Moving is an exciting time, but it is also a bit nerve-racking. You never know what the new “home” will look like. Will you click with the city? Will you make friends easily? Will you find a place fast? I moved out of my parents’ place when I went to university. My first “real” move was to Germany to start working in Finance. I found it really exciting when the moving company came to pack all my things, put my whole life in 15 boxes and unpacked them again a month later. I was single for a large part of my twenties and I started a career which involved a lot of moving across continents. Hence, I also moved a lot on my own. Moving to new cities on my own was one of the scariest things I have ever done.
When I moved to Germany, I started a job in Nuremberg. The city itself is not small, but it is not necessarily a place which attracts a lot of foreign talent in their mid-twenties. And those who moved, mostly arrived with their partners. (Side note: most of them were men and brought their wives. Only one female colleague of mine went on an expat delegation and her then partner actively made an effort to follow her.) The colleagues, while friendly, mostly had their “guy groups” and most of their wives quickly found each other as well. I was the odd one out. When I then moved to Shanghai, I knew that there would be a lot of people like me but there were other challenges – the language, a completely different culture and a city which is double the size of my entire home country.
I had just moved to Shanghai and the first two weeks had been really hectic – meeting my new team, starting with new projects while looking for a flat and sorting all the necessary admin tasks out at the same time. I had managed to find an apartment quite quickly and I had just spent my first night there. I wanted to use the weekend to unpack and wash my clothes. When I started the washing machine, I just heard a loud “pang” and suddenly everything was dark. Unfortunately, I had not checked where the electricity cabinet was hidden. I made my way through the dark apartment with my phone as a flashlight. I did not know anyone in the city yet, apart from my colleagues whose private contact details I did not have. I was all on my own, and I felt lonely.
If you move as a couple, some things are easier – one could stay in the apartment while the other one goes to the management office to get help. Or at least you do not sit in the dark all by yourself while you wait for technicians to arrive. But I could not just sit around in self-pity, I had to do something. I went downstairs to the management office and tried to explain what happened – in Mandarin Chinese. At this point in time, my Chinese was OK but explaining the technical features of a washing machine was beyond my language skills. The manager was unimpressed with my efforts, gave me a bored look, played on his phone. “Xingqiyi,” he said while he kept staring at his phone. “Monday?!!! I can’t sit in the dark for two days!” Moreover, no electricity also meant no heating. It was January and Shanghai did not have heating like we know it in central Europe. I had to heat with the air-conditioning and electric heaters. No electricity for two days would mean sitting in a freezing cold apartment. But the manager did not care. He turned away and focused on his phone again.
I had not noticed that somebody had been watching us the whole time. A lady, probably in her mid-forties, who worked as a cleaner for the building slowly moved towards me and patted me on the shoulder. She was mumbling something in a dialect I could not understand and pointed towards the lift. We went up to my apartment and she had a look at the washing machine. I explained everything to her and she helped me call the management company to send a technician. She even waited in the dark with me.
The electricity cabinet was hidden behind a set of paintings – the only painting I forgot to check… The lights were back on and thanks to the help of this kind lady, the landlord agreed to send a new washing machine the next day. When everybody left, I thanked her – and hired her as a housekeeper who worked for me throughout my stay in China.
After that, I became more confident. I knew that if I survived moving to China all on my own and getting sh*t done, I can do anything. Over time, I developed a system for every move – a kind of checklist. Once you have done it once or twice, it is quite repetitive and it does not really matter if you move to Munich or Hong Kong. Some tasks and specifics are different, but overall it is pretty much the same. Furthermore, my baggage decreased over time. In the literal sense – I got rid of a lot of things. Furthermore, I did not even buy certain things because I knew they would be a nightmare to ship to the next place. (I still regret not buying that beautiful turquoise cupboard in Shanghai…) My personal record was a cross-continent move with no more than two suitcases. Naturally, I now have accumulated way more than what fits into two suitcases, but I still try to limit unnecessary things. My emotional baggage has gotten smaller as well. I am still very nervous about house hunting and all other moving-related processes, but it does not freak me out as much as it did in the beginning.
Looking back, I am glad I had to go through the experience of moving across countries and even continents on my own. It made me stronger and it is definitely an experience and skillset I would never want to miss.
Have you moved abroad? What is your experience? Or, are you contemplating about moving on your own and want to know more? Let me know in the comments or get in touch via email or my social channels. I am happy to chat.