Adjusting to a New Country

Some People have Difficulty Adjusting to Change

On a forum in which I participate we were talking recently about things to do to help you get “settled in” and comfy in your new country/city.

People were looking for some hard and fast rules.  But as with most things, general guidelines are probably better.

If you are planning staying long term somewhere then I think what you might do depends a lot on the particular city and your comfort level with the culture.

I went about doing things very differently when I moved to Bangkok versus Taipei versus Riyadh versus Pusan, Korea versus Francistown Botswana.

Some essentials though are to make your home comfortable. Get Internet set up, TV, telephone – communication things organized, so you can communicate with friends and family.

Buy and organize your kitchen items so you can eat when and how you like. Same thing with bed linens, pillows – etc. The point being to make your home comfortable and to feel like home rather than to feel like a temporarily rented box.

Part of this will depend also on how introverted/extroverted you are. I am a bit quiet and shy until you know me, so I try to connect with groups that have similar interests. In Saudi Arabia it was a poker group. In Bangkok it was a book club. In Pusan it was a teachers group.

In one place I volunteered at an English language library. The library was an excellent way to meet people and it was easy to start conversations about what people were reading.

I’ve lived in five “foreign” countries for about two to ten years each and every one was super different even if in the same region of the world. Crime, ease of accessing the language, weather, culture and customs all will affect how you might go about adjusting.

Mostly – keep your eyes open, read community boards in places where expatriates gather (you WILL want to speak to people in your native language from time to time), volunteer if you can.

It really depends on how you wish to define your lifestyle.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Get your home nice and comfy as fast as you can.  Establish communication links with family and friends.  Volunteer and join up with local groups and organizations.  Do those things and you’ll soon have your new home country/city humming along like a nice pair of old shoes . . .

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Picking a new Country for a Long-Term Commitment

China? Brazil? Tanzania?

Where would you decide to settle for the next five to twenty years?

We are going to talk a bit about expatriate thinking this month with a series of posts about living abroad for the longer term.

Life abroad can be pretty addictive and many of us who have spent more than three or four years abroad often end up overseas for twenty or more years.

There is an initial hump of two or three years that sends most people “back home”.  That “hump” will be the topic in a following week.

RULE #1:  Don’t fall too much in love with the first place you land.

Too many people arrive in one country and never leave it.

They arrived in Brazil, fell in love with it and never left.  What they never found out is that they would have loved Japan, China, Costa Rica or some other place even more.

Give a few other countries a try too.

Part of what is happening is that people are falling in love with the experience of living abroad, which is pretty d*mn exciting all by itself.  But in the process they attach that love and excitment to the specific country in which they are presently living.   In other words, the same thing would often likely happen in almost any country in which they first landed.

I was lucky when I started out as I had decided I wanted to see many countries and live in more than a few.  So I spent about two to five years and more living and working in Botswana, Korea, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.  That way when I decided to settle down, I had a much broader base of information to call upon for the decision.

Korea was my home twice for three academic years each time, but ten years apart.  It was strange to see so many long termers there that had never left and experienced living and working somewhere else while I have the good fortune to experience two additional countries and cultures in depth during that time.   Don’t misunderstand, Korea is a wonderful place, but don’t limit your options so early in your expatriate experience.

If you intend to work abroad only for a year two, then yes, one country is about right.  The cost of moving and changing jobs is a bit much to do it more often than about every two years.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t close out your options.  If you are going out to “See the World” – go see it and experience it.  LIVE and WORK in more than one place so you can get a broader sense of the real world out here.

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I HATE this Country! TEFL Troubles . . .

Have you heard that before?

If you are an experienced EFL teacher with many years abroad, you have probably heard it from your coworkers more than a few times.  Maybe even said it yourself.

The most common advice given to people who make much statements is something like this: It’s a big world out there. Move to somewhere you really like.

After all life is too short to waste in a country or culture that is not to your liking, isn’t it?

Well . . . yes and no.  Are you supposed to LOVE every country in which you teach? You probably already know that I like playing the Devil’s Advocate and I am going to do that here.

Examine your purpose and reasons for living abroad and if one of them is to better educate yourself about the world then sometimes living in a country/culture that you don’t like/enjoy/feel comfortable with — is an opportunity to learn more and to explore yourself a bit.

In three different countries, I found I quite disliked them the first year I lived there and two of them I came to quite like and enjoy.  One – not.

The one not, even after a few years of living and working there was Saudi Arabia. It was a culture just a bit too suffocating for me. Certainly, of course, there were things I liked about the place, but overall things were just wrapped a bit too tight for me. I did stay there five years though, for financial and personal benefit.

But, while the money was important, it wasn’t everything. Looking back I realize now that I learned a lot about human behavior, conservative religion and cultures and most of all, how much the education system in my home country never taught me about the world.  I probably learned more about that world in Saudi Arabia and more about what I don’t know – than anywhere else I have ever lived.

Saudi Arabia is a country that helps me believe that people MUST get out and see the world. Preferably a lot of it to get a better grasp on how the real world functions (or doesn’t). Get out and experience a few places for more than just a sandy beach or a ski holiday. Do really SEE the world. You’ll be quite surprised.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get out and see the world and realize that just because you are not sympatico with a country or culture doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to learn while you are there. Don’t let it make you unhappy, be sure you get something out of the experience.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China


Living Abroad is Not for Everyone?

A reader recently commented – and copied part of a previous post – and also asked a good question . . .

