Thursday, 16 February 2012

10 Survival Tips For Changing Your Life

Image thanks to jennifer

This riveting (I was hooked from first word to last!) and insanely useful survival guide for changing your life comes from the lovely Claire, you can visit her at If you would like to guest-post on Charade, it would make my day to hear from you! Drop me a line:

Have you ever clung onto something that may not have been very good for you? 

I certainly have. When I initially went to university at eighteen, I wasn’t very sure about what I wanted to study, or “what I wanted to be when I grow up”. So I took what I thought was a responsible choice and enrolled into the Law course, promising myself that I’d give it a year and then decide whether I loved it or not. Four years later, I was still in the clutches of the same course, and hating almost every minute of it.

Something had to give. I was at a point of utter despair. So I finally took the leap. I looked beyond my tiny home country’s shores (I’m from Malta) and planned out possible escape routes to lead me to what I was truly yearning for: a radical change in my life.

Long story short: I moved to England to study History (my true love) at Master’s level (and at a fantastic university to boot!). Yes, I warned you. It was quite a radical change from the humdrum life I had become used to at home. (The lowdown: in Malta, there’s just one university, and most students still live with their parents – yep, I was one of those too.)

Suddenly, I found myself packing a bursting suitcase (which included my pillow and favourite soft-toy, obviously) and stepping onto a plane which led me to my new life in the United Kingdom. It was all very scary. There was more than one moment where I wished I could simply stop all the change and take back my ambitious plans. The first day there, I felt unbearable fear and dread. My room was tinier than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t know the location of any university or college buildings. It was all very overwhelming to say the least.

We all encounter similarly terrifying periods in our lives; some are through our own conscious choice, and some are thrust upon us. The plunge of radically changing your life – where you live, how you live – is, essentially, a great leap out of your comfort zone. Despite this being very scary and intimidating, such change can invigorate your body and mind, and can ultimately increase your overall happiness, independence, and sense of adventure! (All very important things to have.)

Before embarking on this quest, I was fortunate enough to source a bunch of great advice from family, friends, and bloggers, of course! Megan is the queen of excellent, insightful, meaningful advice about making your life amazing, and I found many of her posts to be incredibly helpful (especially because she herself has lived and studied in a place which is not her home country).

The following are a compilation of the best survival tips for changing your perception of fear, taking hold of your life, and surviving in a completely new environment:

1. Have the right attitude 
It’s not always possible to put on a brave face, but fostering the right mind-set about your long-term and short-term goals is essential. From the very first moment of taking the decision to change your life to (for example) study abroad, keep your endpoint and ambitions in mind for on-the-go encouragement. And once you’re well into your radical change, keep thinking positively: I find that getting involved in student societies and other university-related activities really keeps me happily busy and content.

2. Budget
Once you’re out in the big-bad-world, your relationship with money has to take on a new (more mature) level. Look up budgeting tips online, make sure that you have everything that’s required to set up a bank account (especially if you’re moving from one country to another), and discover whether you can elicit any further sources of income (such as sponsorships, funding, or finding a part-time job alongside your academic duties).

3. Flex your culinary skills 
This was a toughie for me. I had resisted any form of basic culinary knowledge for years, but when you’ve plunged into a lifestyle where your parents are no longer around to make your meals, you need to learn to feed yourself. Compile a list of healthy, hearty meals to dip into whenever you’re peckish. Start practising way before you actually need to prepare meals completely solo, so you allow yourself some trial-and-error time.

4. Be street smart
In a different environment (or even a different country), you’re bound to be unaware of the “dodgy places” in your new neighbourhood. Speak to your landlord/landlady about these issues (ideally before you even decide to move in). Apart from these sorts of smarts, you’ll also want to create a little “self-help kit” for yourself while you’re settling in. This could include useful phone numbers (emergency, ambulance, police, an Indian takeaway place – vital!), some basic First Aid supplies, essential toiletries, and friends’ or neighbours’ details.

5. Ask for help 
Please don’t be afraid to do this. Societies everywhere have so many institutions and entities in place that are (mostly) designed to aid anyone who needs guidance in a variety of instances. If you’re at a college or university, then this is even truer, since you’ll find a number of sources for support, such as counselling and career guidance. You can even simply chat to a classmate for some student-to-student tips.

