June 25, 2008 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Why is it good to travel and work in another country?

I guess I'm wondering, for people who have traveled for an extended period of time, what are the major benefits and why was it worth it to you?

Here's the background on why I'm asking this question: I'm set to travel to New Zealand (from Canada) on a one year working holiday visa with my boyfriend in mid-July. This is something we've both been planning and looking forward to with excitement for a long time.

I'm finding that suddenly, in the last days here, tying up loose ends, I'm overwhelmed with anxiety and am having cold feet about the whole thing in general.

We're both young, he wanted a change from his work (programming) and I wanted a change as well and was anxious to do something adventurous. I have been working both a full-time job and a part-time job for the past year and a half. The full-time job is a somewhat dead-end admin job (although I absolutely love the people I work with and will miss them so much) the part-time job is training new volunteers in talk radio at a campus station which I absolutely love every minute of (it is my dream to get a job in talk radio production) Neither of us has traveled extensively. He is taking me to Fiji on the way for my birthday, which I am so excited about.

We don't have any jobs set up there, but are very flexible with whatever we end up doing, whether it's bartending, labour, temp jobs.

The problem is, I'm having cold feet and am anxious all the time! My coworkers threw me a wonderful goodbye party and gave me some very thoughtful gifts they put a lot of work into. The radio crew is also organizing a party for me. Things have never seemed so good as right before I'm about to leave! I'm suddenly very aware of all my wonderful friends and family, had no idea people liked me this much, and am very sad to leave them all behind, even though it's just for a year.

I also have an irrational worry that people I love are going to die when I'm away (irrational not that there isn't the possibility of people dying, but that there would be something I could do to prevent it even if I am here). I had a bit of a mortality wakeup call this year after my dad had quad bypass surgery and me and my bf had a car accident, rolled the car and were lucky to survive. I'm very very close with my grandma who is 82 but is in excellent mental and physical health.

Suddenly, the whole idea of this trip seems selfish, self-indulgent and extravagant. There is a voice inside my head telling me how irresponsible I'm being.

Basically I think I'm being a bit of a baby but am looking for some stories from people who have set out on an adventure for an extended period of time and felt that the experience really was worth it. Why? Did it change you? Did it have a major impact on your life? If you could do it over again, would you?
posted by Flying Squirrel to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My husband, then-two-year-old son and I moved to Germany in 1999 for just under a year, for my husband's job. Did it change me? Yes, absolutely, for the better. Did it have a major impact on my life? I think so. I certainly became more aware of what it's like to be different, which I think everyone should experience at least once in their life. If I could do it over again, would I? Without a second's hesitation.

Neither of us had traveled overseas before and it was eye-opening for sure. Of course, we went from English to German, so you've got an edge-up in that respect. You're also not encumbered by a child, so you'll get to do all sorts of things we couldn't.

I remember being terrified just before we left and feeling so crushingly sad for the first few weeks (remember, though, that I was home alone with a two-year-old in a foreign country), but it all went away. The culture shock going over was actually nothing compared to the culture shock of coming back. Leaving Germany was just as hard as leaving the States, in the end.

The experience was completely worth it and my husband always lets it be known that he's willing to go overseas if necessary. I hope we get to do it again while our kids are still living at home. We also will encourage them to do their own traveling once they're out on their own.

Good luck, everything is going to be fine, and you are going to have the time of your life!
posted by cooker girl at 8:19 AM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: your anxieties sound very similar to my recent experience with leaving a job that I've had for six years to work at a new software startup. My ex co-workers threw a massive bash to celebrate my time at the company and the entire three week notice/transition period was fraught with tons of anxiety and second thoughts. I was leaving a space where I was very comfortable and secure and jumping off into an environment that was foreign and filled with unquantifiable risk.

In the end, though, I was glad that I made the jump, and I would not look back. There is value in comfortable, familiar surroundings, but that same comfort can be stultifying. We grow in situations that force us to adapt and change, and it's best to go through all of these evolutionary experiences when you're young, relatively free of responsibility and flexible in life options. Even if this job explodes in a puff of venture capital smoke, I have learned and grown more in the four months that I spent here than in the last year at my previous workplace. That alone made the move worthwhile.

