It’s pretty much a rite of passage now, the big stint overseas. Whether you do it after school, or after uni, or during a quarter- or mid-life crisis, the act of spending a year or two living and working in another country is something most Australians want to get involved with.
Maybe you’ll go to London and pull pints. Maybe you’ll go to Canada and run ski-lifts. Maybe you’ll go to Africa and do aid work or South-East Asia and just bum around.
Whatever you decide, there are certain things that a long stint overseas will inevitably teach you.
You think it’s a nightmare lining up to get your drivers license renewed in Australia? Then try taking care of any governmental task in another country. Even just posting a letter somewhere like Italy takes the patience and diplomacy of the Pope. It turns out Australia actually has most things – dealing with medical bills, renewing licenses, posting things – pretty well streamlined compared to everyone else.
Maybe you’re in some crappy London apartment that you’re sharing with 15 South Africans and a Kiwi. Maybe you’re volunteering in a backwoods town in rural Thailand. Maybe you’re slumming it in an apartment with no heating in East Berlin. Wherever it is, you’ll find that you can put up with just about anything, and live just about anywhere, for a year. Then you’ll need to move.
In cities like London and New York, Australian workers are valued for their strong work ethic, which might sound surprising until you see the way everyone else approaches their job (dude, another smoke break?). Australians are pretty conscientious, all things considered, which means they’ll always be in demand for work.
Of all the bureaucratic nightmares you’ll have to deal with while setting yourself up in another country, surely one of the most difficult is opening a bank account. After all, if you don’t have an address to prove your identity, you can’t start an account. But you can’t get your name on the lease of a property unless you can pay the rent – through your bank account. Getting around this is a serious pain.
While you probably decided to live in a place to get to know the locals, the friends you end up holding most dear will inevitably be other expats. These people will be the friendliest, most fun bunch you’ll ever meet, a group in which everyone is up for a good time pretty much every night of the week. Expats suffer serious “Peter Pan syndrome” – get on board with them. It’s a lot of fun.
The first few weeks working in another country will be a real buzz, where everything is new and different and exciting. After a while though, work just becomes work. You clock on and you clock off. You get what’s needed done, and then you get out of there to do the things you really travelled for. That’s just the way it is.
Being an expat, you’ll have to constantly deal with the expectation that you’re only ever one or two weeks away from quitting your job and hitting the road. Bosses will be reticent to promote you. Colleagues will be careful with befriending you. And rightly so, because you’re there for a good time – not a long time.
You might have racked up some great career experience in Australia, working in highly paid jobs for some of the biggest companies around, but as soon as you leave these fair shores you’ll realise that that really doesn’t count for much at all. If you don’t know anyone in your new city, or you haven’t worked for a big multi-national company, then you’ll probably be starting from square one.
Prepare your liver for a serious beating, because if there’s one certainty about expat life, it’s that you’re going to be drinking a lot. Doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend or a school night, there will inevitably be a bunch of friendly people meeting up at a pub or restaurant somewhere for booze and good times. Embrace it.
You’ll take a lot of knocks when you head overseas to find work. You’ll struggle to find a place to live, struggle to get a job, have issues opening a bank account, have to battle over visas and take a while to make friends. But the good news is that you’ll get through it, and it will all be worth it.
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