The emotional rollercoaster of living abroad

Lonely man Moving to another country for work can be a bemusing experience

These four professionals have very different feelings about the countries they moved to for work:

"The State IS the religion. You cannot contradict the State. It's not that it is a crime, it is as though it's a sin."

"All of a sudden it was: 'What year is it?' Time becomes funny in perpetual summer. I've been used to marking my life in terms of 'Oh, it's winter again.'"

"The best thing is being abroad - to have the feeling that there is something buzzing here and you are in the middle of something happening."

"Our first impressions centred on how clean and modern the city is, the great hospitality and the multi-cultural aspects."

At home abroad

More and more people are moving abroad for work.

In a new series we will be looking at the problems and successes of making your home abroad.

Special report: at home abroad

The comments are from people living in Abu Dhabi, India, Malaysia and Sweden - but not in that order.

Among the hundreds of thousands of professional people who are living away from their home country, part of the attraction for them was to experience something very different from home.

Old Europe

That is the reason at least that prompted Veronique Briquet-Laugier, a French-born scientist, to move to the French embassy in Delhi, trying to boost co-operation between French and Indian scientists.

Chris Callahan and dog Chris Callahan with his animal that may or may not be a dog

"I wanted to get away from Old Europe. It is going to sleep. India is a dynamic economy and an exciting one."

At first the move went well: "My first impressions were above my expectations. I was expecting it to be less developed - not in science because they are very advanced - but the airport and shopping malls were far better than I was expecting.

"But then I found it chaotic. I thought: 'What IS this - I want to kill someone!"

US-born Chris Callahan, another Westerner who wanted a move to a fast-growing Asian country, found adjusting a simpler process. He moved from one dynamic economy - Hong Kong - to another - Malaysia.

Serial mover

An entrepreneur, he went to set up a TV production company: "I was fed up with Hong Kong. I found it very segregated. I had lived in China and found it strange to live in a predominately Chinese city where there was so much less effort to get to know each other."

Start Quote

I have no Swedish friends. Not one. Other countries, sure. Canadian, Maghreb, Iranian, but - apart from my wife - no-one from Sweden”

End Quote Alessandro Serio Teacher

His first impressions matched his expectations: "I loved it. I thought it was great. It bills itself as a multi-ethnic and multinational society and it was fantastic. You can see Indians, Chinese and Malay Muslims, truly an international melting pot - unlike Hong Kong everybody would sit around together - and the food was not bad!"

Alessandro Serio is another mover who found settling initially plain sailing. Italian by birth, he had lived in a number of countries, like Chris Callahan, before this move, in his case stretching across Europe and Africa. But he was not prepared for the move to Sweden.

"My first impression was what I was expecting it to be. Everyone was blond and good looking and it was easy to get a job. There appeared to be perfect social integration and no conflict. But after a while I started to notice things were a bit different.

"The first thing that happens is you start to get into the system. The permits, permission to stay, the work permit. In London no-one cares, in Paris even less - you really disappear. In Sweden, they come and look for you, with emails and all sorts of communication methods.

"You have to learn the language and lesson one was An Introduction To Sweden. The instructor was 10 minutes late, yet the first thing she said was: 'We in Sweden are very punctual.' They seem to have have a vision of themselves that they simply don't live by themselves."

'Delusions of grandeur'

He found the country far from the social melting pot enjoyed by Chris in Malaysia.

"No-one eats together. The all sit and eat their lunch at the school I work at, at the same time, at the same table - but they don't really talk to each other. Not even about the weather. I have no Swedish friends. Not one. Other countries, sure. Canadian, Maghreb, Iranian, but - apart from my wife - no-one from Sweden."

Alessandro Serio Alessandro Serio found Swedish life did not live up to his hopes

Sonia Middleditch, managing director of WorldNet Recruitment and Training, says adjusting to a new country can be a combination of euphoria and bewilderment: "It is crucial that whoever is going abroad is sufficiently prepared for what to embrace. We try to do this by bringing in experts to talk them through what to expect.

"A lot of people have delusions of grandeur, particularly the young, who think if they are going to Barbados they are going to be sitting on St James' beach drinking cocktails - and that's not the reality.

"People have chosen to go to their new countries, so there is an element of 'This is what I was hoping for; this is what I was expecting.' But after the early excitement, they settle in and start to see what is missing."