6. Prepare for language problems 
If you cannot speak the main language of the new place in which you’ll be living, then you’d better start easing yourself into it as quickly as possible. You can easily make a head-start with online guides and courses (take a look at Megan's article on How to Learn a Language for Free). Alternatively, you might need to brush up on your new language of instruction if you’re not as proficient as you’d like to be. For example, most English-speaking universities offer Academic English lessons which can be exceptionally useful.

7. Explore your new environment
Living in a new place is always an exciting mini-voyage of discovery. First, pinpoint all the important places: grocery store, coffee shop, and health centre/doctor/clinic. Then make sure to devote a day or two each week for exploring different parts of your new town, and relish in the differences between your old home and your new one.

8. Appreciate your new academic environment
If you’ve moved to a new place for studying purposes, then you’ll also be faced with a new academic environment. Don’t fall into a huff about how your old university was miles better. Every new school has its own charm, and you’re bound to find certain facilities to be exponentially better than what you’d been previously used to.

9. Get people-skilled
Even if you’re usually pretty shy, it’s almost impossible to get through the first few weeks of a new course or job without speaking to a few people. During my first English Freshers’ Week, being surrounded by scores of strangers actually urged me to randomly introduce myself to similarly-alone students. The classic “what do you study?” or “which is your college?” questions will always get the ball rolling, and you’ll have made a new friend in no time at all.

10. Develop a renewed sense of adventure
You’re in a completely different place, and while you might have moments where you’ll feel homesick and aching for the familiarity of your native country, you’ve also got a million and one new adventures just waiting to be enjoyed in your newly-adopted home. Get out and enjoy every bit of it. It’s what life is all about.

Have you survived living abroad? Changed your life in any other way? Trying to muster the courage to take the leap? Share your story with us! An don't forget to go and say hello to Claire.


Jacques René Zammit said...

Great post Claire! Still remember your first law course days... glad you shifted to brighter studies in the end!

clairecommando said...

Thanks ever so much Jacques =) I'm actually still considering a possible career in law... but it's only one of my options right now! And living and studying abroad has just burst open my mind. It's very nice to be in a place where I'm always excited about the future, as well as the present.

Ellen said...

Great to hear about similar university experiences to mine and I can totally relate to the scariness of moving to a new city but it's also great to hear from a native Maltese because I went to a wedding there in December and fell in love with both the place and the people! Will you be going back one day? xx

Emily Lynn said...

I just moved to Amsterdam from the United States to study! This post is so helpful and relatable for me. I also packed my pillow, haha it's important! I've also noticed that when you don't know anyone, it's a lot easier to come out of your shell. Thanks for this post!

Vir said...

i'm moving in with my 85years old grandma who's not that happy about it -even tho im quiet and well behaved. she's also sure im gonna get killed within the first few days .like every old lady i guess.
it's gonna be tough
believe me when i say i needed to read this post! thanks!

clairecommando said...

Ellen - I have no clue! It's my "default" home, so if all else fails I'll be returning to Malta (and I DO love Malta... it's homely and lovely and has great food - and SEA EVERYWHERE) (I'm so glad you love it too) :) but I do hope to spend some more time living abroad... Probably in the UK :) Maybe for work, or a PhD (eek!) - but we'll see :)

Emily Lynn - Thanks so much! I'm really encouraged to hear that you have had similar experiences - yes, the pillow is very important! I hope you have a great time in Amsterdam - such a lovely city. Your blog is really lovely too :)


Halley said...

I moved to New Zealand from East coast USA by myself and I really enjoyed it. I'm still in NZ but now I find that living abroad is harder than moving half-way across the world.

Rachel said...

I aspire and dearly hope to go study in a foreign university some time in the not-too-distant future, hearing from a fellow Malteser makes it seem all the more achievable, and, well, fun and exciting!

Amber-Rose Thomas said...

Well, wow.
Your writing is truly fantastic Claire. I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for you in the future. Best of luck with your studies.


clairecommando said...

Halley - travelling and living abroad is always alarmingly good for you in the way it teaches you about yourself and the world :) Well done you for making such admirable moves! x

Rachel - Go for it :D x!

Amber-Rose - Thanks for the lovely comment :) xx

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