There is a certain level of uncertainty that is a part of expat life. This is usually filed under the issue of employment. As I’ve mentioned in previous expat posts, when you move abroad as an expat, you are there to work. So what happens when your contract runs out, or your company starts to downsize and no longer needs you, or you can’t find any other work. Well it is at that point, whether you are ready or not, that you will have to move.
Sometimes notice of this move comes with enough time to prepare. Other times, short notice is given, leaving very little time to arrange the logistics of the move, let alone mentally process what is actually happening.
When I left the UK I knew it was coming and I thought I had prepared but there were still things I wish I had done differently. Leaving Qatar was a whirlwind and I definitely left without processing the move and missing out on experiences I wanted. But third time is a charm right? We knew we would be leaving Singapore. And so, I approached that departure very differently.
I am hoping by sharing what I have learned, it can help others out there that are preparing for another expat move. Here’s what I did differently.
The Bucket List
The bucket list is exactly what it sounds like, only in your host country. It is basically a few activities or places you really want to visit before you go. For me, leaving Singapore left me with a huge bucket list. I wanted to have tea at the Raffles hotel, visit as many rooftop patios as possible, sit by the pool on the weekends and take a bike ride down East Coast Park (to name a few). But mostly I wanted to leave with these great memories, and not that feeling that I had missed out. And so we set out to live our last few months to the fullest. This also included visiting a few places in South East Asia that I knew would get pushed further down my travel list when I left the region.
The key point to remember when executing the bucket list is to keep the list reasonable. For example, I really wanted to squeeze one last trip away in Malaysia before leaving. However, it would have made for a stressful few days in Singapore before leaving, so we skipped it. When we left Qatar I wanted to do three things before leaving. Sadly, I ended up doing none. But I wish I had been a bit more reasonable with my list and perhaps just narrowed it down to one thing which could have been more achievable.
My Favourite Places
Similar to the bucket list, visiting your favourite places one last time can help to say goodbye to a place. Again picking a reasonable amount of spots, and taking photos definitely help. For me it was the Marina Bay area that I was really going to miss in Singapore. It is just such a beautiful spot. I spent as much time as I could and took plenty of photos of the place. When I left London I wish I had taken more photos around the Southbank. It was always a special spot for me. But having lived in a place for so long, I sort of forgot to play tourist and enjoy my favourite places in London before I left.
Ok this might be a bit cheesy but when I travel I really like to have a little something to remind me of my time somewhere. Usually this is in the form of a fridge magnet but otherwise it is usually art work. When I left London, I had nothing that reminded me of my time there. No pictures of London, no fridge magnets, no art work. And that made my move to the desert a little tough. I wish I had a few momentos of my time in London. The same happened in Qatar. Although I did actually try very hard to hunt down some Arabic calligraphy art work, I ended up leaving the region with no sweet reminders. And that is something I regret. Luckily for me, when leaving Singapore, a friend gifted me with a beautiful decorative plate with Singapore’s iconic landmarks on it. It was perfect and will be a great addition to my home when we set up shop.
I know this is an obvious one but it sneaks up on you. It can also be really overwhelming and draining as you are also trying to arrange moving logistics. So I would say, plan ahead and stick to the days you allocate for catching up and saying goodbye. I always find that near the end, I arrange a goodbye thing, and some people can’t make it and want to catch me separately before I go. Whilst I really do appreciate the effort, at times it was just too much as I was trying to juggle so many other admin duties around seeing people for the last time.
The Last Night
So my secret tip for the last night in a country you once called home. Stay in a hotel! There is a reason I do this. When you have leave a country, you are most likely living your last few days like a student. Camping out with the bare necessities as everything else has been shipped, sold or thrown out. You then have to hand over your keys and leave the premises. I’ve never really liked the idea of handing over my keys and heading straight for the airport. I did it once when I left Doha and it was horrible. I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed.
When we left the UK we stayed in a hotel near the airport and just relaxed the night before and the morning of. Taking stock of what had happened in the last few weeks and what was going to happen in the weeks to come. Leaving Singapore was the same. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, enjoyed a stunning pool (the last time for a long time) and played tourist that day. It was a much nicer way to leave the city than heading straight to the airport after returning our keys.
All you do is talk, talk, talk
Throughout the wind down to leaving, hubby and I talked a lot about how we were feeling about the move. Neither one of us wanted to move. Yet we both knew this move would good for us. Some days we would have a ‘when we get to Canada’ chat, which consisted of listing all the things we should/would/could do when we arrived in Canada. Other days were filled with ‘I’ll miss X the most when we leave here’ chat. It was quite possible for us to have both chats within one week or even one weekend. Nevertheless, the important part was that we talked. It prepared us for what was about to happen. I would highly recommend talking about how you feel about your upcoming move. Either with your partner or friends and family.
I would also stress the importance of talking about an upcoming move with children. If anything I would say it is more important to ensure these chats occur for children moving. Talking will help children conceptualise in their mind what is happening, and give them the time to mentally prepare. And it won’t take just one talk. For example, when I was leaving my gorgeous preschoolers, I told them I wasn’t going to be their teacher the following year about 2 months before we were going to break for the summer holidays. Most of them did not understand what was happening. I would still hear them talk about seeing me next year. So every week at least once we talked about changes to come and how we felt about it. By the end of the year the only one in tears was me, thankfully. The children were ready.
Did it work?
Well, I had a good proper cry in the toilets at Changi Airport before I boarded my plane. However, all in all, I was OK. I think had I not prepared for the move doing the above, I would be sitting in Canada desperately wanting to get back on a plane. The thought only crosses my mind when I get cold or when it’s really hot and I wish we still had our pool. But those feelings will pass as we get more accustomed to our life in Canada.
Moving countries is really tough for many reasons, be it for brighter prospects like a new job to the unexpected events. But you’ll always cherish these experiences. And hopefully, some of the above advice will help prepare for the next move.
Are you an expat that had a leave a place you loved? How did you handle your move?
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I wish I have read this five years ago when I left Hawaii.My work visa does not work out that I had to leave in a short notice, and I was not prepared for it. I wish I could stay in a hotel somewhere near the beach for my last night there but I did not. Instead, I did a train trip on the mainland USA from the east to west three months before I leave the USA for good. I did not know I will leave after three months, but somehow had this instinct that I will leave this place soon.
Because I was not mentally prepare for the move, I cried everyday for six months wishing I can get back on the plane to Hawaii. Time move us on, and as you said in the end, the feeling get to pass. I still miss Hawaii and the USA from time to time, but I know there are reasons for me to leave and I am now very happy at where I am now.
Thanks for this great post and I hope I will never move away again – Julie
Thanks for sharing Julie. It really is hard to leave a place you love. I am slightly surprised I have not yet burst into tears about leaving Singapore. I’m hoping I got it all out my system before I left. It’s always easier to leave somewhere you are not too fond of. If I ever have to leave any place again, I’ll definitely be repeating these tips as it definitely helped me process what was going on. I hope you don’t have to move any time soon as well!
I hope you wont burst into tears like me, and you had really prepared for this move. Toronto is beautiful in the summer isn’t it? I hope we both can find home there.