Moving Overseas
December 17, 2003 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I've been thinking about exposing myself and the family to the salutory benefits of living overseas (we live in the US now). The key question, of course, is where? I've heard some people speak reverently of New Zealand, but have never been there myself. Your suggestions and reasoning behind them would be welcome...
posted by Irontom to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What do your family like doing? What are you looking for in a country?

But New Zealand? Thar be dragoons.
posted by holloway at 11:57 AM on December 17, 2003

Ok, this is going to be way out there, but I hope it communicates something of value.

My family shipped itself over to Kuwait for 6 years, which meant 4th grade-10th for me.

It's a tiny country with few people, little entertainment, not much going on, and precious few natural wonders.

But still, the experience was invaluable for me. For one thing, I started foreign language training and immersion early.

The country was largely made up of expats. I went to a REALLY diverse school, full of kids from all over the place: India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Russia, Norway, Italy, the Sudan, England, Palestine...

My school was small, but well-run, and largely devoid of the fashion-vicitimization and pop-culture sex/drugs/violence influences you get in the US. Kids didn't even particularly hate Junior High over there, if you can believe that.

Me and my brother complained a lot about the lack of cable TV and such, but looking back it was great for me. I read more, socialized more, and watched a lot less TV.

I was also more "out there" in the community than I've ever been since. When people live in the armpit of the world, they have to find interesting ways to entertain themselves. The expat community did a lot of social functions, holiday functions, and community theatre, just to keep the gears turning upstairs. I was in a few plays, etc. It was great for me.

I'm not suggesting you move there. God knows we could very well have been caught in the Iraqi invasion. What I am suggesting is that you should not necessarily rule out places that are far-flung, small, & obscure. They could turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime break from the deafening roar of western civilization. You may be surprised to find that life goes on outside its perimeter.

Of course, I'm only speaking from the child's perspective. God knows what you and your wife would do for fun in Kuwait.
posted by scarabic at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2003

If you work for a big multi-national corporation, I highly recommend asking your HR department about ex-pat opportunities overseas. They are typically for a fixed time (1-5 years), you keep your American salary, and then come back to a job in the US (usually not the same one). They pay your moving expenses (hefty!) and typically some housing and car. You don't have to worry about health benefits, how to get back into the US, and have a fixed date to leave if you're really hating it because it's all taken care of by the corp.
posted by j at 1:06 PM on December 17, 2003

I just got back from two weeks in New Zealand for the first time and loved it. For me, the things that would recommend it for relocation would be gorgeous scenery, great food (interestingly, I found that you can eat quite well in good restaurants at a decent price, by my L.A. pocketbook standards; cafe/bistro fare, though, varied from good to mediocre, but often wasn't that much cheaper than a proper restaurant.), and very warm, lovely people (they seem to be too busy hating Aussies to hate USians, though the recent spate of Americans coming over to buy vineyards and other choice properties may be changing that). Interesting cultural history as well (in terms of both Maori and European settlement), and an overall impressive standard of living.

The points against relocation seem to me to derive from the main point for relocation: it really is isolated and surprisingly small. For example, while I was there, a friend of a friend had to make arrangements to go to Australia for chemotherapy because the only two hospitals (both in Auckland, of course) that could help her were simply booked. Also, things we take for granted as being reasonably priced -- such as books and cotton clothing -- are surprisingly expensive there, because of the high price of shipping to a relatively small market essentially in the middle of nowhere. (Well, of course it's not nowhere -- but Australia, at 1000+ miles away, is the next closest big market.) But it's a lovely place, and I second j's suggestion of checking with your HR dept. -- there are also some specific NZ resources for relocation online I've run across.
posted by scody at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2003

I lived in Thailand for two years recently, teaching English for a private college, and I heartily support your curiosity and adventurous spirit. As holloway says, we could give you better help with more information about what you and your family are after. Generally speaking, there has never been a better time for Americans (with the means) to get out of this country and experience some of the rest of the world.
posted by squirrel at 1:45 PM on December 17, 2003

I would highly recommend NZ if you want to experience all the wonders the world has to offer in a compact package. You will also find excellent standards of health care, education and a generally great place to spend a few years.
posted by dg at 2:41 PM on December 17, 2003

It might annoy you, though. NZ's going through a massive period of change -- certainly the biggest in living memory. There's high immigration (by past NZ standards, anyway) -- and a growing, nasty, seething anger about 'foreigners' (mostly directed at Asians, though) -- and large-scale (over)development, especially in Auckland. It's not really a happy country right now, and immigrants tend to get the blame for deteriorating living conditions (at least in Auckland).

