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What Nobody Ever Tells You About Moving Abroad

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Any of you who have been through one of those really difficult, almost soul-crushing transitions in life – whether job, relationship or geographical - those tough times that nobody really talks about out loud, unless they’re brave – like really brave – will fully appreciate this interview with the lovely Aussie life and wellness coach at Practise Glow, Sarah Tamburrini.

On a mission to help gorgeous women unleash their glowing self through ditching diets,  eating and enjoying food again  (dessert included)  and breaking up with their inner Skinny Girl, it’s not surprising that this is one of the most honest, heartfelt interviews I’ve read in a long time. Sarah’s openness about the testing emotional challenges that she faced moving from her native Australia to a country so different from home will warm your heart and soothe your soul.

So if you’ve ever thought of leaping across an ocean and want the full story (the good, bad and the ugly) or if you’re feeling the loneliness traversing through one of life’s big transitions at the moment, this advice-packed interview is a must-read.

Over to you, Sarah…

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Tell Us A Bit About You…

Hi there, beauties! I’m Sarah – a talkative, high energy Virgo, who’s wild for the sounds of the ocean, unleashing my creativity in the kitchen and travelling the world. I’m crazy (in a great way!) about food, especially avocados, fresh coconuts and cashew nuts. Oh and I love nothing more than munching away on a delicious raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ with friends and cuddling on the couch with my partner watching a good documentary (or a rom com!!)

My biggest passion of all is working as a life and wellness coach. I’m a diet rebelle + body love warrior + food freedom seeker and my work centers around guiding and supporting women to stop being crazy about food, so they can enjoy a kick arse life.

Whether through my 1:1 coaching, unapologetically honest blog posts or my upcoming ebook, I love creating spaces where women can ditch food fears, stop fad dieting and learn to accept and unapologetically love themselves now. 

Tell Us About Your Move Abroad, Sarah. Where Did You Move To And Why?

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My partner and I moved from Sydney, Australia to Singapore in April 2014. I will never forget the day we were joking about moving to South East Asia, mainly for my partner’s career prospects, but also because we thought it would be fun to be more central. I had never really lived too far from the ‘nest’ though – moving from Melbourne to Sydney for my own career was a significant move for me! But let me tell you: words have power, because it wasn’t long until we actually did move to Singapore.

When the time came to move, I remember being far too busy packing up my life, my house and saying goodbye to my friends and a city that had stolen my heart to fathom what exactly was happening. I had no brain space to process where I was moving to nor get a feel for what to expect (I didn’t even know that Singapore was one of the most humid countries around – just to illustrate how unprepared I was)!

Almost 18 months on and we are still in Singapore, with our sights set on the next part of the world we will add to places we call ‘home’.

What Were The Hardest Aspects About The Move?

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I can honestly say that moving abroad was one of the hardest and most painful times of my life. It made me feel incredibly vulnerable, fearful and scared. For many people, these reasons alone explain why this kind of move just isn’t something they would do.

Moving abroad was the catalyst for some pretty radical lifestyle changes that I hadn’t foreseen.

To paint the picture properly, I was in the midst of getting help for disordered eating, which was being carefully managed by my supportive nutritionist and naturopath. But when I moved to Singapore I felt like I was hit with a sand bag: many of my favourite foods just weren’t around (or if they were they were incredibly expensive – I like to call this extra expense the ‘expat tax’!!) I didn’t realize just how much this move was going to crack me wide open (especially when I didn’t think I could crack open any more!)

Every little thing, even the seasons, were different. It’s one long, hot day in Singapore, so rituals I was used to like snuggling up under a fluffy doona with an electric blanket, exercising outside with a crisp breeze, splashing away in the ocean, suddenly disappeared from grasp. I felt naked.

But what really hurt – aside from the food, the weather and the creature comforts – was feeling so segregated from my friends and family. I could no longer just jump on a plane and be ‘home’ in a matter of hours. It was only then that I realised just how much my emotional regulation and happiness is dictated by things external to me. So when I found myself in a position without these things, you can imagine how raw and vulnerable I felt.