Veronique Briquet-Laugier's experience mirrors this. But she adjusted by embracing the system.

"I was more indulgent at the beginning. I was trying to find my way and I did lose patience once the novelty had worn off. But here one should not scream or shout at any point. People just look really helpless if you start doing that.

"Now I know better ways of holding my temper and expressing myself. Now I am more Indian and I feel more part of the country and people."

'Blind faith'

Steel executive Shannon Hore has worked hard to understand his new host city, Abu Dhabi, in a bid to avoid that uncomfortable junction.

He moved from Perth, Australia, with his wife: "Abu Dhabi is a Muslim country and as an expat we need to be very sensitive to their beliefs and cultures. This means being aware of prayer times during the working hours and providing time for Muslims to pray.

"This also means that during the holy month of Ramadan, we need to ensure that we do not drink or eat in public during their fast - even chewing gum is a no-no."

But even with understanding, religion can throw up some unexpected pitfalls.

Start Quote

Indians are quite similar to French, they talk all the time. They are into politics and are interested in everything”

End Quote Veronique Briquet-Laugier French scientist

Alessandro moved from one Christian country to another, but he did not find many parallels: "When you first move here, you are told that Sweden is highly secularised. But Sweden is one of the most religious countries I have ever been to.

"There is an orthodoxy of the system, a religion of the State based on blind faith. If you make your religion public - Catholic, Muslim or Buddhist - people get really irritated - a lot."

For Chris Callahan in Malaysia, the system remained bemusing, too: "One night a leaving party was arranged for someone, but the plan was to stitch him up. It was arranged with a massage parlour to give him a massage and when he was vulnerable a fake policeman would arrest him. But the parlour owner said 'What do you want to do that for? We'll get one of the ones I pay off to play the part.'

"But another time I went to the police to report a stolen wallet. I was surprised to find there was a fee - of 30p. But then the women working in the station weren't able to type so the report could not be filed. I offered to do it - and they said OK. So I typed my own police report."

Moving on

Chris Callahan found his host country's view of him also verged on the bemused: "The locals see you as weird. You're fascinating to them. It means you can get away with anything.

"My dog was banned when the guards changed at my apartment - dogs are seen as unclean in certain Islamic cultures. I just told the guard it wasn't a dog - that it looked like a dog but it wasn't - they were too confused to do anything."

Alessandro Serio simply came up against a straightforward stereotype: "Italians face more or less the same prejudice everywhere. We get asked about the Mafia, how many times do you call your mother... They think we all hang our laundry out across the alleyway, all the things like that."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he is thinking of leaving the country where he says the State is the religion.

Chris Callahan has left Malaysia, but for a new entrepreneurial venture, and he would have no qualms about returning, even though the seemingly eternal sunshine blurred his sense of time.

Shannon Hore is staying in multicultural, modern Abu Dhabi, for now: "This is a very friendly and hospitable part of the world with lots to see and do. There are so many opportunities to travel - after all, Australia is so isolated."

Veronique Briquet-Laugier is still in Delhi, where she is no longer so likely to feel homicidally annoyed.

She says she is enjoying the buzz and the "feeling of being part of something" more and more: "Indians are quite similar to French, they talk all the time. They are into politics and are interested in everything - I can see the Mediterranean in them!

"And practically, it is much better here. We have a maid and a driver and we can order whatever we want to eat."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Abu Dhabi is not a country. It is an Emirate in the United Arab Emirates, which is a country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Short work periods abroad are one thing they at least end and you get home again, but all settling migration is wrong, do not do it, do not allow it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Wish i could emigrate from uk....unfortunately i have heard once your over 50 your too old

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I am a child of Canadian/English parents and have lived in various countries, settling in England a few years ago.I am the stronger for it. What concerns me is a study that came out today about immigration taking away Brit jobs.Does this make me an immigrant, is this study conducive to improving the global economy and attracting the best? NO. What it does is support those who will discriminate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Further to 3. lechaise . I live in Finland too, and have done for the past 26 years. The Finland lechaise describes is not the one I inhabit, but then there is more than one, single Finnish culture, just as there are several subcultures in any country. It's important to be aware of this, and adjust one's own thinking and attitudes accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    As one that has lived in two other countries, apart from my own I totally agree with the experiences of the people in the article. A new culture is bewildering. Procedures are alien. The unwritten rules frustrating.
    Having said all that I would not trade the experience. It widened my outlook. increased my acceptance of cultures and humbled me in my perceived certainties. It made me a better person

