Monthly Archives: November 2011

Things to Know When Traveling Abroad

Clutch online magazine has really picked up the baton when it comes to encouraging African-American women to travel abroad more. Just a few days ago writer Arielle Loren added a new article called, “10 This You Should Know When Traveling Abroad” to the numerous articles that have been posted over the last few weeks.

In addition to the very useful tips included in that article, here are a few I would also recommend people consider.

First, where simple logistics are concerned:

  • If you plan to use public transportation, and there are schedules/maps online, familiarize yourself with the system before you leave, so you know how to find your way around “like a local” when you arrive
  • If you are using taxis, make sure you understand pricing practices in the cities/countries you are visiting. In some places it’s really important to agree a price *before* you get started or the driver can literally charge you whatever astronomical fee he fancies!
  • If you are taking prescription medication, not only take enough with you to last you while you’re gone. Also take a copy of the prescription and/or the name of that medication in the countries to which you’ll be traveling.
  • Don’t forget to get a local SIM card for your cell phone and/or an international calling card to save money on calls home (and be prepared in an emergency)

On a more social note, think about the following:

  • Reach out to an expat or local blogger and build up a relationship with them before you leave home. That will give you a touch point when you hit the ground.
  • Consider contacting local student or professional organizations before you leave, if you’d like to do a little networking while you’re on the road. Check out their online event calendars before leaving home and/or consider sharing your expertise by offering to do a presentation, etc., on a relevant topic for them while you’re there.
  • Contact a local middle/high school if you are willing give a short presentation and field questions from kids interested in the States/learning English/becoming exchange students, etc.

What are the tips you’d add?

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Four Stages of Life Abroad

A young lady on a social site I’m active on had a question about adapting to life abroad. I told her that I believe there are several distinct phases of living abroad, and – depending on your personality and circumstances – they can last for differing lengths of time.

Although she’s pondering a long-term move, what I wrote about the different phases of settling in a foreign country also applies to the experience of someone only intending to stay for a more limited period of time; e.g. an exchange student.

# 1 – Wonder

Everything is new and different – in a very positive way. You walk through life with your eyes wide open and try to take in all the many impressions and experiences your new life is offering. You love the museums and quaint shops, the art house films and outdoor cafès. You feel a rush as you begin learning the language (if that’s relevant), and are tickled to death whenever you can say “please” or “(no) thank you” or “where’s the rest room” at the right time, just like the “natives”.

Oh yea, you think the food, as well as the beer/wine, are marvelous!

 

#2 – Homesickness

Now you’re getting way too much “new” – and not in a good way. You miss the familiar things that used to be your life: your favorite foods, the TV shows you loved to watch, your favorite radio station…(big) closets!

Although you are busy trying to learn the language, it’s not nearly as easy as it was in the beginning (and it didn’t always seem easy then!), so you feel as though you only understand about 20 % of what’s being said around you.

Everything that’s done differently can be the source of yet another irritation:

  • Why are small shops closed at midday?
  • Why don’t they know what a “real” salad bar looks like?
  • Why do I need to have stamps/documentation/certificates for everything?
  • Why do I have to pay a government organization for the “privilege” of watching TV ?

That’s not the way we do it at home. And the way *we* did it was the right way!

You live for C.A.R.E. packages from home.

 

#3 – Going with the Flow

Now you are can maneuver pretty well through day-to-day life. Although you don’t speak the language fluently, you can get by in most normal situations and even dabble in a little innocent small talk when you encounter a neighbor while getting your mail.

You know how to read the subway schedule and work the ticket machine, what time your bank is open, and where to find peanut butter in your local supermarket. You don’t feel at home, though… You spend a lot of your time with other expats – often complaining about he way things are here.

You can’t wait till you can visit home again.

#4 – Settling In

You no longer feel drawn to every English book store and/or the American products in your local hypermarket as though by a high-powered magnet. You tune in to your favorite channel for the local nightly news, go to author readings at the city library, and maybe have a subscription to a sports or women’s or gardening magazine.

Still not perfect, you can now joke in your new language and understand more of the nuances when talking with your local friends. And yes, you’ve noticed real friendships developing with a few “locals”. You have a job or volunteer somewhere; meet a friend every week for tennis or to jog or for drinks on Friday night.

You appreciate the healthcare, the generous vacations and the relative safety of your neighborhood. You walk more and watch TV less. You realize that “quality-of-life” isn’t connected to material things, but to the experiences and opportunities for growth the journey has brought you.