So you want to move abroad?
I’ve had a lot of people email me in the last few weeks with questions about moving abroad and how to forge a design career overseas. As I’m Australian, this post is obviously more tailored towards my friends Down Under, however many points still apply to other countries. I’ve broken it down to the most common questions that people ask, and what my responses have been.
Why (did you move)?
It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad. I’m not exactly sure why or when I decided to do it, it’s just something I knew I had to tick off my forever-growing to-do list. Part of me just wanted to prove I could—to those who sniggered when I spoke of sailing to the other side of the sea—but mainly to prove it to myself.
It’s not that home was bad, in fact I was living in my favourite area of Sydney with my two best friends. I loved my job, family and friends and it’s where my whole world as I knew it had always existed. I was comfortable and that was the problem. I knew it was time for change.
How (did you go about it)?
Initially I went about it by trying to win it. Before graduating I had entered a competition called Newstar which was through the AgIdeas Design conference I attended for years. The prizes were travelling scholarships and I knew winning one meant getting at least a pinky toe in the door. I ended up winning the Fabrica Award, which was a two week trip to Italy, working at the communications research centre. I was under the impression that it was a trial period where I would be assessed, then based on my performance offered a one year scholarship to live and work there in Treviso.
It was not exactly as I imagined. I arrived to find out the Visual Communications department had shut down a month ago and they were restructuring how the entire facility operated. It was a very bizarre time to be there and I felt very out of place. I was put in the Colors Magazine department, but they had very little work for me and it was pretty obvious that they were not expecting me.
After a very confusing two weeks, one thing was very clear: I did not want to move to Italy. At the time I had a friend living in Berlin and tagged a week onto my trip to visit her. Feeling pretty disheartened from the previous fortnight, Berlin was exactly what I needed. It was spent riding all over town, hopping from tourist attractions to bars to museums to art exhibitions. The city had so much to offer and I realised how drastically I had changed since being an 18-year-old drinking my way across Europe.
When I got back to Sydney I was itchy. Something wasn’t quite right and while I knew Italy wasn’t the answer I started thinking more and more about Berlin. I had a few friends there and met a bunch of great people, who conveniently happened to be in the design industry. A year later I was flying back to Berlin, only this time with a job and without a return ticket.
When (should I do it)?
This is the hardest part of moving to another country. Everyone likes the idea of living abroad but when the reality hits of what you’re about to do kicks in, you start having doubts. “Next year” and “someday” become common phrases and suddenly you’re signing a full-time contract because there’s nothing more appealing than the stability of a good salary. You decide now is not a good time, and the cycle of “next year” and “someday” continues.
The truth is there is never going to be a right time to pack up your life and move to the other side of the world. You have to make like Nike and just do it!
What (can I do to prepare)?
Firstly, book a flight. Nothing kicks your butt into gear like giving yourself a non-refundable deadline. Once you do this you can work backwards and start moving the chess pieces.
Secondly, do your research! Different countries have different rules regarding work visas and sometimes you can’t be in the country when you are submitting all the paperwork. Research the industry where you want to move and understand how the system works. How difficult is it to get a job there? Do you know anyone already? Do most designers freelance or have full-time contracts? Do companies go through agents or are you going to be buying a lot of cappuccinos for people?
I was super lucky and had a friends couch to crash on until I found my own place—but thinking about where you’re going to live and how hard it is to rent an apartment is also a pretty important factor to consider. Do you speak the native language? Because while “everyone speaks English in Berlin”, have you tried registering your residence at the Bürgeramt with a form that’s completely in German? Do you know how to access your online banking when Google translate isn’t working? Do you even know how to find the ü on your non-German keyboard?
Thirdly, start tying up loose ends. All those half finished projects and favours for friends need to be wrapped up before you jet. When you arrive in your chosen country you are going to have a million other things to do, and the last thing you need is to be working on that logo for your cousins new scrapbooking business.
Who (can I turn to for help)?
This comes back to doing your research. Of course you can turn to friends and family for support, but who do you know that has already done it? Australians can be rather patriotic (ha!) and will answer a question or two if they are thought through and considered. This means if you can Google it, don’t email someone about it. Be as specific as possible—there’s nothing more annoying than receiving a vague-ass email questioning the meaning of life.
The truth is moving overseas isn’t that big a deal—it’s really just an airfare and some organising. It also doesn’t have to be this crazy, permanent decision that you need to commit to forever either. If you don’t like it, Australia will always be there. However if you want to at least try, my advice is to make it happen now! There are seven days in a week, but “someday” isn’t one of them.