When I moved abroad three and a half years ago for work, it wasn’t really part of my original life plan.
My partner, Alex, and I made the decision to leave the United States over sushi one night in our Brooklyn neighborhood based largely on our circumstances at the time. I was unhappy at my job. Our landlord wasn’t going to renew our apartment lease. The economy had just tanked. We didn’t have children. And we both had a desire to try something new after living in New York City for six years.
So the choice was made: Alex would request a transfer through his company to their offices in Shanghai, China. We’d stay six months. Perhaps a year, at most.
The decision was as strategic as it was born out of a sense of adventure—we figured that both of us could advance our careers in Asia, where there was a surfeit of opportunity and a shortage of talent. Plus, we hoped that working (and saving) in Asia for a few years would put us in a better position when we returned to the U.S. to eventually buy a house, and possibly adopt a child.
We weren’t the only ones in this position. The State Department estimates that 6.3 million Americans are studying or working abroad—the largest number ever recorded. And even more plan to go: Two years ago, only 1% of Americans planned to move overseas. Today, five times as many are thinking about relocating abroad.
A move of this magnitude, however, is never quite that straightforward. And, if I’ve learned anything after three international moves in three years (and counting …), plans have a way of changing once you finally decide to pull up roots.
Our Big Great Britain Move
The first hiccup in our well-conceived plan was a change in destination. “Shanghai isn’t an option anymore,” Alex told me one day, mere weeks before our scheduled departure. “But we can go to London if we want!”
Lesson one in moving abroad: Learn to be flexible. The corporate redirect wasn’t so drastic in the end—we were both more than happy to go to England. Plus, neither one of us had cracked open our Mandarin books.
Thinking that we were still leaving for a year, at most, we packed up our apartment and moved nearly everything we owned into a long-term storage facility in New Jersey, where the rates were significantly cheaper than in Brooklyn. We only took with us what we could fit into four giant duffel bags that could be checked on the plane—sweaters were a priority, summer-wear not so much.
This made financial sense in the short-term—we saved money by not shipping an entire household overseas, and many flats in London could be leased with furniture. The tradeoff was saying a tearful goodbye to our things, not knowing when we’d be able to use that KitchenAid stand mixer again.