Personally, I haven't done the working holiday visa adventure, mostly because I chose to stay in North America and ride the dot-com tech boom; but I've known more than a few Canadians who did, and passing on this opportunity when I was younger is one of the lingering regrets of my life. I have traveled extensively, however, and I believe that one of the most enduring benefits of travelling and learning to live in another country and culture is that it really does teach you to appreciate other perspectives and approaches to life. Even if there are a lot of cultural similarities between New Zealand and Canada, you are likely to pick up experiences abroad that will deepen your perceptions of life at home, when and if you eventually do go home.

You will also probably become more comfortable with risk and more at ease with improvising through a situation, as is required during any extensive travel abroad. Do it, don't look back, and when you do return, you'll realize that the worry and anxiety was probably necessary but ultimately irrelevant.
posted by bl1nk at 8:22 AM on June 25, 2008

A friend of mine moved overseas recently with her fiance for a year (the major difference is that she has a job lined up -- just transferred to a different office of the company), and so far they both love it.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:30 AM on June 25, 2008

It's OK to have anxiety and cold feet. That's your cautious side that will make sure that you don't cross the line between adventurous and completely reckless ;-)

Travelling and living/working in another country is a bunch of mixed experiences really. I can't say "ride of a lifetime", that sort of stuff sounds so superficial, conveys little meaning and is misleading :-P

All I can say is that there's good stuff and bad stuff. You need to be receptive to both. It will most definitely take you out of your comfort zone, change you and make you grow as a person and by that token, also affect your life.

I'm a little hesitant about the holiday visa thing and taking any job that supports you during this time. There seems to be a potential to encounter situations where you could run out of money for periods of time, which makes me a little uncomfortable. If you're okay with that then it's fine.

Generally I have travelled and lived abroad extensively for work/career reasons and only know people who are similar in that aspect. Your situation sounds different and I give you pretty limited advice. But you're young and you sound wide-eyed and innocent with lots of good folks supporting you so ... go forth and experience life! ;-)
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 8:43 AM on June 25, 2008

Feeling worried and anxious and pre-homesick are all GOOD THINGS. It means that you're thinking and not dreaming, and it means that you are travelling so that you can go somewhere new, not because you are running away from something old. Those feelings are also completely and totally natural and not in any way a sign that you shouldn't go.

Travelling and working abroad gives you a chance to view and understand the world from a different angle. You'll gain broader perspective on how the world works, and (possibly) how people from different cultures vary. You'll meet new people, and see new things, and both of those factors are fun, intellectually and/or emotionally stimulating, and provide you with kind of life experience that will allow you to grow as a person.

You're nervous and you're looking for a way to give in to your nervousness. I vote "Not valid!" Get on the plane and have a good time. Your trip is only selfish in the same way that say, spending your family's money on a college education is selfish, or buying nice clothes is selfish. In otherwords, only selfish if you think that your own happiness and prospects in life aren't worth pursuing.

(I'm a Canadian who left for a 5-month long internship in Uganda, that turned into a move of two years. If I can go to east africa by myself, you can certainly go to an an english-speaking country with your boyfriend .)
posted by Kololo at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2008

I'm overwhelmed with anxiety and am having cold feet about the whole thing in general.

This is part of the point. You will discover that you can do this thing which is scary and requires you to step up to the plate in a way you've never had to before, and have to grow to achieve. As a result, you become one of those people who walks through the world with the innate confidence of knowing you can take care of anything life might throw at you.

So basically, it makes you sexier.

posted by -harlequin- at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think everybody should live in another country for awhile. It forces you to question some deeply-held assumptions (such as: Canadians are polite, or Canadians are not patriotic, or [insert odd nationalistic belief here]), and that will make you a better citizen when you return. It makes you more understanding of cultural differences, which will make you a better citizen and a better neighbour. It forces you to see things from a different point of view. Sometimes, it puts you in the position of being a minority, which can be a new experience for travelers who are part of the majority in their own country, and help them question their own majority privileges. These are all good things.

Also, it's good fun. Why shouldn't you have some fun?

Being scared is totally normal and just shows that you're human. Have an amazing time!
posted by joannemerriam at 9:12 AM on June 25, 2008

looking for some stories from people who have set out on an adventure for an extended period of time and felt that the experience really was worth it.

