Last week marked the 10-year anniversary of the day I left Arizona to move to Europe. Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I left the U.S.? No, well I can’t either. Wow – how the time has passed and life has flown by. Ten years ago, Norway wasn’t on my radar at all. Norway wasn’t apart of my forward consciousness in any way, form or fashion. And here I am…ten years after I left Tucson on that night back in March 2005 knee deep in lefse, komle and bløtkake.
I get asked all the time about how I’ve managed to live away from home so long and how I managed to juggle the pressures, victories and challenges that come along with life outside of the U.S. I’m also often asked how I managed to find work, make friends, build a network and of course, how I’ve managed to learn Norwegian. I write about life as in expat on this blog in the Ask an Expat section, but in light of my anniversary, I thought it would be nice to write more about living (and working!) outside of your home country.
Here are my top five tips for living and working abroad plus a few bonus tips too – because I’m helpful like that! Keep reading for more than 75 other tips from around the web on making it in a new country.
1. Network as if your life depended on it – because it does.
Connect with like-minded people who have similar interests in your new area and those who can relate to your journey as a new comer – both on and offline. Meet everyone you can, anywhere you can and treat everyone with respect (Not just people you think can “do something” for you! Keep an open mind to everyone you meet!). Even if that means doing something for free on your own time, for someone else without the promise upfront of “something” . Join a club or organization – or even start a Facebook group for others in your area. Offer to help do small tasks which make others’ lives easier, and always show up – even when you are exhausted. Support others efforts to improve themselves. Always be helpful, useful, kind, honest and humble. Network. Network. Network.
Bonus Tip: Begin networking online with people in your intended area BEFORE you leave home. Facebook groups are great for this, as are other online forums.
2. Avoid negativity at all costs.
At times I’ve had to trick myself into seeing the positive in certain situations, which hasn’t always been easy but is necessary (especially when I was a grumpy, tired, homesick MBA student who was working full-time). At times you will just have to push through your challenges, but finding a way to look at the positive side will make your experience smoother ans less prickly.
Also, looking for a job in your new country will make you depressed, doubt yourself more than you ever thought possible and might be the single factor pushing you to want to go home. Hand to heart, looking for a job as a newcomer is seriously a buzz kill for many (and despite what people might say in public), we’ve all been there. Just keep pushing through, network and stay positive.
Bonus Tip: Maintaining a consistent workout schedule and spending time doing activities you enjoy will help you stay positive. Go for a walk, get some air and try to find things you enjoy about your new country.
3. Learn the language. Even if only just the basics (in the beginning).
There isn’t a lot I can say here that is going to comfort you if you do not want to learn the language of your new home country. If you don’t learn the local language, even if just a little bit in the beginning, then more and more over time, you will lessen your involvement with the local culture – which is sort of the point of going abroad, right?!?!?!? I’ve written a few times about what I did to start learning Norwegian, and am working on an update to tell you guys what I have been doing to improve my Norwegian. In the meantime:
- If there is a library in your area, get a library card and use it for all that it is worth (and be sure to support your local library when the time comes for volunteer opportunities or charity events). Libraries are jam-packed full of language resources – and they are all free or very low cost. There are a lot more resources available now than when I left the US ten years ago – use them to get the basics down before you leave. Libraries in Norway are WELL stocked (especially the ones on Stavanger), and you dont need a D-number to use them (also gives you a free place to hangout besides your house).
- Find some “easy reading” websites online and browse the headlines everyday while you drink your morning coffee (fashion websites and gossip magazines are great for this). Follow a few hobby blogs and learn the lingo that way too.
- Practice repeating phrases you hear through videos on YouTube or on internet radio in the local language to yourself. I do this ALL the time at home actually. I listen to one of my Norwegian language CDs, and simply repeat the phrases the instructor says out loud (yes, to the wall!). Of course, it feels weird at first, but it has certainly helped me pronounce words and remember responses for using in meetings, which is in fact, not so weird.
Bonus Tip: Read more on how I learned (and am learning) Norwegian by reading: Five Easy Tips For Learning Norwegian and Other Languages Without Moving Abroad PT. 1 (Video) and Five Easy Tips For Learning Norwegian and Other Languages Without Moving Abroad PT. 2 (Video)
4. Do your research on the legal stuff – work permits, studying abroad, taxes, property.
If you plan on moving to a European country and are from an EU member country, you’ll have a lot easier time finding work abroad. Also, EU citizens have an easier time finding work in Norway as Norway is a part of the European Economic Area. Also, depending upon where you want to move to, many European countries have a so-called grandfather clause that allows individuals to “move home” if they can prove they have a close relative from the area. Finding a job is difficult, easier if you are in Europe and from an EU member country. If you want to study abroad, some overseas universities target English speaking students or have master’s programs in English. Look for those if you want to continue your education first before working abroad.
If you are an American, you MUST file your Federal tax forms (1040 forms) every year. Do this on time every year and you will be fine. Owning property in the U.S. or in your home country can give you a few tax curveballs, so find a professional and get some sound advice.
Bonus Tip: For more of my specific tips on finding a job in Norway, I’ve written all about it in a blog post I wrote called How Do I Find a Job in Norway? or read my interview with my alumni association here.
5. Find what makes you unique – and make it your (acute) strategic advantage.
I know this sounds like “carpe diem”/fluffy business speak, but my best piece of advice is to find what makes you different, figure out how to use that to your advantage and then find ways to keep applying it to move you closer to your goals. The key is to leverage what you have – to move you closer to where you want to be. Use your skills, talents and abilities to their fullest – and allow technology to help further you even more.
Bonus Tip: Be you! Do you! But adapt and keep an open mind!
75+ More Tips for Living Abroad
My Cool Career, part 2: Sun Devil alumna Whitney Love shares 5 tips for making a living internationally (ASU Alumni Association)
[Video] 5 Cons of Living Abroad (Emily Bland)
10 Tips for Packing Up and Living Abroad (Matador Network)
5 Tips for Expats Living and Working Abroad (Clements Worldwide)
7 money moves for living abroad (Bankrate)
7 Splendid tips for living abroad
[Five] Tips for Living Abroad with Kids (Go Nomad)
6 Tips for Coping with Loneliness When Living Abroad (Monkeys and Mountains)
My #1 Tip for Being Happy When Living Abroad (Monkeys and Mountains)
[Three] Tax Tips for Americans Living Abroad (U.S. News & World report)
21 Tips On Living Abroad (Cindy King)
[Video] Want to Live Abroad? Here are some TIPS! (AllisBelle)