[My only regrets about living the TEFL life abroad were…]  “That I waited until I was 37 to do it! Had I known, I would have gone as soon as I graduated from university in 1976.  I don’t dislike America, it’s just that it is all too familiar. I had already spent 37 years there and there is too much to see, too many places to experience and enjoy.”

The reader then wrote:

What you wrote is exactly how i feel right now today. I am 37 and was thinking these exact same thoughts. Thank you.

Question – why do you say living overseas is not for everyone?

Over on my first ever TEFL-type website I wrote a checklist of questions about whether heading abroad is a good idea for an individual.

Let’s revisit that idea.  From a positive perspective the question might be:

Is Teaching English Overseas appropriate for me?

It might be.  Only you can decide if a career in TEFL – teaching English overseas – is the right path for your life at this time.

What are the things to consider?

Do you have a family that you are responsible for?  How would they feel about moving overseas and living in a foreign land?

Do you have a spouse?  How would s/he feel about giving up their job?  Will she be able to find work overseas?  Is she interested in teaching English also?

Do you have children?  How will you educate them while overseas?  How might they feel about giving up their friends?

Do you have debts that must be paid while you are overseas?

Are there special medical issues for you or your family that must be considered?

Do you have the financial reserves to return to your home country and re-establish yourself if things don’t work out?

Have you ever taught before – do you have any reason to believe that you might enjoy teaching English?

Have you ever traveled or lived overseas before?  Did you enjoy it?

Would you find the daily problems of living and working overseas frustrating – or a refreshing challenge?

This list is only a beginning – as individual as each person is – so are the questions that need to be answered in making this decision.

What qualities are needed to succeed?

My observation has been that people who succeed in TEFL overseas have the following characteristics and knowledge:

  • They have reasonable expectations about their new occupation and what it can and cannot provide for them
  • They understand that their new country is not like their home country – solutions to problems that work at home often don’t work overseas
  • They realize that problems they had at home will probably also exist overseas
  • They know they will have good days and bad days – just like back home – and don’t blame the bads days on their job or new country.
  • They know they may experience good bosses, bad bosses, good jobs and bad jobs – just like back home
  • They are flexible people who can roll with surprises and “punches” – they are resilient and can bounce back from a bad situation
  • They are willing to work under different cultural expectations, willing to follow different cultural work rules
  • They are not generally moody or depressed
  • They view their success as a personal challenge
  • They spend a considerable amount of time researching their move – before they move.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Give yourself some honest answers about the questions and then you will know if you are ready and appropriate for the challenges of living and working in another culture.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Is Life Abroad Healthy?

Can you drink the water?

Generally speaking, yes – and no. Life is healthy, and no, don’t drink the water (sometimes and usually).


I have found that my life overseas has been no more and no less healthy than life back home. Except, I live a much less stressful and less hectic life than do my family and friends “back home”. That’s healthier!

Better Medical Care

My personal experience is that most doctors overseas will spend much more time with you. They aren’t pressed by the numbers game of HMOs or clinics. You won’t find the doctor pushing you out of the exam room or running out the door to the next customer (whoops, I mean patient!).

When younger, I had some serious health issues that never really got resolved until I met a couple of great doctors overseas. They spent the time with me to talk about the problem, explained, reviewed some options, and left the course of action up to me!

I didn’t feel that they were eagerly “sharpening their knives” and wondering how much all this could be worth. Just my cynical outlook, I guess? Frankly, I trust my doctors here more than I did there. Really.

Staying Healthy

You will find that things aren’t always as clean as you would like them to be – and bathroom cleanliness is not common in many parts of the world, nor is regular hand washing. So, you will find yourself, wisely, washing your hands MUCH more than you used to – and it is a very good habit for keeping yourself healthy. Carry a handkerchief with you as most lavatories won’t have any towels at all or will often have a community towel for all to use.

The Water?

Generally, not good to drink, but it depends on the country of course. Ask! Most countries though have cheap and easily accessible bottled water. I get five-gallon (19 liter) bottles delivered to my door for about US$1. And I buy the EXPENSIVE water. The cheap water is about US30 cents. Most places you can gargle and brush your teeth with tap water – some places you can’t – it is important to ask your coworkers.

Boil it?

Sometimes. And you will see many people do this. But often the problem with the water may not be bacteria and other living things in the water, it is often pollutants or heavy metals, things which are not affected by boiling.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Good quality bottled water is cheap – buy it. Your health is too valuable. You’ll quickly get used to the routine. It is simple and easy. You won’t even notice after a few weeks when you have habit down.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Caveat: I’m not a doctor – but I am careful with my health. I am, after all, in my 50s. All the above is just my opinion. Of course, consult you personal physician on any personal health issues.

What’s up in China? Learn about a great internship program on offer if would like to Teach English in China

How to Teach English Overseas and Secrets to Success Abroad
TEFL Boot Camp  is offering a free download of their new publication Seven Secrets of Success Abroad – and along with it comes a bi-weekly installment and revision of their eBook called How to Teach English Overseas.

Great reviews for the Secrets of Success eBook – in spite of the hokey name – and the How to Teach English eBook is being updated and rewritten and sent out in installments as it is ready.

Here they are – click on the eBooks to get your FREE copies! Great information and the price is right, from our friends at TEFL Boot Camp – CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE EBOOKS.



Please let me know what you think of the ebooks – use the comments section below.

I confess both eBooks are written by yours truly – hoping to inspire others to head overseas and live life BIG out in the real world. I would value your feedback!