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My Most Important Piece of Advice For Working Abroad

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Avoid setting yourself up for disappointment. 

There are countless reasons why people move abroad. I’ve met people eager to add to their life experiences or resumes. Some followed family, others were escaping it. Some sought space to breathe, others just didn’t know what to do next. Some simply couldn’t fathom standing still.

I think it’s safe to say that alongside any number of more practical goals—whether they admit it not—nearly everyone who takes the leap has some form of existential motive as well.

In addition to a life-long love affair with England, I embarked on my journey trusting I’d return home with big picture questions answered, obstacles surpassed, and life, in short, “figured out.” No pressure, right?

In the lead-up to moving abroad, you’re likely consumed with outlandish expectation. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for dreaming big and letting your mind go a little crazy with excitement—but if you do anything in your preparation, make it this: manage your expectations.

I embarked on my journey trusting I’d return home with big picture questions answered, obstacles surpassed, and life, in short, “figured out.” No pressure, right?

For me, London has always been "big." On the road map of my life, it shone brilliantly in the distance; its proximity ever-changing, but its constancy a beacon to which all signs pointed. London became synonymous with success, and making it there my greatest hurdle to clear.

So naturally, there was a gravity in finally clicking “start visa application,” and with a lifetime of practice, I began envisioning that life in London held the answers.

I’m a practical person, but I do have a tendency to put too much stock in the bigger picture. My expectations were appropriately managed in terms of how long it may take to get a job, or the kind of flat I would be able to afford, but as my departure date loomed, I began to recognize the pressure I was putting on London to fulfill something for me. 

“I need to stop looking at London as the answer to all my problems,” I told a friend shortly before I left. I knew that if I boarded that plane thinking that the puzzle pieces of my life would magically click into place, I would be setting myself up for disappointment.

I had loved London for as long as I could remember, and I simply wanted to enjoy it—to revel in the success of making it there, and relieve it of the pressure to be something even more. In short, I adopted a new mindset: trust the journey. Enjoy.

And this shift made all the difference.

The end of 2017 marked my first full year in London, and naturally this triggered an obligatory look back. I rang in 2017 in Budapest at a ruins bar with near-strangers, and 2018 in Reykjavik with the most spectacular fireworks display I will ever see. I roamed the winding streets of Venice, re-enacted the Sound of Music in Salzburg, hiked in the Swiss Alps, saw the sun set at the end of the world in Portugal, and have been to the theatre in the West End more times than I can count. All because I chose a life in London.

But, truth be told, my favourite moments have been much quieter.

It’s the coffee I sipped while wandering aimlessly around central London, allowing myself for the umpteenth time to fill with giddiness at the sight of black taxi cabs, red double-deckers and telephone boxes. The experience of no less than four Scottish transit workers joining forces to patiently teach me how to roll my R's to pronounce the town in the highlands where I was headed. It’s sharing afternoon tea and cucumber sandwiches with my best friend. Chats on park benches, faking extra-posh British accents in public, and preparing to ice skate on blue, plastic atrocities that no respectable Canadian could call “skates.”

Nowhere near any of these moments did I find the big picture answers I had first envisioned. They didn’t even shift the world under my feet the way some of the larger experiences did. But these are the things I will remember most—not that I chose a new career path on a different continent or made a significant dent in my bucket list—but the accumulation of day-to-day moments that came together to form my life in London.

Don’t put pressure on your stint abroad to be something it can never live up to. It’s not an extended vacation; life is still happening, you are still you, and hitting pause while you jump from one grand life adventure to the next is a disservice to the whole experience. 

If you cherish the little things, every moment can be spectacular. 

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Ashley McCallan

Ashley McCallan studied English and writing and worked in book publishing before moving to England on a Youth Mobility visa. She now lives in London, works in Project Administration, and is as in love with Big Ben as the day she arrived.

Website: www.instagram.com/ashleymccallan055/

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