What Caused Such Bad Homesickness?

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I’ve come to realize that I’ve always been a ‘homebody’ and have really enjoyed staying ‘safe’ in a predictable environment. Clear rules, clear boundaries and a heck of a lot of control. I come from a very involved family and I suffered knowing I was so far away from them.

Going through disordered eating helped me to break free of control, predictability and rules and to learn how to live life without the need for these ‘rules’. So my issues with eating proved to be one of the greatest teachers in my life – helping me to apply what I was learning to ‘unlearn’ some less helpful habits that I’d developed.

How Did You Handle The Homesickness?

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At first I didn’t do this too well – simply, because I wasn’t ready to. And that was ok. It took me a long time to realise that it is perfectly ok to lean into my emotions and to have the space to grieve. There were many things to be sad about – missing out on seeing friends’ newborn babies, being there for my grandmother when she was in hospital, even being at my friends’ weddings.

As my coaches said to me, fear is put in its place through action. So action is one way I was able to positively move forward – in my own time (which I don’t feel guilty about). I was so lucky I had a supportive partner who watched me cry, who showered me with positive love and praise and who delicately heard every single word of complaint or otherwise with open ears and a loving heart.

What Advice Would You Give To Someone Really Missing Home?

I strongly recommend the following:

Get Support

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Whether a coach, psychologist, counsellor or kinesiologist – whatever floats your boat. You do not need to go this alone. 

Prioritise Self-Care 

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I discovered that I didn’t have to do monumental things in life to feel good. In fact the smallest and simplest activities were often the most impactful. Like enjoying good quality chocolate, drinking a herbal tea in the sun before heading to work, rolling out my yoga mat and practicing in the stillness of the early morning or rubbing a gorgeous coconut oil body butter on my skin after a shower. Whatever it is you love, do more of that. It seriously works.

Be Gentle On Yourself 

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Lean into your emotions and don’t be afraid to cry, to hurt or to be angry. I found that when I stopped suppressing my feelings and ‘felt’ them without trying to cover them up and play ‘happy’, I was able to finally start to make traction out of the stuck position I was in.

Find Some Friends 

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I did all sorts of things to find friends from meetup.com, to facebook groups, to going to conferences and meetings… but all in good time. First I had to work on opening my mind up to the changes and adjusting before I could meet other people. So when you’re ready, be creative and take advantage of any social opportunities you can.

Work On The Ego 

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I really had to work on the FOMO (fear of missing out) that was building up in my head around what was happening back at home versus what was really happening. When I travelled home I realized that all the action that I thought that I was missing out on wasn’t actually nearly as fast paced and vibrant as I thought.

How Have You Grown From The Experience?

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I have certainly realised that my happiness is now not as heavily dictated by external things as it once was. I feel so much more comfortable, self compassionate and loving in my skin now. The experience of being stripped bare and ‘returning’ home has made me so aware of my potential strength. I see this experience as a courage reference point by which I now have this incredible array of evidence to look back on and say ‘look at what you have busted through’. And if I can do it once, I know I can most certainly do it again and again.

How Has The Experience Changed Your View Of Life / Future Plans?

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I can hand on heart say that I value and appreciate travel so much more now. I love getting out and about, exploring and living in a more central location has certainly fed that appetite. I am really looking forward to living in other countries in the future and experiencing more that this beautiful world has to offer.

What Would You Do Differently Looking Back?

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I honestly have never pondered this question because it just isn’t an option. I prefer to ask myself ‘what have I learned that I can apply to the next similar situation’ – to which I refer to previous comments on knowing that having moved once and survived, I can certainly do so again. Being a creature of reflection, I can certainly go into future moves now with a road map of sorts around what worked and what might need a bit more of a ‘do it differently’ approach.

The main thing that I would do differently is to take a few trips beforehand to suss the place out – work out a hip area to live in and certainly have a say over the apartment (my lovely partner hasn’t a forte in selecting visually pleasing décor!!)

