4 Keys to Moving Abroad On Your Own
to a house in the Irish countryside.
What does it take to successfully move abroad? From our experience, four things: desire, determination, language, and luck.
How deep is your
desire? Ours began with our European ancestral roots and early
introduction to other languages. A subscription to Transitions
Abroad over several years increased that
desire, beckoning us to experience first-hand other countries,
cultures, and languages.
All four of my grandparents were born in Western Europe in the 1800s. They were no longer alive by the time I reached adulthood, so moving to Europe satisfied a desire of mine to reconnect with them. Though my wife's
European ancestry comes from another generation back, she also wanted to experience ancestral lands.
Growing up in San Francisco planted the seed of wanting to learn languages. My first school was a French school near Chinatown. Kate's first second language in school in Atlanta, Georgia was French. ("Southern" was
her first language, she likes to say.)
be strong. Despite our desire to experience the wider world described
in Transitions Abroad, our careers came first. Our determination
did not take hold until we made the decision to leave our corporate
management and consulting careers early despite the loss of greater
pension benefits, became certified teachers of English as a second
language to adults (with the inspiration of Susan
Griffith's books), tested living abroad by teaching in Dublin
during the summer of 2000 (receiving an offer to teach at a total
immersion language school in Belgium). We then returned to our
home in the States to draw up a 6-month plan.
The hardest part was letting go of that "stuff" that all of us tend to accumulate over the years. As one tall Canadian man bellowed to his wife and friends at the Central Station in Luxemburg City after I had told
him what we had done, "That fellow was able to cut the umbilical cord and now he and his wife are enjoying living in Europe!"
We moved abroad by ourselves, without any help from an employer or any other supporting organization. Our 6-month plan evolved and covered everything we had to do and when. Our moving company, United Van Lines provided valuable information The hardest part perhaps was deciding what we were going to take with us,
what we were going to put in "temporary" storage, what we were going to sell, and what we were going to give away (to family, friends, and Davis Memorial Goodwill in Arlington, VA). We put little yellow stickers on everything: Take, Store,
or Leave (give away). Kate thoughtfully put a little yellow sticker on my forehead that read, "Take."
3. Learning the Language of the Destination
Essential! We treated ourselves to a language-learning
holiday at a total immersion language school in eastern Belgium
to improve our French, and we fell in love with the area. We
didn't become fluent, but it did give us enough French to get
through all the little administrative details we eventually
had to deal with when we arrived where we live now: Verviers,
Belgium. Nothing improves your ability in a language like having
to use it daily in a country where it is spoken. "Dare
to speak" is how you learn a language.
When is the best time to learn a language? The answer given by experienced language teachers of adults is now! While our physical ability to speak without an accent diminishes with age, our mental ability to pick up
vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and grammatical structures increases with our life experience. One is never "too old" to begin learning and enjoying another language. Learning other languages is one of the best exercises for the mind—if
not the best—as one ages, and anyone can do it. Motivation to learn outweighs "language-learning ability" any day.
If you are determined
to succeed and remain open to suggestions without rushing into
decisions—the other side to the all-important "letting go"—then
fortunate, serendipitous things will happen. For us, this included
having the patience to do the research and pull together enough
documents to convince the government of the Republic of Ireland
that I indeed had a grandparent born in Ireland and therefore
was eligible for Irish citizenship, and so could work in the European
Union; taking the time to find a reputable real estate agent who
showed us a beautiful apartment at a reasonable cost in Verviers;
and meeting through an old friend a local official who cut through
the bureaucratic red tape after the government office had lost
our residency card applications.
The bottom line is that we will always have the States, but today we have the more interesting life that Transitions Abroad always told us was out there waiting for us.