I’ve never found this easy, and when I am struggling with something I have to talk about it. So I’ve had countless conversations with other seasoned expats, and the advice I took on from them is also incorporated in these tips.
And therein lies the light at the end of the tunnel: there are other people who are going through the same thing, and who have done it countless times. And when you finally get to wherever you are going, these are the people who will help you – because they know what it’s like to land in a new place and not know your arse from your elbow, or your brats from your wurst (I could go on…but I won’t).
These are the people who will help you and share their insider knowledge. they’ll help you find your feet, or an English-speaking doctor, or the best place to buy to buy meat or the nearest coffee shop that does a decent flat white (still to find that in Germany – if you know anywhere I’m all ears…)
Soon the uncertainty of the ‘holding bay’ will be over, and it’ll be time to take a deep breath and fly. And in the meantime, here are some practical tips.
1. Don’t overthink it
The sagest advice I’ve had is to not think about a move until it is confirmed. Easier said than done, but it makes sense not to waste energy worrying about all the potential moves you might make. If your move is with a large company, it’s difficult to second guess what’s going to happen next. Things change all the time: people resign, projects get canned, divisions get sold off.
Hard as it is, putting your energies into the present rather than worrying about what might happen is a much better use of your time.
2. Focus on what you can control
The sense that your life and future is out of your hands is discomfiting. But the reality is that no-one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow – no-one can control the future. So instead, focus on what you can do. And by this I mean the practical stuff, the things that will be helpful whether you move now or next year or not at all.
Some of this is boring stuff that we all put off, but it’s good to focus on something that you can achieve and actually get done. And these are the jobs that can take time. If you get the go-ahead on a move with a short turn around, these are the things that will get forgotten about, rushed or just generally stress you out.
- Get your finances in order
- If you haven’t got a will, consider getting this done now
- Have a clear out. Throw, donate or sell items you no longer need
- Make sure your health records are up to date and get documentations of your vaccinations – especially important for children as vaccination schedules vary by country
- Get dentists appointments in for everyone
- Check your passports and make sure they aren’t about to expire. We didn’t realise we needed 6 months on our passports before we left the UK for Bangkok and had a last-minute panic as mine and my daughter’s had only 3 months left on them. Info here for UK passport holders.
3. Make the most of now
If you do move, chances are you’ll spend the first couple of months missing home – or wherever it is you are living currently. So put the time in now. If you have family close by, make the most of seeing them. See your friends as much as you can. Go to all your favourite places and visit new ones. Don’t put it off – see this as making time to make memories.
One thing I did for my children was make ‘memory books’ of our lives in the UK. They were only 4 and 2 when we left, so this was mainly photos of family, their friends, our house, their nursery etc. While I wish I was a crafty kind of mother, I am not – these were far from being Pinterest worthy – but the girls loved them. And, if we hadn’t moved, they would still have liked them so it was no loss.
When we were in Bangkok I bought them both a Friendship book which was a great investment. There are loads of these around, but this is the nicest one I’ve seen by far. Each friend gets a double page with lots of things to fill in. This makes the process easier all round – blank pages are too much pressure! Now, whenever a friend leaves, we ask them to write in the book. It’s a great memento; both my girls look at their books regularly.
Here is the link to buy the books… I’m not affiliated with them, I just thinks it’s a really great product.
4. Be the boss
If you are moving with children, you have to deal with the ambiguity for them. You are the boss, and you have to protect your ‘team’ from unnecessary worry. Kids really don’t need to know about what ‘might’ happen – they need concrete details. So, hard as it might be, don’t share the details with them until you’re sure of them yourself.
How you handle things with your children will obviously depend on how old they are. But however old, they don’t need to join you on your mental world tour.
Children need to know where, when and what it’s going to look like for them. And this can actually be hugely helpful. It forces you to frame things positively. But, as we know, when you are moving, things aren’t all positive. Allow your children to voice their fears and to name those feelings – ‘I’m anxious about starting at a new school’, ‘I’m feeling sad about leaving my friends’ – and you open up a dialogue that’s meaningful.
It’s much easier to help a child when they can tell you what they are going through; sometimes the best way to get to this is by sharing your own feelings. It’s ok to tell them that you are worried, as long as you can reassure them that you – and they – are going to be ok.
5. Be kind to yourself
Above all things, be kind to yourself – what you’re going through isn’t easy. Yes, the thought of moving to a new country is exciting. But it’s still stressful, no matter how many times you’ve been through it. And usually it’s down to us – the wives, the Mums – to pack up, ship out and get the show on the road. Whilst keeping everything else going – home, kids, work, the lot. So look after yourself. Take time out. Ask for help. Go for a run, eat the chocolate, enjoy that glass of wine – do whatever you need to do to keep a sense of normal. And remember that whatever happens, you can handle it. Of course you can!
But if you remember nothing else, remember this:
‘Leap and the net will appear’