Yelena Parker, expat coach, tech exec, and author of the expat guide Moving Without Shaking, took some time to answer a few questions I had about her book and her experiences via email. Take a look at what she has to say about first moves, staying in touch, personal safety in a new environment, her Kiwi boss, and more. Answers were copy-edited for punctuation when necessary:
In your book, you say that the first move abroad (for study abroad or an international assignment) is the hardest. What advice and or reality checks would you give to someone who’s considering, or already decided, to make that first move?
Yelena Parker (YP): Make commitments to your friends and family that you intend to keep. We are just a Skype, FaceTime, Viber message away so what’s the big deal? Long-distance relationships are hard to maintain even in the same country. If you add time-zone pain, suddenly you have to become a master scheduler to have any chance at live interactions. Your new place is going to be exciting and busy, it’s very easy to disconnect from your old friends and lose touch.
Take time to make friends in your host country, get out and meet the locals. Expat communities are the simplest answer but you run the risk of never truly assimilating and understanding what local life is if you socialize only with people who “understand you.”
Your first move was for an educational purpose. How is it easier or harder for people who didn’t study abroad to pursue that first move abroad? (I think that without study abroad, this move to Auckland has been more difficult for me)
YP: Education abroad is truly your foundation course to the country you moved to. Friends and networks are so much easier to acquire when you don’t need to work hard at looking for them. It’s all right there on campus! Internships and classroom projects will introduce you to local job opportunities. Academic advisors and career counselors are there to help navigate the complicated world of field of study and work. Take advantage of free advice! International students centers want to make you comfortable. Don’t be shy – ask away. The style of teaching and classroom interactions will also give you a clue to work patterns you will encounter in your first job.
You identify a difference between good patience and bad patience. What is the difference between the two in setting up a life abroad? How do you cultivate good patience and mitigate bad patience?
YP: It takes time to fit in. Everyone’s speed of adjustment to an alien destination is dependent on how flexible they are and how much they are willing to bend to the local rules and accept life as it is in the host country. In my experience, the more you move, the faster the adjustment happens. I have gone from 12 months when I moved to the U.S. to two weeks when I moved to Tanzania. I also believe that there are some places out there that are the ones where you are meant to be all along, so you may feel like at home right away. With moves abroad specifically, I would recommend taking your time to find your feet. I think a foreign country is the place for good patience as far as cultural fit and adjustment go. Depending on your personality and life experience, you may need different level of absorption of all things new and strange. Find some people to bounce thoughts, surprises and curiosities against and take time to learn.
In regards to the idea of who is an expat and who is a transplant, are these values on a spectrum? Is it possible that someone comes in as an expat and evolves into a transplant? And what would be the fine line that separates an expat from a transplant?
YP: Expat behavior can be too focused on short-term experience. “I am here for one year, so I will just work, make some money, have some fun and go home.” I don’t want to say that it’s always superficial but we tend not to want to grow roots if the plan is to go back from the start. There are plenty of stories, however, when people start out on a temp stint of six weeks and settle for 10 years. Or forever. It’s that shift from the quick gig to interest in being the one with the locals is that takes you to the far end of transplantation.
Of the eight major factors that contribute to a successful move abroad, I noticed that personal safety wasn’t one of them (although there is discussion about infrastructure and transportation). Yet it’s the biggest concern I get from family. How have you addressed questions or concerns about personal safety? Do your clients bring it up?
YP: Now that you bring it up, I have to admit, personal safety was not a concern until after I finished my book and moved to Tanzania to live and volunteer for four months. All the moves before were to central, nice-to-live-in areas, close to jobs, easy access to safe transportation. I guess you could also say it’s relative to where you grew up. I lived in one place back in Ukraine that was not the safest part of town but never really worried about anything. Moving to U.S.-Switzerland-U.K. and living very central in nice communities never made me think about personal safety. Now, Tanzania is a great place to live and travel but it was very different from anything I knew so I actually found a friend of a friend, a woman, who lived there for a couple of years to get some ideas on dos and don’ts. Having that introduction made me much more comfortable and set my expectations.
You mention in the context of elder care that living in one’s hometown is more of a luxury these days. Is a move abroad swapping one luxury for another? How have you counseled men and women who live internationally but are concerned about caring for aging parents?
YP: This is a very, very personal choice. I know people who moved in with their parents after living abroad to help them. I know people who moved their parent closer to them to do the same thing. Many others do what a lot of us do — talk on Skype, email, send money if that’s what needed (mainly people from “emerging markets” and mainly women). There is not a right or wrong answer, you have to be honest with your family about where you will be when they need you. And if the answer is on the other side of the world, that’s fine, just don’t take on more than you can handle.
Finally, I noticed a subdued shoutout to Australians, calling them “independent, driven and self-sufficient.” Kiwis are a lot like this as well. I have to ask: Have you had the opportunity to work with Kiwis? Any advice for pursuing a life and career in New Zealand?
YP: I wish! New Zealand is on my list of top destinations to visit — hopefully in the next few years I will have an opportunity to explore. Thus, I can’t provide an expert advice on adjusting specifically to life in New Zealand and cultural context. However, I will say, my boss from the last tech job is a Kiwi and we got along extremely well. Kiwis are very direct, honest, straightforward, dislike politics and enjoy moving the business ahead. We had lots of intercultural discussions and comparisons. They also love their communities. You will always find a Kiwi diaspora outside of New Zealand and people supporting each other. They are great entrepreneurs and visionaries, too.
Thanks to Yelena Parker for taking the time to answer my questions. Also, thanks to Kris Barnes with AuthorAmp for the free e-book copy to review and also for sending my questions to Yelena. For my review of Moving Without Shaking, click here.