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I'm a Brit and lived in Asia for more than 30 years. Long-term you need to understand that Britain turns its back on you, and host country only tolerates you. You're an alien in either place. You become your own island. In time you can't go back as too much has changed, you don't fit any more. And you wonder how it's all going to end. I wouldn't change coming away though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Be open to new things. Remember that, back home you may be doing something your way, but it may not be the only/best way.
    I moved to Canada from a south east Asian country back in 2003. Coming from a chaotic place where laws can be always be bent, I felt I had a lot to learn. Now in 2012 I am visiting Dubai and planning to move here permanently. I feel like I have a lot to teach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I question whether the BBC has a political agenda with this article, it's hardly impartial. For you degree qualified engineers out there in the UK: In the USA you are treated as a professional, not a technician. I'm paid almost 3x as much. There's less corruption, the cost of living is lower and people are genuinely nicer to each other. No, I don't miss British weather & I can afford better food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    #16 hits it on the nail, it's where you live that counts - wherever I lay my hat (as the song says). I would remind #15 that 'You can always go back' is not always an option, your world changes the longer you're away. family,children, friends, schools, work etc make it difficult to move back. After living 25 away from the UK there is little that resembles the UK I left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Its got nothing to with WHERE, its WHO. If you are someone who can live without the daily contact of family and friends you can live just about anywhere... otherwise even the most wonderful of places soon begin to feel empty and dull. I live about a 4 hour drive from my home country and at times it feels like I am on the other side of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    As the son of American parents born and raised in Hong Kong at English schools, I have to say I wouldn't trade the world for the experience. HK is certainly "segragated" (bit of a strong connotation there) but only if you make it so. It was a hugely multicultural experience and has made me an entirely global being... what better way to prepare a child for the 21st century?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Dealing with the frustrations of life abroad is part of the package. I currently live and work in "paradise" the tropical island of Bali following 3 years in hectic shanghai. so many different experiences. I missed my image of edinburgh until i arrived in a sleet shower last august aka "summer". You will always miss something but you just have to enjoy the ride even when it gets bumpy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Dear Rebecca,

    If you insist on writing these human interest stories instead of regular business articles, please try to write with an actual structure. It's not particularly enjoyable to have to scroll up and down to clarify to which person and country you are referring because of your incoherent and non-linear writing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I'm Portuguese, moved to Holland to become more worldy and later to England. With 15 years as an emmigrant my conclusions are:
    - The shine of a new place goes off after about 1 year.
    - Local is king: all countries are inward-focused, not world-aware
    - All places have good things and bad things, never perfect
    - In the end, It's the people you meet that you value the most

    BTW, 100% agree with #10

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This report was a bit on the negative side don't you think? What about all the fantastic things about living abroad?

    I've been living in China for 5 years now. Although I miss home at times, I have been so fortunate to have experience and opportunities people at home would love to have. If you're considering it, I say do can always go back......

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Living in America for the past 10 years. I came to discover the dream that everyone was talking about. Honestly, has not been easy is to adopt to the system. Everything was different compare to how I was brought up. My mind set is always to be the citizen of the world and give it your best try. Until the people of world eliminate religion out of the system of life. Nowhere will feel like home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I am an 18 year old college student who has lived in 8 countries throughout Europe, North and South America.
    I have found that it is important to adapt to a culture, to embrace it rather than resist it. Simultaneously, I find it important to stay true to oneself so that one may be respected, rather than alienated, for being culturally different. Yes, I think EYES OPEN is the key

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I plan to move in the future, hopefully to a warmer climate & being part of a big multinational company can help you with that. The most important thing to remember is to go in with your EYES OPEN. In my view Europe as a whole (with notable exceptions) is over the hill and is entering a phase of what I regard as structural stagnation, the more worldly of us should definately consider living abroad

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "emotional rollercoaster living abroad" ?

    I moved from the UK to the USA in 2004, temporarilly as I thought. I spent the first eighteen months comparing. Eventually I came to the realisation things are not wholly better or worse, just different. The question is really how set in your ways you are and whether you are capable of adjusting. I'm a sucess story, my life is better for leaving the UK.


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