Starting from Scratch in a Foreign Land: 5 Tips for Moving Abroad

Growing up in a small town in Malaysia, I spent 18 years of my life in the cocoon of familiarity. One day, life decided to shake things up and throw in a big surprise. I gained admission into Cornell University, a dream school in Ithaca, New York, that always seemed so far beyond my reach. For someone from a working-class family struggling to make ends meet, this was both exciting and overwhelming. I packed my life into two suitcases and embarked on a 10,000-mile journey across the world, in disbelief that this was actually happening. It was not only the first time I was leaving home, it was also my first time ever on a plane! The journey was scary at first, but I adapted quickly. Based on my experience, here are five tips to make your move and transition abroad easier.

Pack light

Most people moving abroad for the first time have a tendency to overpack. Make a list of things that you can easily purchase abroad and leave them out of your luggage. Packing only the bare necessities and items you can’t easily replace leads to less clutter at your new home. While most people advised me to bring winter clothing from home as I was moving from Malaysia to upstate New York, I insisted on buying them there. This not only saved a lot of luggage space and money (winter clothes are a lot cheaper in temperate countries), but also forced me to explore the new town and its quaint little shops.

Rent a furnished property

Renting a furnished apartment means that you only need to fill it with your personal belongings and probably some small electronics. This will not only save you from the hassle of finding affordable furniture, but also make it a lot easier to move should you decide to rent another apartment in the future. If you decide to go for an unfurnished apartment, consider buying second-hand furniture. Websites such as eBay and Freecycle offer amazing bargains on used items. You can also find wonderful treasures for your new home at the local thrift stores for a reduced price.

Join local groups/organizations

Meeting people in a new city will require significant effort from you. If you are working abroad, your new friends will likely be your co-workers. However, as time goes on, it’s important to expand your social circle beyond the office. Do you like to bake? Read? Hike? More often than not, there will be a lot of interest-based groups and clubs in your new city where you can find both locals and expats who share your hobby. Websites such as Meetup and Eventbrite would be a good place to start looking for a group that suits you.

Live like a tourist

The best way to discover all the exciting things that your new city has to offer is to explore it like a tourist would. Go to the nearest visitor center, ask for the latest tourist attraction map, set aside time after work and on weekends, and explore! Instead of visiting only the famous landmarks, make sure that you also explore the little cafes, restaurants, and boutiques along the way. This way, you will not only find hidden treasures unbeknown to tourists, but you will also get more comfortable with the local transportation system!

Skype is a valuable friend

When you get too preoccupied with settling in, your calls home might become infrequent, and eventually, you start drifting apart from everything familiar. Don’t make this mistake! Video chatting tools are a must-have for expats. With Skype and Facetime, you can call anyone from any part of the world for free, as long as you have Wi-fi. Despite the 12-hour time difference, I made sure to call my parents often, even if that meant me staying up until 1 a.m. to talk to my mom on her lunch break at work. It gets so much easier to adapt to your new home when you have emotional support from both your family and newfound friends.