My motto has always been work smarter, not harder and if you’re about to venture abroad for the first time I think it is a great mantra to apply. Here are five things you should do before you arrive in order to make your new life overseas that little bit easier.
1. Map out your hometown
This might sound obvious but trust me, there’s nothing worse than arriving in a new city and not knowing where you’re going to buy your breakfast from. Whilst there is certainly some enjoyment in exploring your new locale and finding all the amenities yourself, there are a few places you should certainly look up on Google Maps beforehand:
- Your workplace – particularly in relation to where you’re living, will you be able to walk to work or will you need to take public transport?
- A supermarket / convenience store – you might be dreaming of buying your daily baguette from the boulangerie but the reality is that you’re going to need somewhere where you can easily grab all your essentials in one place. Look up your local Carrefor or Lidl beforehand.
- A bank – you will need to open a bank account if you want to get paid. I was fortunate enough to have my employer assist me with this but if you have to sort it out for yourself then aim to open with a bank that has a branch that is local to you.
- Bus/tram/train station – it’s always good to know where to go if you ever need to get out, make locating public transport a priority.
- The police station – ideally, you won’t need to have any dealings with the police, however, for peace of mind you should at least have an idea of where to go should you ever be in need of their assistance
2. Do your homework
When I lived in France I was employed as a language assistant at a local school to teach English. This is a fantastic placement to have but, as any teacher will tell you, the workload can be extremely demanding even for those on lower hours. When you’ve recently moved to a new city the last thing you want to be doing is spending hours preparing handouts and presentations or researching topics for the classroom. This needn’t be an issue if you prepare your lessons well in advance:
- Email your colleagues – you will likely have a contact from your place of work that you can email or talk to beforehand, find out what topics they will be covering with their students so that you can prepare some relevant materials.
- Talk to other students – if you’re at uni you may have noticed a rather tan, well-dressed group of students who greet each other with the continental two kisses (pre-Covid that is!) – these are the fourth years who have just returned from their year abroad. Talk to them, many of them will still have old documents and presentations saved that they will never use again and may be willing to share their resources with you.
- Work to the calendar – this worked a treat for me. In October, my classes were Halloween themed (fears, fancy-dress, sweets); in November we did Bonfire Night; February was Valentine’s; March was spring. Vocab sessions can be easily done off the cuff when you have a theme in mind.
- Think outside the box – during December my go-to topic of Christmas was off limits thanks to France’s principle of laïcité (secularism). To combat this, I decided to show my classes the most secular-but-Christmassey videos I could find: the John Lewis adverts. Have a few fun backup ideas like this that you can use and reuse in your lessons.
- Sleep, teach, repeat – if you’re teaching topics rather than a class then you will be able to reuse most of your lessons. I was sent small groups of students from the same class throughout the week which meant I often only needed to prepare one or two lessons to last me that period. Prepare several lessons in advance and you’ll have yourself covered for a whole term!
3. Say yes to employers' accomodation
For me, the most daunting part of moving abroad was making sure I had somewhere to stay. The SLB collaborates with leading accommodation providers and will be able to assist you in finding a place to call home but if you’re lucky, your employer may already have accommodation that they can offer you. If this is the case then do not hesitate to accept it! It will save you the palaver of finding your own accommodation and in my experience, will be significantly cheaper in rent. I was given a studio flat that my lycée rented out to the language assistant each year. It was basic but clean, functional, and right around the corner from the school. I paid my rent to the accounts team in the school’s office, it couldn’t have been simpler! You might not be given the fanciest pad but you will save yourself a lot of hassle and red-tape by accepting their offer.
4. Contact your predecessor
Following on from the previous point, if you do decide to use your employers’ accommodation I recommend contacting whoever stayed there before you. Of course there is no guarantee that you will be able to do this – perhaps your employer cannot give out contact details - but there are so many groups on social media that getting in touch with people is a lot easier these days. Things you could ask them include:
- What they did about WiFi – you might have to source your own internet so finding out how they did it before you can be a huge help.
- If there are any issues or quirks in the building – maybe one of the rings on the stove doesn’t work; maybe there’s a key to the garden that you don’t know about – whoever lived there before will have discovered all and any pros and cons before you.
- Neighbours – it’s always good to have a heads up about which neighbours play loud music; who is friendly and who is not; who will invite you over on the weekend etc.
5. Get on social media
If you don’t already have social media now might be the time to sign up for it. There are so many communities and groups that you can join online before you head out abroad. Facebook in particular is a great place to look for people who are also working or studying abroad and you will often be able to find a very specific community to join. This is a great way to make friends and make arrangements to meet up with people once you arrive.
- Facebook has pages for everything: Scots living in France; wine tasting groups based in Italy; international fan pages – the chances are you’ll find a community you can join that best fits you and your interests.
- If you’re studying then look for university or college pages that you can join.
- The SLB’s services section has a number of different websites that you can check out beforehand, from Crossfit in Barcelona to cinema in Paris.
Moving abroad can be scary but with a little bit of preparation and by adopting the work smarter, not harder philosophy you’ll be able to nix much of the stress in advance and make life easier for yourself when you arrive.