Moving is always stressful, whether it is down the block or halfway across the world. For those in the Foreign Service, moves happen more frequently — and at greater distances — than for most other people. We have the benefit of joining a ready-made community with support there to make settling into our new lives easier, from GSO helping with housing, furniture, and shipments to social sponsors and the CLO. All of this doesn’t mean that moving is easy, although I’ve found there are some things you can do to help yourself even more.
Get connected. If you are moving into your permanent residence immediately, find out if it is possible to have Internet installed prior to your arrival or the day you arrive. Especially if you are moving to a more remote post, the feeling of being connected to the rest of the world right away can make you feel less isolated — and your family and friends back home will be happy. Likewise, see if it is possible to have a sim card for an additional EFM/family mobile phone available right away: most direct hires will get a local phone right away, but I’ve found it makes me feel more comfortable venturing out on my own from the start if I have a way to get in touch, too.
Have calling cards. Before our last tour, I had cards made up for myself, and every time I give them out people say what a great idea they are. Having them when you arrive at your new post makes it easy to give out your contact information, with the caveat that you don’t actually want to put everything on the cards. To ensure the information is up-to-date, include your name and your email address. If you have kids, you can put their name and birth year as well. When you get to post, handwrite your local mobile number. This way, the cards are good for multiple moves and don’t depend on your kids being in a certain grade or you having the same phone number. There is a lot of good information you can include if you want, like social media links, websites, titles — or not! Websites like Zazzle and Etsy are great, easy places to have cards made up.
Set up playdates. If you have kids, you want them to feel comfortable as quickly as possible. Reach out to the CLO and/or your social sponsor before you arrive to see if you can find others with similarly-aged kids to set up playdates soon after arrival. This is especially helpful if you are arriving some time before the start of school, with potentially no easy way to make friends before the first day. Your kids will enjoy a friendly face or two at school and you may feel better knowing
Learn to count. Not all posts have foreign languages, and even if you are moving somewhere where the primary language is not English, you may not get any training ahead of time. If you are relocating to a country where they speak a different language, learning the basics will quickly help you feel more comfortable. Numbers, simple greetings, and asking important questions like the location of the bathroom and getting the check when dining out. Programs and apps like Mango and Duolingo are fun, easy ways to do this. Additionally, FSI offers distance learning classes as well as online Rosetta Stone access.
Hang those pictures. This can’t be done immediately — you have to wait until your permanent housing and, of course, you can’t hang things on the walls until you have things to hang, so you also must wait for your HHE to arrive. That being said, putting things on the walls as soon as you can goes a long way toward making your new house feel like a home!
Sarah E. Morrow is AAFSW’s Content Manager and she and her husband have served in Central Asia and Europe in their Foreign Service life so far. She blogs about the FS lifestyle and more at kitchencables.com.