The following challenges of living abroad are all rooted in my experience of moving out to Kampala (Uganda) two years ago. There is no average week and what remains consistent is the resourcefulness necessary to operate effectively in a challenging environment. In my last blog I talked about my journey from graduating with a degree in Peace Studies to moving overseas to work in Uganda. In this article I focus on the five positive steps that I have learned make the experience enjoyable.
- You are Different; Embrace this, I had 23 years of being brought up British and as much effort as you make to assimilate into resident culture and life; there are always barriers and boundaries. This is not negative; the sooner you recognise and accept this the easier it will be. During two years in Kampala, I have learned some Luganda, been a bridesmaid for a traditional wedding, and enjoyed the food whilst still enjoying salads more than traditional foods and paying above-average costs for services and accommodation.
- Recognise your Limits; Moving to a new city is daunting, regardless of where it is, so being kind to yourself by planning your arrival and mitigating as many issues as possible is vital. Travel and health insurance should not be overlooked. Arriving the same week you start the new job, trying to organise legal working documents, opening a bank account, finding out where to buy food, trying to understand the exchange rate, and not understanding how to load MBs onto your phone is a lot to deal with in 7 days. Reach out to people when you need help, plan as best you can, and always have 25% more money available than you think you’ll need to help soften any unexpected bumps.
- Reward Trust; If a taxi driver, or a fruit vendor, or an employee at Immigration does a good job, thank them and continue to work with them. The offer of a few extra thousand Ugandan shillings ($1) to a boda-boda driver or taking a colleague to lunch is a really simple way to say thanks. This does not mean dropping cash every time someone smiles at you; tailor the bonus to the value of the support and/or service, and be aware that bribery is unacceptable.
- Plan Breaks; Working abroad means that a trip home may need six months of planning so don’t be afraid to flag this up with your employer when you arrive. The mental relief of knowing that a trip home has been planned for five months’ time can make all the difference to your performance at work and your ability to relax.
- There is No Normal; Everything you thought you knew? Forget it.
About the author
Emma Jones graduated from the University of Bradford in July 2013 and went on to complete an internship with the Student Union in January the following year. In May, 2014, she took up a posting in Kampala – Uganda to work as a Programme Assistant with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE). Since then, Emma has worked to support the peace and democracy programmes run by ACODE on national governance, regional peace and security, and public policy issues. Find her on LinkedIn.