|By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, January 28, 2003 - 2:20 pm: Edit Post|
Living Overseas: by Tunisia RPCV Samuel Atlee
Living Overseas: by Tunisia RPCV Samuel Atlee
Living Overseas: Before You Jump
Thinking About What You Need To Know Before Moving Abroad ~ By Samuel Atlee
<Send a Letter to the Editor><Subscribe><Submit An Article>
< Disclaimer><Return to Issue Index>
Send This WebPage To A Friend!
If youíre contemplating a permanent move outside the United States, likely you already have business or professional involvements that are drawing you away to your future home. You may have already picked out a nifty place to live. In your mind, you may be imagining a sun-drenched life of increased leisure, lower taxes, and greater affluence.
Still, before you take the plunge, its worth contemplating ahead of time the potential downsides to your new adventure. What if, long term, you find that your new neighbors are aggravating, service at the dry cleaners is too slow, or that the service at your bank is either unfriendly or downright mystifying? All too often, people make the jump without thinking of what theyíre giving up day to day. And it may be those things that torpedo your adventure, particularly if a spouse or children are involved.
First, living away from the U.S. takes you out of context. Youíre removed culturally from the ebb and flow of a familiar life. Of course, for some people thatís precisely why they want to move, and itís an additional inducement for putting roots down elsewhere. For others, distancing oneself
from family, friends, football, and the movies comes as a bad surprise. And if these things arenít available in your new home, you may find yourself turning on the local culture. What it lacks may have attracted you in the first place, but are there other new things to sustain you?
When locating overseas make sure to investigate what is available in the way of health care, banking, entertainment and education. Then you can lay back and enjoy the view.
Of course, with satellite television and the Internet, this situation is a lot better than it used to be, and maintaining contact with your U.S. interests is a whole lot easier. Still, think about the way you spend your time at home, then translate it into your new environment. How much will you miss? In what ways does your new home duplicate that lifestyle or improve it?
Remember, the U.S. is superb at two things -- health care and secondary education-- and if you move offshore youíll be leaving these behind. Unless you have college-age children this may not be a big worry, particularly if you maintain your U.S. citizenship. If you donít, gaining access to U.S.
universities can be a problem.
Following the New York terrorist attacks the INS has clamped down on foreign students, and many U.S. colleges and universities that routinely catered to foreigners are seeing this educational market dry up. The simple reason is that students canít get visas, or that getting visas has turned into a time-consuming process, so keep that in mind.
Thereís no denying that health care in the U.S. is the best in the world. Your new home may seem fine from a distance, but how will it be when you get sick? If you have an existing medical condition, check out the local physicians and facilities to make sure they can care for you when you need
them. What about dentists, eye care, and insurance? Before you leave, you have to make sure that these are all in order.
Singapore: Most efficient place In Asia to do business. One of the world's great airlines takes you out and in. But no chewing gum!
China: If you're not Chinese, you're going to need a Chinese to help you. It's not just the language. Local regulations and business practices are idiosyncratic at best.
Japan: Prepare to bow, and bow again. Formality plays a major role in every
business encounter. Old relationships are best -- which is why the Japanese are slow to change.
Korea: Newbys to the Korean Peninsula remark that Koreans look like angry Japanese. They're among Asia's most aggressive businessmen, and some of the toughest negotiators.
Thailand: All goes well, if slowly, in the Land of Smiles. Remember: the King is a revered figure here, and you can't poke fun as you can with the English!
Hong Kong: Settling In
Much of the above would have been helpful for me to know before I moved with my family to Hong Kong. Of course, if your new home is a place much
frequented by expatriates, as Hong Kong is, chances are that someone from the American Chamber of Commerce has already written a book for newbys just like you. These hands-on guides are invaluable: they provide tips on everything from grocery shopping to how to get a driverís license. Tips on schools and how to hire a maid. Where to get tennis lessons and where to buy a carpet. How to bargain in the markets with the Chinese .
Most Americans end up overseas for business, and little in their domestic working life will have prepared them for what theyíll find. Certainly that was the case with me; Iíd been in the Peace Corps in North Africa, but aside from that my world experience was restricted to tourist trips to Europe. So I
had no real knowledge of what a regional job in Hong Kong might be like, or of the business practices Iíd discover.
Before he left, the man I followed into my post took me on a two-week trip through Asia to help me find that out. In quick order we went to Japan,
Taiwan, and Korea; the week following, we hit the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Needless to say, in each place business was conducted very
differently. The work ethic was as varied as the food. So was their degree of interest in our business.
If I thought I saw a new commercial opportunity, I kept things to myself, which was wise. Of course, I wanted to do things my way in my new job, but I had the good sense to wait before implementing a new strategy -- you have to know the ropes to avoid disaster. China was impenetrable, Taiwan friendly but reluctant. The Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand were sunny but slow. Singapore was efficient. In Hong Kong, anything was possible.
Before moving I thought I should learn Cantonese, but since everyone in my office spoke English, this would have been a waste; at any rate, I spent two weeks out of every five on the road, and I couldnít learn six languages.
As for my family, initially they loved it. Then excitement gave way to the everyday -- school and athletics, videos and weekend shopping trips to the mall. Living overseas is less hard on the children, because they adjust so quickly; itís probably hardest on the wife. After all, she has to figure out how things really work, while youíre away, protected inside the cocoon of your office. Pay attention to her. Keep things light. Remember, the adventure is for all of you.
Hereís a handy rule of thumb when you move: after six months overseas, you know just enough to be dangerous. After a year youíll begin to get a handle. After three youíll know your way around. Too, youíll likely know if you hate or love the place, and if you can stick it out, if youíre lucky, you
and your family will still be charmed, and your adventure will continue!
SAMUEL ATLEE attended Duke University and the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, where he was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia and worked in Hong Kong for The Wall Street Journal. His stories have been widely published in literary magazines, and he has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. To see his new collection of short-stories - Click Here -