Uneasy about a big move abroad? Don't worry, you're not alone.
I don´t think I will ever forget the chilly night in late fall 2012 when my husband casually mentioned that he had applied for a job abroad. This possibility suggested that I may have to move. I´m originally American and I had moved to Switzerland at the turn of the millennium, which means I jumped on a rollercoaster ride of adapting to a new country, language and culture as a young professional. Now I was settled, adapted and simply loving life.
By early winter that year, the potential of moving abroad (again) had turned into a decision we needed to make. It wasn´t the move that occupied my thoughts, it was the uncertainty about what life would be like when we got there that made for some restless nights. I had two small children, a career I loved, and we lived in one of the most stable countries on the planet. Our move would be the capital of one of the poorest nations in the world – Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It was certain to be rich in personal and professional development, but there were so many open questions about health, safety, political stability, and adjustment of our children.
I am a fact-finder, so I naturally reached out to others in the local context and fired away my questions and shared my uncertainties. Having gathered all of the information we reasonably could, we came to the conclusion that this felt like an adventure worth exploring.
Mindfully inviting big changes in your life comes with both joy and discomfort, much like the ping-pong of emotions when you have a child for the first time or accept that challenging promotion you have been waiting for. When you say “yes” to an expat lifestyle, you often agree to this duality.
We began to make the big announcement to our friends, family and colleagues at New Year´s Eve and months of bitter-sweet good byes and closure proceeded. We bounced between melancholy and excitement. What kept me grounded during a few shaky times was stead-fast clarity on why we were going. I did a lot of soul-searching about whether this was the right choice for me and my whole family before we said, “Yes.” So, when my confidence faltered due to something I had read in the news, or after having had an amazing evening with a close friend right down the street, I reminded myself of the “Big Whys.”
One of the first “Big Whys” was that leaving Bern, Switzerland to embrace Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso meant growth. I wanted to expand my worldview. I wanted to expose my children to life outside of Western Europe. I wanted to be able to serve my clients in ways that is only possible from walking a mile in their shoes. And quite simply, while on this planet I want to visit my neighbors to my north, south, east and west.
So when you find yourself questioning whether you should move abroad, get clear on what you want out of the experience. Get clear on what saying “yes” to that experience means to you and your loved ones. And then hold on – it may be a bumpy ride but it is totally worth it!
Sundae Schneider-Bean is an intercultural specialist, coach and trainer based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (West Africa). Sundae helps individuals and organizations meet their toughest intercultural challenges with clarity, strength and wisdom. Sign up for free expert insight and you´ll receive a gift – the Expat Trump Cards – a unique set of digital cards aimed at helping you tackle the toughest aspects of global life.