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."


More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I have spent many years living in France and Spain. Initially I had a really bad time, completely depressed and feeling out of it. I began to realise it was mainly my own fault. People were prepared to help, it was me being stand offish and not getting out. Make an effort, learn the language and get involved. I now speak French, Spanish and can manage some German. Its down to the individual

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Having spent some 25 odd years all around the globe, there is but one advice: Prepare to dare. The longer you stay out, the harder you'll find it to settle back in. Still, I'm just dying for a nice cuppa at Victoria. Soon, I keep telling myself, soon...

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    @104 I find your post is in bad taste and reminds me why I left the UK 6 years ago to come and live in Germany. In all my time here both studying in the early 90s and now working, I have only ever met kind helpful openminded people. It annoys me intensely that the typical Brit and the British press can not see past a 70 year old stereotype and see Germany for the brilliant place it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Having lived in Germany for over two years, the comments about Sweden ring true. It feels like I've gone back in time, and they're not who they think they are. I'm fortunate enough to travel a lot, which gives me further insight to my two 'homes'.

    I certainly miss the UK, from the multi-culturism, to strangers talking to you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I'm British but have lived in France for almost 20 years. At some point it stopped being "abroad" and became "where we live". I don't think you can get a real handle on a country in a stay of less that 5 or so years... Some things about France still annoy me (why can't the country that built Concorde build decent drains?) but some things about the UK do as well... Applying for nationality soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Never swim out so far you can't get back. Have lived in Germany for 19 years, good job, all the trappings, but the top-down system is always present and stifling. Even after all these years I'd be back in the UK at the drop of a hat. It's all about having like-minded people around you, and those are Brits for me, mostly. Weather, tax, clean streets etc are, in the end, irrelevant.

  • Comment number 104.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I lived in Sweden for 9 months in the 1990's. I found them to be a very warm and social people. The people I worked with were very egalitarian and we all ate lunch together often walking through snow to a nearby restaurant so that we were outside during the little daylight we had in the winter.

    The key to integration was trying to learn the language even though the Swedes speak great English

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    now 63, moved from Jamaica to Brazil, both countries are riddled with corruption, drugs, but one is a tiny island and the other huge 2 million people in one and 200 million in the other. Brazil is all about bureaucratie, lots and lots of papers. It takes a good amount of patience to go through all the initial formalities, bur once that is taken care of,, you can enjoy life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I moved to Norway 15yrs ago and I'm loving it. Your Italian seems to have missed the whole idea of a new country. When in Rome do as the Romans do. Read their books, listen to their news, eat their food and smile a lot.
    Sweden is one of the more open Scandinavian countries and I know it is a lot less restrictive than Norway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    In 2010 i moved from Milan to Fortaleza Brasil.
    My experience is lights and shadows. Lights :economic growth,opportunity to start business ,climate,beach and the beautiful sky. Shadows : violence ( it’s real),different education, lack of basic services
    I would encourage people to live an experience abroad but after that someone could even realize how beautiful is to live in his own country

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I'm British, from London, and now living in São Paulo in Brazil and I love it. The Brazilian people are friendly and welcoming and the culture and climate make it a great place to live. I have spent time in other places from the US to Asia and I would say that the experience of living in a new environment is very much what you make of it. Go local and enjoy it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I have lived in Italy for the last 8 years and once the marvel over the food, mild weather and great architecture wears off... well they are so family centric that as an outsider you are left out, all the time. Ready to go back to the US. Come on April..

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Its simple .
    1 st.
    Scream that your rights are being abused.
    Demand that the Country adopt very stringent Laws bias in your favour.
    Demand that your culture and Religious beliefs need protection and special rights
    And that Translators should be on hand, and all
    State Documents should be in you tongue also The scream discrimination !!
    For whatever else you want..

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Give it a rest . . most people I know (including me) would be off in a flash given the right financial / family circumstances !

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The main issue with most people when they move abroad is that they see a highly romanticised version of the country they are moving too (probably from a great holiday in the past), and don't do their homework. They forget that unless they are retiring with significant funds, they will spend most of their time working (as at home!) and not sipping cocktails/scuba diving/horse riding on the beach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I'm a 34 year old who's lived in Indonesia, China and Russia. You just have to accept that it's truly a roller-coaster. You'll sink far lower, far faster than you would at home with your support network. However, you'll also experience highs & a variety to life that can't be replicated.

    Yep, staying at home is cruising a comfortable straight highway, while living abroad is a roller-coaster!

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I´m a Spaniard living in London now for almost eight years. I have had a good time here and I have learnt a lot. Also I have been always well treated by everyone in this country... But homesick feeling has won: I am ready to come back to Spain shortly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Two experiences. I'm British. Went to Nigeria in the early 80s and hated it - Lagos was not the place to be for me. I have an uncle, however, who lived up country in Nigeria for years and years and loved it. Different folks for different strokes. After Nigeria I came to America - and I'm still here - over 30 years later. Is it perfect? Nowhere close. But it is home - more so than England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    This article is fascinating! I've always wanted to work and live abroad. Right now I'm in The States, but I'd like to live somewhere in Europe for a bit, and maybe get a job teaching English somewhere in Asia or South America. Travelling is such and exciting learning experience! It's a shame most Americans won't sacrifice their comfort zone to try something new. Can't speak for you Brits, though.


Page 1 of 6


More Business stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.