I bring this up because the whole immigration thing is a source of widespread anxiety; there's a real fear among a sizeable number of New Zealanders that they'll be squeezed out of the best parts of the country, much as their ancestors squeezed out the Maori. (Poetic justice, maybe?)

There was an article in the LA Times a couple of months ago, for instance, that caused outrage when it paraphrased by the local Auckland paper (Recaps here and here.)

There's also a housing boom that's widely attributed to immigration, and resentment (usually from younger NZers) about being unable to afford housing. I'm sure this is nothing compared to some parts of the US, and, say, Sydney, but just beware that things that might piss you off about the US aren't going to necessarily stop at the border.

Anyway, having said all that, I believe that this guy has just shifted his family out to New Zealand. He's written about the whole process on his blog, which might be a good place to start.

On preview:

I hadn't seen any anti-USian feeling until early on this year, when I saw a couple of elderly Americans being hassled and sworn at in downtown Auckland. It's pretty rare.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:47 PM on December 17, 2003

If you like the great outdoors, Vancouver is a fine choice.
posted by stonerose at 6:12 PM on December 17, 2003

I keep trying to convince my wife that Australia is the place for us, especially Perth, but she refuses to cave in to me.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:45 PM on December 17, 2003

I have to hype Mexico, precisely because it is going through so much change right now. It's a huge country, so whatever topography does it for you is there somewhere, and you will be able to take lots of interesting vacations within Mexico.

Mexican society is really starting to feel out this whole democracy thing, a process which had been stagnant for generations, and it's awesome to be around. You sort of get to learn a bit about globalization first hand, and you don't have to feel as guilty about it as you do in other parts of the world. A middle class is emerging and young people especially are very actively shaping their country/communities in a way that seemed really wild to me. Hard to describe, inspring to be around.

Spanish is pretty easy to learn (at least it was for me, and I had never succeeded learning any other language), and it is easy enough to meet people who know some English our are used to dealing with stupid Americans.

The rest of the case is probably the same as anywhere else. Great art, music, culture, food, history, but I can't think of any part of the world that doesn't fit that description.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:50 PM on December 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

I can't answer your question until you tell me if you're independantly wealthy or not. (ie how would you plan to keep life and limb together?) This is the first Big Question, or always is for me, at least.

I've been expat from Canada (with some brief stints back there) for almost 15 years now, and have lived in a few places, including New Zealand. Not sure what you're looking for with the question, though, without knowing if you need to make a living...

(Also, did you get my email?)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:07 AM on December 18, 2003

Stavros raises an interesting point. Are you contemplating a job move that has been dangled for you or are you moving because you can?

I've been sharing time between France and the US since April 1998. My wife was born there so that has made things earlier. We've no children but I have adult friends who did much growing up overseas and they are all the better for it.

I'll make a plug for moving to Europe. Benefits include a foreign language immersion and ease of travel to a variety of cultures, landscapes and urban centers. My favorites of late are Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and London. (All have the benefit of being able to start without knowing another language, Berlin the least so.)
posted by Dick Paris at 3:41 AM on December 18, 2003

Excellent recommendations from Dick Paris. They're all places I'd consider living, in fact I've even spied out the job I want in Copenhagen. He's also spot on in that the number of English speakers is startling in Copenhagen and especially Amsterdam. I was in Amsterdam last week and was astounded to hear so much English. The locals all seem to speak at a very high level and seem generally happy to use English. Many of them seem to use it as a default in the city. Dutch colleagues have suggested that this is pretty common.
posted by biffa at 4:15 AM on December 18, 2003

it's not all roses.

if they speak a different language to you then, for a long time, you won't be able to express yourself clearly. even when you get to the point where you understand most things and can make yourself be understood, hold down a job, etc, you won't be able to make good jokes, smart comments, etc. if you're used to having (for want of a better word) witty conversation, you'll miss it.

social conventions can be very different. basic assumptions you've made about life need to be revisited. this can be liberating at times, but it's also extremely tedious - to be annoyed, disgusted or frustrated by something then realise that you're supposed to accept it. again and again.

you may move social classes (if you stay on a similar wage and move to a poorer country; even if you get a local wage you may be able to get a better one that most locals because you have a good education, etc). again, basic assumptions about who and what you are and how you stand relative to others come into question (going to have a maid?)

i'm sure people can argue that it's useful to have so much change - that it lets you question basic assumptions, etc. but personally, i was (i believe) already pretty liberal - moving has made me less so. it's a lot easier to respect people's differences when they are half a world away. when you have to live with people who are frequently ignorant, offensive assholes (to your view of life), it's a lot harder.

of course, you can avoid much of this by going to somewhere western, rich, etc. but then what are you gaining? a complicated way of learning a new language and slightly different table manners...?

good luck.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:34 AM on December 18, 2003

ps: check out the (possibly unintentionally) hilarious
posted by andrew cooke at 5:38 AM on December 18, 2003

ps: check out the (possibly unintentionally) hilarious

I feel really bad for Mark and his family. The adventure he was planning excited the hell out of my, vicariously, and when the reality kinda crashed in on them and they high-tailed it (an unkind synopsis, perhaps, but more or less accurate, I think), I was deeply bummed for them.