New Zealand, being a small place miles away from anywhere, has a bit of a culture about this. It's called the Big OE (Overseas Experience), and refers to how many NZ'ers travel the world for a year or more while young, usually a working trip. Most of my friends have either done it, or are living overseas on an even longer term basis. The Before and After difference is a wonderful thing to see - it is worth it in the most fundamental way, in that it forges better, stronger people. I'm not exaggerating (above) about the increase in sexy. It might not be quite the transformation from Maxwell Smart into James Bond, but you get the idea - more collected and able, more at ease in the world, people who shape the world around them rather than be helplessly buffeted by it. Growing up into what people should grow up into, but often don't. This includes you - you should do this, because it will help make you bloom. (Ok, doing it with a boyfriend isn't as good as doing it alone, but it's miles better than not doing it)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:25 AM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: To answer your question, and at the risk of sounding horribly cheesy, traveling and working in another country is definitely a good thing because it will help you grow as a person. It's normal to get cold feet as the departure date comes closer - embarking in an adventure like this means facing quite a lot of uncertainties, and it can get pretty scary when you see them looming over the horizon and there's not much you can do about them until you get there.

Leaving your comfort zone is never easy, but you will be surprised at how being in unfamiliar surroundings kicks your brain into fifth gear: not only you will get to experience a new country and a new culture, but you will learn a lot about yourself and about life in general. Once you start taking control of things you will discover that you're a lot more resourceful than you give yourself credit for and, more importantly, it will all seem a lot more effortless than it sounds right now.

While you're understandably sad to leave your friends and co-workers behind, you seem to be a capable and well-loved person. You will have no problem finding friends - in fact, it is astonishingly easy to make new friends when you open yourself up, and you will find that will come to you quite naturally when you find yourself away from your usual support network. Dont' think of this as leaving your friends behind (they will still be there when you come back) - you should think of this as an opportunity to meet an entire new group of people, some of which you will remain in touch with for years to come, and some of which will change you forever.

It's good and normal to be a bit scared at this stage, but soldier on a little bit and your doubts will fade as soon as you start living your new life and discover that it is, all in all, pretty damn exciting.

And, if things get rough, remember you can always go back home if things don't work out.
posted by doctorpiorno at 9:26 AM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: I had cold feet several times in the process of quitting my job and selling everything I owned so I could go wander. I'm very glad I was able to get past the anxiety and get out there.

It's difficult to say what you, personally, will get from a year on the road. I can tell you this though: in a year of wandering and since my return I have yet to meet a single person who either:
  • Had traveled and felt that it was an unimportant or detrimental experience
  • Had not traveled and did not express a wish that they had/could.
A year out of your own culture is one of the great rites of passage of the modern age.

For me, personally I got:
  • A chance to find out who I am without the familiar trappings of home around me.
  • Insight as to what is truly common to humanity vs. local customs.
  • A radically different sense of the size of the world. You can reach *any* major population center in 24 hours from a standing start. No place is far away.
  • A large dollop of confidence in my ability to deal with anything, no matter how unusual.
So to sum up: cold feet are normal, extended travel is one of the great adventures, get yer buns in gear and get out there.
posted by tkolar at 9:32 AM on June 25, 2008

Oh, and -harlequin- is completely spot-on. It totally makes you sexier.
posted by doctorpiorno at 9:35 AM on June 25, 2008

Speaking as someone who left there a year ago before he got too old and comfortable, NZ is a kick-arse, sociable place and you will find it hard NOT to make new friends. I had exactly the same panicky reaction before I bit the bullet and decided to stay in the UK, but it all worked out tolerably and, in some ways, extremely well. Of course, I haven't gone back yet, so I can't tell you how it all ends - but that's kind of the point.

And besides, if you stayed, you'd have to give back all those thoughtful gifts!
posted by Sparx at 9:39 AM on June 25, 2008

As the old saying goes, if you only know your own country, you don't even know your own country.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:42 AM on June 25, 2008

I moved to England 4 1/2 years ago and I think it has definitely changed me for the better. I lived a really easy and predictable life and needed to get out of my comfort zone, and there were a lot of aspects about the move that were really hard for me for a long time. But I'm through that now and I look back and am kind of amazed at how well my life has turned out. I wasn't sure before if I was all that strong or independent but now I have no doubts. I have a whole new perspective on friendships as well, both with my old friends, who I now know would never forget me and will always welcome me back; and with new friendships and what it takes to build and nurture them.

Don't worry about feeling afraid or sad, it's normal. Just go and enjoy every minute you have because that year is going to fly past.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:43 AM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: When I was 24, I sold all my possessions and left Ohio to work in London (BUNAC program) for six months. I loved it so much that I ended up living and traveling abroad for an additional two years longer. Before I first left the U.S., I went to the bank to get a supply of traveler's checks for the trip. The teller, a nice young lady, cut from your typical bank teller cloth, asked me where I was planning on traveling. When I told her my intentions of moving abroad, she looked at me like I was about to jump over a dozen flaming school buses on a moped. She went on to say that although she was 27 years old, she had never been outside Ohio. EVER.

