How do I prepare t move abroad?
January 11, 2011 9:25 PM   Subscribe

A follow up to this: How do prepare myself to live in the developing world for extended period?

After paying off my debt, getting my heart broken, and stockpiling a bit of cash, I'm leaving for Cuzco, Peru in 31 days. I'm set to get my TEFL certification, and after that I'm on my own. In theory I have enough to live for my entire 6 month tourist visa without working.

Now what?

What can I do, read, watch, learn, or experience in the next month to prepare myself mentally for this? I'm planning on living out of a carry-on for the duration, at least until I get on my feet. Any advice on the practical side as well?
posted by piedmont to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This depends a lot on your personality, but if I were you I might want to attach myself to something with structure, even if not necessarily something planned out in advance. Even though intuitively it might seem like being able to do whatever you want every day is liberating, I find that in another culture it's easy to disengage that way. I've found, when living in another culture, that whenever I go off on my own for a little while from whatever it is I'm 'doing'-- working, studying, etc.-- I ended up seeing cool stuff, but had much fewer meaningful/interesting interactions. With nothing proscribed me to do, it was easy to fall into typical habits. YMMV significantly, if you're more outgoing or something. But I wouldn't put aside the idea of volunteering with an organization, or enrolling in a language school, or something else that puts a little form into your time. Congrats on making good on a longstanding dream!
posted by threeants at 9:39 PM on January 11, 2011

Sorry, that's a mess of confusing phrases and mixed-up tenses. Just, uh, giving you a preview of communication difficulties in a second language!
posted by threeants at 9:40 PM on January 11, 2011

I'm a big believer in not preparing "mentally" for this sort of thing, other than learning the local language and reading a lot about the history and culture of the place (mostly so you have a better sense of what the things you encounter mean, and to take advantage of opportunities not normally encountered.) The culture shock is part of the fun, and what you're doing is not really difficult enough to need any sort of mental-strengthening exercises. Six months out of a carry-on gets old, but it's liberating at the same, and if you have money to support yourself, you should have no worries. One bit of advice - given your situation - is to learn basic local etiquette, be more open about expressing a willingness to make friends than you might at home, and throw yourself into situations you'd otherwise be a little hesitant of doing (but safety first, of course.) A local love is generally an advantage in terms of opening the doors of experience and learning the more subtle aspects of a place. Have fun!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:43 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should've noted- 6 months is only a base, as it's the max I can get a visa for, I totally anticipate a few visa runs. I have no real return date planned.
posted by piedmont at 9:53 PM on January 11, 2011

Also, I don't mean to be presumptuous or unkind, as I'm sure you know this, but just in case, it bears mention: experiencing another culture does not mean you're entitled to partake in every part of it. Just because locals say yes doesn't mean it's ok (I've definitely met narcissistic travelers who were all, "well, nobody said anything when I insisted on inserting myself into Deeply Personal Religious Ritual, so I don't think they minded!"). Part of the experience of another culture (especially vis-à-vis the power dynamic between developing- and developed-world denizens) is realizing where you fit into it, as someone representing your own culture (not as some sort of magically neutral everyperson).
posted by threeants at 10:09 PM on January 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

Quick advice: Get your shots. Hep shots are taken in a series so time it right. Tetanus is a good one too.
posted by loquat at 10:28 PM on January 11, 2011

This might be really obvious, but since no one has mentioned it yet: learn the language. Spend the time you are not working learning or becoming better in the language. This is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in and understand the culture, as well as lessen the blow of culture shock,
posted by bearette at 11:42 PM on January 11, 2011

I've never been to Peru but I did spend two years living in Nicaragua and have traveled in other Central and South American countries. To be honest, I can't really think of any books, movies, etc. to help you mentally prepare for the move- I mean, they call this sort of change an experience for a reason- you really just have to experience it. However, you can make practical preparations. Learn the language- before you leave, pick up some Spanish CDs or books to at least get you familiar with some of the vocabulary. When you arrive in country, it's worth paying for some classes, and it will also be a way to meet people. Buy a travel guide (I like Rough Guides). Look into hostels with good reputations so you have some options of where to start out staying. Make photocopies of your passport and other documents and take them with you. If you have any friend-of-a-friend type connections in Peru, contact them. I really wouldn't count on getting a paying job there- you might get lucky but for every under the table sort of job, there will be a hundred Peruvians willing to do it for less money than you. Maybe you'd like to volunteer? Look into some non-profit organizations that operate in Peru and contact any that sound interesting, perhaps they could use someone to help them out with computers/IT? It would give you something to do that you might enjoy, enable you to meet people other than backpackers (you'll meet plenty of them in the hostels and on busses), and hey, if you don't like it you can just stop.