I'm glad they're well, but sorry indeed that their Big Escape didn't turn out to be what they'd hoped.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:41 AM on December 18, 2003

(my=me. but you knew that already.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:02 AM on December 18, 2003

and i remember an acquaintance coming to work in chile for a week or two and being disappointed that, having overthown (to some extent) a dictator, the proletariat now wanted to own cars and cellular phones.

they just don't make natives how they used to.

(my point was, apart from a certain anger at people's naive assumptions and lack of understanding of what it means to be poor, that it's worth considering *why* it is necessary to leave the usa (i presume) when most of the world's inhabitants would be happy glad to get a green card.)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:10 AM on December 18, 2003

Irontom, you really need to add some more information, otherwise we're all wasting our time. (It's like saying "I've been thinking of going out for dinner, where should I go?") At a minimum, you need to let us know if you have any restrictions based on climate (monsoon country OK? the Great White North?), language (English-only?), world (first or third: do you need to be able to use credit cards and flush toilets?), and cost of living (can you afford Tokyo?). I've lived in a fair number of places, but I would have no idea what to recommend to you as things stand.
posted by languagehat at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2003

L-hat is right. More info is crucial. But I grew up as an expat in Europe and can heartily recommend the experience. For a kid, it's especially terrific - learning languages, going to school with classmates and teachers from all over the world, getting comfortable with new situations. In fact, after 15 years back in the states, I'm increasingly anxious to move back overseas. Anyone know anyone at the IHT who is hiring?
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:36 AM on December 18, 2003

You might also want to browse sites like this and this.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2003

Response by poster: Sorry, I havent been back until now - holidays, sudden company, etc.

We aren't independently wealthy, so making the doubloons is an issue. I have been a naval officer and a web developer/config manager/project sheperd, although I am considering a return to university to pick up either a GIS degree or a Forestry degree, possibly both. Neither of us speak a foreign language fluently, although a long time ago my Spanish was passable.

As far as climate goes, we live in mid-atlantic region of the US, and we like having 4 seasons. Never lived in monsoon country, but it doesn't sound all that appealing. Great white north seems like it would take some getting used to, but might be doable. I think we're prolly limited to 1st world since we've got kids and would be worried about medical care (I was following the Island Chronicles too, but understood their decision to retreat. Your own kids and their wellbeing are hard subjects to be rational about).

As far as reasons go, I guess I am thinking about perspective. I've lived here in the US all my life, and haven't travelled all that much. I like to think that there are many good qualities the US has, but also have recently been deeply disappointed in my government and (as I see it) a creeping tendency towards facism (I know that's overstating the case, and I dont want to start any political fights, but I am worried). I think it would be good to live somewhere else for a while to provide some concrete examples by which to compare the nation of my birth. This is also my thought process with regards to the kids - I think that many younger people here grow up without any perspective on how good we have it, and I'd like for my kids to get a different take on things.

Stav - I didnt get the email - was wondering if you did't like me or something ;). Try it again, and if I don't get something in the next day or two, I will send you an alternate email address to try. Sometimes (for unknown reasons) blocks of email addresses apparently get blocked by my ISP.
posted by Irontom at 12:07 PM on December 18, 2003

Your web skills may be able to help with international mobility. An Irish friend of mine went from working in London to Barcelona to Leichtenstein (living in Austria) on the back of his, though he does have a talent for languages and picked up both fairly rapidly, he got the Leichtenstein job while his German was still far below native level.
Though you may feel the US is creeping towards fascism you may find that some of the things you encounter in Europe (if you choose Europe) will seem shockingly non-liberal in comparison with the US, while others will seem much more liberal. For example, not all countries have the free speech commitments of the US, you can probably think of some of the more liberal attitudes for yourself. There will be others - big and small - and they will sneak up on you, and these will vary from country to country. This will mean some disappointments and some pleasant surprises.

Good luck with making a decision. I look forward to seeing more questions from you on the topic in future as you sort out your options and put your decisions into practice.
posted by biffa at 4:56 AM on December 19, 2003

Response by poster: Like I said, I need some perspective, and I just don't think I'm going to get that sitting here at home.
posted by Irontom at 6:59 AM on December 19, 2003

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