I think for people making big life changes that are perceived as risky or maybe even a tad irresponsible, the anxiety can come from what everyone else is telling you...the bank keep telling you what a big deal it is that you are doing this, asking if it's really what you want to do (at least mine did)...and all that talk puts a certain amount of pressure on you and brings on a certain degree of second guessing, which it sound like you are experiencing now.

Don't worry about it. What you are embarking on is what living itself is all about. Experiencing new things, breaking out of daily routines, living each day, each moment to the fullest. Enjoy yourself and savor that wonderful feeling of anticipation and excitement that comes in the moments just before you push off for that big trip.
posted by Otis at 9:48 AM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: Here's a story of a person who set out on an adventure for an extended period of time and felt that the experience really was worth it.

2 years ago I was your average successful young adult. Lived in NYC, had a great apartment, great friends, volunteering with the youth group at my church, dating occasionally, traveling all the time for work - but mostly domestically, and always home Thursday nights through Monday mornings. I was making my promotions, putting more experience in new industries under my belt, and building a kick-ass resume, all while pulling down a decent salary. I was writing regularly and planning longer-term writing projects and future books. Saw my family on the west coast on a fairly regular basis and was able to be that guy from out of town and most of my college friends' weddings.

Then I read a book about the Lost Boys of Sudan - the Darfur victims who walked for weeks on end to escape the destruction of their homes, only to end up being attacked and running back again once they got to camps they thought might have been safe from them.

This is happening on the planet I live on right now?

Then I read another book about Africa crises. And another one after that. And then I saw a movie. And another. And another book. A speaker at one of those 92nd street Y events. It just started clicking.

I didn't have any idea how to go and get involved in making a difference (see here), but I knew that I wanted to help, and that was enough. When the opportunity came, I was ready to go.

It actually happened through my job, which was an incredible blessing. I was able to go on half-salary, keeping my benefits, to work with a humanitarian organization that works not just in Africa, but across the planet (the biggest private org, at that), and I was doing very similar work to what my background in the states was in - consulting them on strategic management of supply chains. Helping them achieve savings and therefore the ability to help more beneficiaries by optimizing how they move their goods. It was mostly back-office management type stuff, but it had to be relevant to field users, and as such had me working in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Uganda, and South Africa.

I think this project has done infinitely more for my resume than the sum total of my experiences preceding it. No, one better. Its done the same thing for my life. On my last day back in the US recently, a good friend and I went golfing - I was insane with packing and mailing taxes and everything else you have to do when leaving the country (again), and keeping the golf commitment like insanity, but in retrospect I think I'll try to do the same thing again the day before I leave for further travels in the future. It was a great pause for reflection. On the 15th fairway he asked me if I feel like more of a world traveler?

It sounded kind of trite, but the answer was "Oh hell yes." If I've been able to muddle through the conditions and frustrations of living and traveling in Africa - where else is going to be more challenging than that? I've been working literally in war zones, with refugees in displacement camps. I've been places where we had to pick our roads carefully because the recent floods might have moved remnant land mines into our path. I've spent hours upon hours in line at airport customs counters, police road checkpoints, border crossing gates, etc.. Its all old hat now. Traveling for work in the US now seems like a minor inconvenience when I used to consider it a major headache.


It was time. I was in that late-20's funk where I knew something had to change, but I didn't know what. I've never been one to miss an opportunity, or to get to that funk and mire in it; I'm more one to pull the trigger and see where things take me. I didn't want my same old boring pattern of moving from client to client, doing the same round trip flight every week, budgeting time for my friends on the weekend, seeing the family 2.5 times a year, visiting friends occasionally, etc.. I wanted a big change, so, I jumped. I dealt with all of the issues as they arose and then next thing I knew I found myself staring at a massive Serengeti sky from the front bumper of one of those white Landcruisers. The sound of 300 children singing their morning song in their concrete shell of a school drifted across the road to me and I thought "Wow. I'm really here. I'm doing it." And I was happy.

Did it change you?