Pickpocketing and theft is extremely common in poor countries, but violence is rare. Do not carry your wallet in your back pocket. Do not carry your passport around with you (mine got stolen out of my backpack while I was riding a bus in Nicaragua). If you're going out, take only the money you need and keep it in your front pants pocket. Do not wear a watch; do not carry an iPod. If you do, be okay with the fact that you might end up losing it. If you are on a bus, keep your bags with you, not in the luggage compartment. Basically, you have to walk around with a heightened sense of awareness. Everyone will know you are a foreigner and will assume you have more money that they do. Get used to street kids asking you for money. It's sad, but very common- you can either ignore them or slip them a coin. If you are female, men will hit on you constantly- try your best to just shrug it off. This is not to make you afraid or vilify Peruvians at all, it just comes with the territory. People will generally be a extremely friendly, talkative, and helpful.

Get to know the area- in general, big cities can be very dodgy at night and smaller towns are totally fine. If locals tell you it's not safe to walk around by yourself after dark, listen to them.

Talk to people, explore, enjoy, go to the discos and learn to dance, see the sights, and have a fantastic time!
posted by emd3737 at 1:37 AM on January 12, 2011

I coped well with China where everything was very different to what I knew because I went with no (very few?) expectations.

On the practical side, pack lightly. As in, you're-only-packing-this? lightly. Aim to have everything you need but no extras and be strict on the "need" part. This website has loads of useful info (packing lists, advice, etc.) for you to go through.

Have a great time!
posted by mkdirusername at 2:54 AM on January 12, 2011

Insurance, insurance, insurance. Language (Quechua and Spanish), vaccines (is your Yellow Fever certificate up to date), medicines. The rest you can learn along the way.

Read the new blog Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like.

Enjoy, absorb, learn, and share!
posted by wingless_angel at 3:19 AM on January 12, 2011

Don't jump headlong into activities and meetings when you arrive in Cuzco. Since you have the luxury of time, you'll want to spend three or four days acclimatizing to the high altitude--resting from the flight and treating the symptoms of soroche, if any. Take it easy; explore the town on small walks; study your spanish grammar; treat yourself to liberal amounts of soroche-defeating coca tea. Keep it simple and laid-back at first; save the complicated stuff for later.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:23 AM on January 12, 2011

Get a copy of Where There Is No Doctor. You can buy the print version if you prefer, but you can download the PDF for free from Hesperian. And take a first-aid kit, that includes a good thermometer (the ones you tend to get in the third world are crap), antibiotic ointment, and butterfly sutures. Most medicines should be available in Peru but pay close attention to the packaging for tampering-- blister packs are safer than bottles.
posted by bookish at 6:07 AM on January 12, 2011

Cuzco is actually pretty nice by developing world standards. The food is great, the people are nice, and there is tons to do.

All of the advice to update your vaccinations is great. In addition to the ones listed above, also get Typhoid. One of my colleagues got it pretty badly while doing data collection with Quechua speakers and eating with the local people. A further lesson is to be careful about where you eat.

Also, make sure your have your Spanish hospital and sickness terms down. There is an excellent chance that you will come down with something (intestinal distress, flu, altitude sickness, etc.) and you'll need to be able to communicate. Writing down a card with your vital stats (blood type, medical history, allergies) in Spanish that you can just hand to hospital personel when you're too miserable to talk is also a good idea. Cuzco has more English speakers than a lot of Peru, but don't rely on that in an emergency.

Do research on hospital and clinic conditions before you leave. You may not be able to get a private internet connection right away and be stuck using internet cafes. Do your homework before you have to deal with time limits and slow connections.

Altitude sickness is also a big deal that high up. If you leave near high ground try spending some time getting acclimated. Otherwise, when you arrive and someone offers you coca tea drink it. It's not going to get you high and will keep you from just crawling into bed.

Keep in mind that not everyone is a Spanish speaker in Cuzco. Learning a few Quechua phrases goes a long way. It's a tough language, so don't go overboard at the sacrifice of your other studies.

Lastly, it's also good to bone up on your Incan history. it will help to put the city into context and it would be a good sign of respect to the locals.
posted by Alison at 7:22 AM on January 12, 2011

Part of the experience of another culture is realizing where you fit into it, as someone representing your own culture.

This. Especially in a place like Cuzco which - from my long, long recent surveys in the Lima airport - seems to attract some special types of tourists and especially the very demanding wealthy people and the dirty backpackers. You'll have to reconcile that the locals assume you come from the same stock as those other foreigners, and often treat you that way. I tried to hang out in the other end of the airport with my connecting flight to one of those places no one visits.

Also, get your state-side documents in order: taxes, eyeglass or contact lens prescription, international drivers license, credit cards, power of attorney. The last you might scoff at, but my mom has POA for a lot of bank things because I am not there. And I live in developed countries with fast, reliable internet connections...
posted by whatzit at 9:49 AM on January 12, 2011

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