Settling in and coming back
Even when you've got the job it can still be tough to settle in. Finding your feet in a new town, a new country and a new culture magnifies the challenge.
While some people work overseas without making any effort to experience the host culture, others throw themselves into learning the language – and end up falling in love and settling permanently. Most people, of course, fall somewhere between the two camps, and almost all experience some degree of homesickness and culture shock.
Despite the name, culture shock isn’t some blinding realisation you experience within the first hours or days of being in your new home. More likely it will be a gradual dawning of the differentness of everything – and it may creep up on you slowly, taking weeks to manifest itself fully.
Even in countries like the Netherlands, where English is widely spoken and the culture is close to the UK’s, different attitudes and norms can still trip you up. There isn't always a guarantee against homesickness.
If you are suffering from culture shock, the best thing to do is avoid isolation. Find other people who are going through the same things as you. Expat clubs can be a real source of stress relief. Going back home for a brief visit is another excellent strategy. Once you have reminded yourself that your hometown, family and the UK itself is still much as it ever was, it may enable you to return to your new home with a bit more equanimity and perspective.
What if it really isn’t working out?
Living overseas is always a risk. There is no way to know what it is really like until you are actually out there, and the truth is, sometimes things just don’t work out. Be honest with yourself if you are unhappy. If you are in a challenging posting in the developing world then you probably won’t be the first person struggling to fit in. Talk to your employer and give them the chance to offer solutions if they can. Even if you decide to call it a day, it is best to keep relations as cordial as possible for the sake of a decent reference, rather than leaving in a “midnight flit”.
If you are considering a move overseas for an extended period it is unlikely that you will be thinking much about what it might be like coming home when it is all over and done. But it is worth considering your resettlement plan a little.
For most people, there will be a disorientating period of readjustment of 6–18 months, when home no longer feels like home. This is a phase that usually passes without ill effect but for some, working overseas can be followed by a period of soul-searching and unemployment. Others become addicted to travel and can’t wait to take on a new assignment in a foreign clime. You might find it hard to readjust to life in grey old Britain if you have grown used to a tax-free salary and wall-to-wall sunshine.
On a more practical level, if you have been working in a remote location on a niche project, you may find it difficult to explain your experience to your next prospective UK employer and translate your new skills into a high-powered new job. It is worth remembering that context might be necessary to sell your experience properly.