I'm entering my 30's next month, but I know I'm a completely different person than I was in my 20's - even my late 20's - and I'm excited about what that means for the next decade. It seems like the entire world is my oyster. I want to travel more broadly. I want to go back to school for intercultural studies and then move into humanitarian work and advocacy journalism full time. I want to spend the rest of my life making the first world face the facts of what's going on outside their microwave/HDTV/SUV/disney/ lives. I want to establish real ways for people to help make the world better for the people who need it most.

I want to own less stuff with each passing year. I want friends and family to come explore the world with me. I want all these things and a million more things that I *didn't* want in my former life, where I was wanting the typical things: career success, incredible romance, etc.. I want better things now.

I'm also a much more emotional person now. Its changed some part of my soul in some weird way. It didn't seem to affect me much when it was happening - when the kids with battle scars were sitting in front of me, when I saw the pregnant mother walking with laundry on her head while we drove past, when I saw people getting drinking water from big brown puddles in the road. In the moment, it was just work.

But then I found myself finishing a fiction(!) novel on an airplane and had to spend the last 5 pages bawling in the passenger toilet for my class of seating. I started misting up in movies that I've seen before and know how they end. I started giving more away than I ever had. I started making real friends with people who have nothing and learning how to try to balance feeling guilty about what I have with finding ways to help. I started caring about the people in my life (my friends, family, etc.) more deeply than ever before and listening to them more intently and sharing with them more openly. I used to be pretty closed off, and that's changing now. I'm not sure I like it entirely but I think its mostly for the best.

Did it have a major impact on your life?

Well, if you got this far, you tell me.

If you could do it over again, would you?

So very much yes. I'd get my camera stolen again in Kampala, and get sick on vacation again, and spend a thousand more hours in airports wondering when my plane would arrive. And I'd surf in the middle of the Indian Ocean again, and dive with the great whites again, and see the lions of Masai have their morning breakfast of Zebra, all over again.

If I had it to do all over again, I would change only one thing: I would have left sooner.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:42 AM on June 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

When I was 19, I did odd jobs and saved money for as long as possible and went overseas to study for six months. I got to Italy at the beginning of January 1992 and stayed until June. During that time, I attended university in Rome, and used my Eurail pass to travel all over the place: Netherlands, England, France, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia (before it changed), along the Russian border, Spain, Hungary, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Sicily.

Every single weekend, I'd map out a different place to visit, sleep on the train, and explore the cities. Often, I went with just my boyfriend (we broke up while we were over there, too, and I didn't let it affect my trip) or another friend or two from school.

It changed my life, completely. I am a better, more well-rounded person for going. My world view is radically different than my family's and I have made efforts to revisit certain countries (England, Germany, and Italy, so far) that really touched me.

The whole experience made me realize that when it comes right down to it, there is nothing I cannot do. My will to learn and to survive is incredibly strong. I welcome new experiences, and feel very self-sufficient. Bear in mind when I traveled, I had no cell phone, no internet access, and very little money (there were many days I went without food or slept on the trains just to see another museum or visit another country that I didn't really have time for).

My family and friends back home I stayed in touch with sporadically; I had no bank account to get money from, or have funds wired to. I was mugged a couple of times. I learned how to defend myself from physical attack, get medical help while running a high fever in a country where I didn't speak the language, and get the local police to help me re-book a ferry ticket when an asthma attack coupled with a missed train connection left me stranded in Bern at 1 a.m. alone, with a blizzard outside.

So what I'm telling you is, all that traveling made me stronger. I am not afraid of being attacked; language barriers can be overcome, domestically or abroad. I have been exposed to a range of cultures, traditions, architecture and art I would have never seen otherwise.

I honestly feel like if I died now, it would be with no regrets because of the experiences I had overseas. To see that part of the world just after the cold war ended and the Berlin wall was destroyed was life-changing. I mean, I ate at the nicest restaurant in Prague for 25 cents! It was not a good time to be an American either, with the Gulf War and all.

Dressing like an English punk and learning Spanish and some Italian certainly helped me to keep a low profile, though.

You're only afraid of what you don't know. And what you will learn and how you will grow is priceless.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:43 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I spent a couple of years in Europe (moved from Edmonton), as while it was the scariest thing I've ever done, I can't express how much it taught me, and showed me life in a different way.

