Congratulations! You’ve got a TEFL certificate, a job overseas and a plane ticket. You’re ready to go right?
Sure! But many of you in this situation are probably scratching your heads and pondering the following questions:
1) What, if anything, should I ask friends and family to keep for me while I’m away?
2) Is it a good idea to post things to my new home abroad?
3) Just how much stuff can I stuff into that suitcase?
First, you should try to limit the things that you do bring abroad to the absolute minimum. You should only take the things that you feel you (literally) can’t live without. And of course, since it seems that whenever I do a big move it is in the middle of a record heatwave, a blizzard or other extreme weather event, I always feel like the less stuff I have to lug around, the better.
Prescriptions and Other Medicines
I’m no spring chicken any more, so one of the things I always take a hard look at before I move to a new country is whether or not I can get the medicines I need in the country I’ll be going to. To get an idea about what will be available, I cruise discussion forums and post my queries there. However, a word of advice, don’t always trust the answers on the forums, especially if the medicine you are asking about is vital to your comfort and/or health.
That said, you’ll find that most meds are inexpensive overseas when compared to your home country, so there’s usually no need to go overboard bulk-buying anything. In my experience, unless the drug or treatment you need is extremely new or rare, you’ll have few problems finding it.
If You Can’t Live Without It, Bring It!
If there is something that is really vital for keeping you healthy, then of course you should pack it and take it along with you.
Most newbie English teachers are surprised (and gratified) to find that they adapt to getting by with much less volume of clothes and accessories than they had back home. Just bring the basics. I do find, though, that it’s nice to have along a few pictures of pals and relatives that make you remember good times and help keep homesickness at bay. The good thing is that photos are light and pack easily.
Now, unlike photos and lightweight clothing, books are heavy and take up a lot of space. But…you might want to bring one or two reference type books with you. Depending on where you’re moving, the books you will rely on to start your teaching career may be costly and difficult to find. Don’t forget to consider scanning or ebook varieties of reference material to help save space and weight.
If you know you’ll be living somewhere with a good connection to the Internet (i.e. most of the world these days) you’ll probably be able to go on-line to get most of the information to help you start out.
OK, What about A Computer?
I’ve seen plenty of teachers preparing to go abroad who look at their plane ticket as permission to buy a brand-new notebook computer or pricey laptop in the spirit of portability. But I feel like a shiny new gadget like that is just one more thing to worry about losing, dropping or getting stolen. In most cases, teachers can wait until they arrive in their target country to purchase an inexpensive desktop computer. An older (but still new) model may end up costing you half or less of what a laptop would have. You might pose this question to your new employer or other teachers at the school if you are in contact with them.
If you have a lot of digital files that you want to take with you, then an efficient option is to buy an external hard drive. It’s sure to be easier to pack that than a laptop!
Sending Things via the Post Office
I don’t like to recommend that people use the post office to help them move things abroad. While the mail may be regular and reliable in your home country, overseas can be quite a different story. Your items may be misplaced, stolen or damaged in transit. The bottom line is, if you really want to take something, put it in your suitcase. And if it’s really indispensable, then you’d better bring it in carry-on luggage. The safest place for it is with you.
TED’s Tips™ #1: People from Western countries, like you and me, are often surprised to see that most people in other countries live their lives with much fewer belongings than we are used to. In the village I lived in for several years in Thailand, I frequently saw tourists lugging around backpacks containing more things than what filled a local person’s whole house! I have to chuckle when I see the locals staring in awe at all the bags these travelers bring with them.
I recommend bringing enough clothing for one week and a month’s supply (or more) of your important medicines or things you need for health reasons. Thirty days should be long enough for you to find out where to get more. Of course, with critical medicine, err on the conservative side.
TED’s Tips™ #2: What you’ll really need, honey, is money! Bring cash. Lots of cash (okay, not TOO much!). You’ll need enough to buy the necessities for starting out in your new home. I’ll have another post about this topic soon. Check with your employer too because if you are sharing accommodation with another teacher, they probably already have everything essential. If you are taking over a private apartment from another teacher, they often leave their basics there rather than taking them on to their next posting.