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Before you move abroad

Thursday November 2, 2006

Christine Reid has lived in several countries ? seven if you count England and Wales separately. As a result, she has made a number of international moves and has a few tips to share.

Practicalities of packing up and moving

  • Label your boxes, packing crates, etc. with numbers and keep a list of the contents in a safe place; ie 'box number one ? pictures and mirrors'; 'box number two ? dinner service and wine glasses', etc.
  • Do not write the contents of the boxes on the boxes themselves as this is an open invitation to dishonest and unscrupulous removal men to help themselves to what they fancy. This happened to us ? we had to learn the hard way.
  • Don?t pack books in anything larger than a 12-bottle wine carton, otherwise you won?t be able to carry them.
  • When the removers unload at the other end, they may want to take the boxes away with them. If so, check that the boxes are empty as they are carried out of your door ? again, we have experienced some of our possessions 'accidentally' disappearing in this way.
  • Don?t try to unpack everything at once; presumably you?re going to be living there for a while, so take one day at a time and unpack gradually. If you decide that you need to find a certain book, unpack some of the book boxes; if you?re having a dinner party, unpack the china. If you can spare half an hour, unpack a small box; if you have three or four hours, unpack some larger ones. This may sound obvious, but I?ve seen people wear themselves to a frazzle trying to do too much at once.

Once you?ve arrived and start to settle in

  • Go round your local area and take some photographs of things that strike you as interesting, special or different. After a while you?ll get used to these things and will forget that they struck you as curiosities to start with.
  • Similarly, write some notes or send emails about what things strike you as being different from the place you?ve come from; this could be related to the climate, the shops, the way the houses are built, the clothes people wear, what the roads and traffic are like . . .
  • Join in some local activities. This is especially a good idea if you have children of school age. For example, my husband had been a scout as a boy, so wherever we went he offered to help the cub pack that our sons joined. I?m a librarian, so I went into the school once or twice a week to help the school librarian.
  • We have always joined a church when we?ve moved to a new place; in this way we have immediately felt part of a community and have found we have a certain amount in common with other church members ? and they often sing the same hymns!
  • Don?t be afraid to get involved ? join a sports club, an art group, a play-reading circle, a choir. Or do some charity work in your spare time: ie teaching woodwork, needlework or computer skills.
  • Take holidays in your new country and travel as widely as possible, especially if you think you may not be there very long.
  • Whether or not to learn the language is always a tricky one; if you?re likely to be moving round a lot, then in practical terms you can?t learn the language of every place you go to. You?ll probably pick up a few words or phrases and that will please the locals. I think a lot depends on where you?re living, how long you?re likely to be there, and whether you need the language for work purposes or socially.
  • If some aspect of the way of life in your new country troubles you and you feel unsure of how you?re going to cope, take note of how the local people manage. An example of this is when we first lived in western Canada; having moved there from the tropics, we really weren?t sure how we?d cope with the very cold winters. What do the locals do? Go skating and drink hot chocolate; go to the movies, the theatre, concerts ,etc. ? we found most 'entertainment' of this sort closed down in the summer ? summer is for barbecues and picnics and canoeing.
  • We have always regarded the place we are currently living in as 'home'. This will not necessarily be the case for everyone who moves to a new country ? many people will be moving for a tour of duty of a particular length, and then going back to where they came from. However, the principle of calling where you are 'home' is still a sound one ? it does help you to settle down.
  • Try and make friends with some local people, not just the expat community; they?re probably as interested in you as you are in them, and you can learn a lot from each other.

Inspired? If this strikes a chord with you, why don't you share your experiences with other Guardian Abroad readers? Visit our talkboards and spark up a conversation. Or if you're interested in submitting an article, look at our editorial policy to find out how.

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