You need to know that even when (if) you return to Canada, you'll never see things exactly the same way. You'll see things in New Zealand that are just plain better than home, things that are worse, and things that are just different. For example, I struggle sometimes with how american it is here (Canada) compared to the rest of the world, and would rather watch the BBC World Service than local news because it shows what's going on outside of my small part of the world. I understand a lot more about how people in different nations interact, and can understand why things that I don't agree with (french labour laws for example) can be valid alternatives for some people. There's a whole lot of things that I used to think of as "wrong", but now it's just "different", because I know and have grown to love people that live lives very different from my own.

Plus you find a lot of neat/cool things that you never would have imagined before. Just do your best to get through it, and you'll find you love it, and years from now when you're back home you'll find yourself gazing out the window remembering what it was like, and how much you miss it. I promise.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2008

because its the best thing you can do for you, your relationship and your understanding of the world
posted by liverbisque at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2008

One thing that hasn't yet been mentioned is how the experience will challenge your relationship - facing new experiences together, being reliant primarily on each other for emotional support, spending a lot of time together and not knowing anyone else really forces you to get to know each other well. Travelling together can build incredible intimacy or it can kill a relationship.

I cried for the three days prior to leaving Australia for the UK, and I had absolutely nothing to worry about - I had money and a marketable resume, my boyfriend had a great job lined up, I didn't even have to sell my shit (storage then I shipped it over) and you can always go back if it doesn't work out - but I still cried for three days solid. It's normal to be anxious about huge life changes.
posted by goo at 12:30 PM on June 25, 2008

It doesn't answer your question, but plan ahead enough that you give yourself some time to explore New Zealand when work is done. I've been to a lot of places, and if I could only go back to one of them, it'd be New Zealand. Beautiful (especially the south island) country and wonderful people.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:11 PM on June 25, 2008

I moved to Holland for what was meant to be a year eight years ago from the UK (London). I ended up staying for 3 years and then moving to the states where I've been for 5 years (and my wife and I are now due to move to the opposite coast in the states.) It really made me understand a lot about my country and about myself and I've never regretted any move I've made (yet!) You can always go back if it doesn't work out. I would always encourage anyone to move out of their comfort zone for a while, you never know who you are going to meet and what opportunities may present themselves. You'll also find out that moving away for a year doesn't mean that you're going to miss much at home at all...
posted by ob at 2:28 PM on June 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all!! I have really enjoyed reading these responses and will reflect back on this thread many times I'm sure.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 4:30 AM on June 26, 2008

I first emigrated when I was 18 (for college), a continent and an ocean away w/o any family members around. I've since repeated the experience a few times (as in emigrating or traveling for months at a time) w/ and w/o family/loved ones.

Here's my $.02:
  • There are people who can and function (and prosper) on their own in a strange environment and there are others who can't. If you can't, don't feel bad about yourself: I've seen very capable, interesting people become badly-adjusted immigrants. However, if you can do it, do it. Most of the people who can live abroad never get a chance to, so consider yourself lucky.

  • The first few weeks/months suck. I'd say the cutoff for a complete fish-out-of-water experience is probably around 3 months or so. If you can make it past that, you are fine. CA->NZ should be easier than that (no language barrier and not a lot of a culture barrier either).

  • You'll make things much easier on yourself if you follow the "when in Rome" principle: don't cling to what you know, don't hang out only (or mostly) with people from your home country. Learn the host culture/people you are visiting; if you're lucky, you'll come to appreciate it.

  • If you cross to the other side and find yourself preferring the new to the old, check yourself: immigration can be wonderfully liberating but it's effectively running away.

  • posted by costas at 7:15 AM on June 26, 2008

    I just came back from doing exactly what you're about to do. I had a tremendous amount of anxiety before leaving (as in, I cried for a week straight). My experience in New Zealand was difficult in many ways, and I experienced unforeseen levels of loneliness and confusion. Ultimately, though, I would do it all over again. I got to try things and work in places I would have never experienced back home. And my tolerance and openness with people is much higher than before I left.

    You're lucky that you're going with someone else. You'll have someone there when you see a guy in a three-piece suit walking the streets of Auckland with no shoes. Or when you gain 10 pounds from all the sugar the Kiwis sneak into stuff, or from trying to keep up with the insane level of binge drinking. Or when you're walking through the rain forest, and you come to a glacier in the middle of nowhere, and crazy flightless birds are chasing you for your trail mix. New Zealand is a small, strange country full of surprises. It's pretty hard to have a crappy time.

    Also, remember that you can always go home. Everything will -- more or less -- be in the same place where you left it.
    posted by lunalaguna at 8:40 PM on June 26, 2008

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