December 10, 2012

How to Move to a Foreign Country. ~ Christine Martin

Six weeks ago, my husband and I moved to the small UNESCO town of Luan Prabang, Laos.

In a nutshell, we had been searching for the place to leave behind our teaching jobs in order to pursue our passions in yoga, writing, interior design and life coaching. A couple of one week trips to Luang Prabang hinted that this was where our experiment would take place.

This is a trend—what we’re doing. People are quitting their jobs left and right to do what they love, or at least like. We’re not pioneers. The 200 expats already living here are proof of that. However, it still feels large. On some days, we contemplate buying the first ticket back to California – to comfort and familiarity, the ability to drive right into a Trader Joe’s store for our favorite granola and almond milk, to enjoy dependable Internet in the place of our choosing, and to count on the systems we know how to deal with.

We knew this would not be easy—sliding into a vacation destination as a new home was unrealistic. Thankfully, we’ve had people share their nuggets of wisdom when most needed. Also, we’ve learned some on our own. These are with Laos in mind, but applicable to [insert dreamy spot to live in].

1. Day-to-day reality is not the same as the week you spent here on vacation.

Can you take a few hours to ride an elephant or explore the caves across the river? Sure. But, there is a marked difference once you have decided to make a once vacation spot the place you live. Things like finding work, figuring out how to pay electricity bills, and learning the visa process give your reality a different spin. There certainly are daily necessities that create routine: something existent in Los Angeles, Sao Paolo, or Luang Prabang.

Photo: Christine Martin

2. Leave expectations at the door.

Coming from Seoul, Korea, where we had lived the last four years, challenged our expectations for Laos. Obviously, the countries are vastly different, but we’ve caught ourselves making comparisons that are unreasonable. Luang Prabang has its own pace, value set and layered history. When coming into a new place, it is best to come from a place of curiosity and learning. Create your reality as you go along.

3. Culture shock is real.

I’ve experienced it time and again in the 11 years living overseas. Each time I seem surprised to feel it—as if I should be a pro by now. But, it seems that as humans we adapt to circumstances that when changed, require time to regroup in order to adapt again. Whether you’re in the “honeymoon” or “frustrated” phase of culture shock, understand that your feelings are normal and have a natural progression.

4. Respect.

This is a tangent of number two: by leaving expectations behind, you shift out of the mentality of how things should be to how things are. Coming into a culture other than one’s own is something best done with delicacy and respect. This seems like an obvious thing to keep in mind but it’s surprising how easy it is to be critical of things we can’t understand.

5. Use wide-eyed wonder.

Lead with your senses. Watch. Listen. Feel. Remember what makes where you are stand apart. When I am too much in my head, I have made it a habit of looking up. Following the hill laden skyline, seeing palm trees and facades of temples brings me back to the place of awe I discovered when I first arrived.

Moving to a new place is undoubtedly an opportunity for growth. Whether it is across the globe, to another state, or just down the street, there is something to be said about putting oneself in change. While impermanence may be a difficult concept to grapple with, it is the one thing that is certain in life. How we show up to change is a lesson that never tires.


Christine Martin has been an international educator for over ten years. She’s made her home in Colombia, Tunisia & Korea. Her passion is interior design/interior architecture and has recently completed certification in these areas. She enjoys travel, photography, food, yoga. She and her husband are making a huge life shift in October 2012, leaving their careers and moving to Laos where they hope to never wear mittens and coats again. You can find her on twitterHappy Impermanence (personal blog), or Somebody’s Home (interior design site).


Ed: Terri Tremblett

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