Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Pre-departure musings + what not to do before you go live overseas

I'm leaving for Quebec in one week, and up until this point, it was still distant enough to not really think about it. I mean, sure, I daydreamed about it all the time, but I avoided dwelling upon all the formalities. Suddenly, it's all come at once.

This won't be my first extended jaunt to another country. The last time was to Austria. It's my most similar experience to date and so it's what I'm going to be comparing it to, on a subconscious level at the least. Except this time, I won't be able to fly home on a whim if the moose look at me funny. I'm going to have to sit it out, figure out a way to deal with it.
In fact, this is one of the exact reasons I applied to go to Quebec. I was considering other places, but my gut told me that I needed to go one step further, get out of my comfort zone, force myself to do something out of the ordinary. If I'm not constantly setting myself challenges, no matter how minor they may be, I get complacent which is never good news.

So, here are five common problems (or worries, if you prefer) before going abroad for a long period, be it as an exchange student, a language assistant, or something else. From my experiences, I am going to offer some solutions.

1. Get organised

Right now I have a sense of really needing my business here to be finished and absolute before I leave. A while ago, I compiled a fairly abstract to-do list, which I got rather lazy about. This was mainly down to the fact that a lot of it consisted of what I couldn't do until the last minute. But other parts of it are plain tedious and easy to push out of my mind - for example, I've sort of set up shop in the dining room since my own bedroom is ridiculously small. All my uni stuff is still strewn out over the table and I need to clear it so the rest of my family can get on with their lives. It's not even stuff that's very important, which somehow makes the prospect of clearing it even less appealing.
Solution: A few days ago I accepted that I needed to transform this list into a rigid day-to-day schedule to ensure I actually get things done. However, I should have made that list about a month ago. My advice is to make a list in stages: sit down and use common sense to discern what needs to be done a month before departure, what needs to be done a fortnight before, a week before, and so on.

2. An apple a day
One problem with being a student is that you never really have an established doctor. At home, it's entirely possible that you've been seeing the same one since you were born. When you're a fresher, you're encouraged to sign up with the university one, but a lot of people can't be bothered with it until they actually fall ill. Having flown the nest in second year, living in a private house may mean that you are no longer in the catchment area for the university practice, so off you go to find another one. If you do a year abroad... well, don't get me started on that. And then when you come back, you may be living far away from your second year practice, so then you need to find another. And between semesters, you've gone to the doctor in your hometown just to discover that you're not actually registered with them as you only visit them once a year. Bizarrely, you find yourself filling out a form with your "permanent" address being one you haven't lived at for two years, as well as doing a whole lot of explaining to the poor receptionist.
Solution: This should probably fall into the fortnight category. Before you leave your home country, make sure you're well versed in the procedures regarding health insurance and availability of medication - should you need it - in your destination country. In the UK, we're fortunate that certain medication is free, or otherwise reasonably priced, but this is a fact that can be taken for granted and thus easily forgotten. Elsewhere, it could be a lot more hassle to obtain what you really need.

3. Saying your goodbyes
This little window of time between graduating and departing has also been difficult because of saying my goodbyes, which is just as important to me as the tangible tasks I've set myself. Realising that university truly is over and finally admitting to myself that this is making me sad, along with the fact that that I honestly don't know when I will see my closest uni friends in person again, has made me more than a little melancholy. It really puts a strain on the emotions, and I don't want to get there and find myself wishing that I had spent more time with certain people.
Solution: Organise at least one meet-up with your friends before you set off so you don't regret anything (subject to everyone else's plans, of course; many of mine are also going overseas). And really, it's not the end of the world; there's always Skype, Facebook, and so on. As for family, give each other your space so that you don't leave on bad terms, but be nice, too!

4. Making sacrifices
I'm throwing a bit of a tantrum because this year I won't be going to End of the Road, which has become something of an end-of-summer tradition. I always come back feeling so inspired and lovely, it refreshes my perspective on life. When tickets went on sale this year, I resigned myself to not buying one because regardless of whether I got into the Quebec programme, I couldn't say for sure that I'd even be in the UK at the time of the festival. As it turns out, I will indeed be here, but the day I would be returning from the festival is the day before I leave the country - that would make for a sticky situation!
Solution: This is just a grin-and-bear-it situation, I'm afraid. There will be a lot of things you'll have to miss, but in the end it doesn't even matter, because you're going to be creating lots of new, unforgettable memories. In this case, it also allowed me to save a large amount of money.

5. Look forwards but be realistic
You're about to do something really cool! Don't build it up to be something perfect, though, because it won't be. In the end, going abroad is just life, but in another country. It's all the same stuff as at home, but harder because it is most likely done differently. You will begin to see the place not as the glossed-over, idealised tourist version, but from the nitty gritty, even mundane perspective that locals have. But you should still maintain your sense of curiosity. Striking that balance is one of the most important things you'll learn.
Solution: If you're nervous, there are ways of dealing with those feelings - for me, it's been to pre-immerse myself. In an attempt to attune my ear to Quebec accents a bit, I've been watching ONF and TVA, as well as listening to local radio on my phone, which also helps me get an idea of what's generally going on over there right now. Urbania is a Montreal-based publication that I've been following for a while and it covers lots of things, from current affairs to my personal favourite, the La Ville de la semaine feature, which offers insight into smaller cities and towns around Quebec. I would also recommend Immigrer. It's aimed mainly at French, Belgian and Swiss people who are thinking of relocating to Quebec, or to Canada in general (apparently the respective processes are quite different). While I'm not actually going there long-term, it's been invaluable in terms of getting all sorts of specific information about how things are done there.

And you know what? There are things a whole lot worse than feeling a bit melancholy. I've just gotta adopt that fabled British stiff upper lip. Whatever that may be.