If You Could Give One Piece Of Advice To Someone Thinking Of Moving Abroad, What Would It Be?

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Understand that there will be difficult times and that is ok. Life is not all about having a ‘chin up’ approach. Be kind to yourself and take simple action to make your life that little bit brighter and more self loving.

And If You’d Like More Where That Came From….

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Sarah’s Free Ebook ‘Be Free- A heart centered guide to changing your relationship with food and your body’ is now out, so jump onto her mailing list to get your copy first!

The Travel Revolution: Moving Abroad: China

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Have you ever fantasised about moving abroad but feel apprehensive about taking the leap?

With so many places to choose from whether Europe, Indonesia or America, considering a move abroad can feel as scary as it can exciting. From assessing the size of a place, the possibility of finding a job or the likelihood of finding good friends far from home, upping sticks can seem an idyllic idea laden with risk. But it doesn’t have to be.

That’s where Gazing Girl comes in.

In a series of short interviews with guys and girls who have moved abroad to Sweden, Spain, New Zealand and beyond, we hope to give you the confidence to travel where your heart takes you.

Next stop, China! Over to you, Laura

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Can You Tell Us A Bit About You?

My name is Laura and I am currently a teacher at an International School in Guangzhou located in Southern China. I’m in my final and fourth year living in the Middle Kingdom and I’m about to embark on a new challenge in Seoul, South Korea.

Before moving here I studied Politics and French at Bath then returned  to London to become a primary school teacher. After 5 years in London, I embarked on my new life here in Asia.

What Made You Want To Travel?

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I have always had wanderlust, moving to Nepal when I was 18 and then France in my early twenties. I seized every opportunity to travel and after becoming very ill in my mid-twenties and having to take a substantial amount of time off work, I decided it was as good a time as any to move somewhere new.

I currently live in Guangzhou in Southern China but I spent the previous 3 years in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China and home to over 20 million people, the incredible Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, hutongs, Ai Wei Wei, peking duck, dumplings, bicycles and many other great wonders. A city of extremes, winter temperatures often drop to -20 degrees celsius and summer highs reach a very hot 38. 

What Were Your First Impressions of China?

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When I first arrived everything was so fun and interesting I didn’t really notice the change. I was very lucky and met very good friends early on that I still speak to daily. Any change is easy once you have that support network around you.

Hitting the expat supermarket for home comforts also helps with those days where you just don’t fancy the local cuisine and crave home comforts.

How Has Living In China Compared To Your Expectations?

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China is everything I expected and nothing like I expected at the same time. Anthony Bourdain summed up China perfectly when he said: “One thing I know about China is I will never know China – it’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep, there is simply not enough time.’

I didn’t have a set view of what China was or who the Chinese people were beyond knowing that China was a Communist state, they produce lots of cheap goods, they eat rice and like Kung Fu and Pandas.

However, I’ve never seen any Kung Fu happening out the blue, Pandas don’t roam the streets and whilst China is supposedly a Communist country, it does in fact seem to be the most dynamic capitalist country on earth. I’d go as far to say shopping is something of a fetish here with intense levels of consumerism seeing people shopping at all hours of the day and night.

The Chinese also love to eat – eating is probably the favourite national pastime.

What Are Your Favourite Aspects of China?

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China’s diversity is amazing. There are many languages and dialects spoken, different ethnicities, cultures, religions and most importantly, food. The stuff you get at the Chinese takeaway in the UK is yet to be seen on a plate here. I had no idea how good Yunnanese or Xinjiang food was before I came here and I still don’t think you can find these regional specialities anywhere in London. Plus dumplings. They are amazing, boiled, steamed or fried. Simply the best.

As well as the food, I love the daily craziness you see. Anything goes! On top of that, the taxis are cheap so there’s no need for a night bus, it is safe to walk around late at night and I love my ayi (housekeeper), the markets, the dumplings, the history, the landscape and once you get to know them, the people.

I also really like how the family unit is still so important here. Grandparents take care of their grandchildren and you often see family banquets lasting hours with everyone eating, sharing and talking together.

What Have Been The Highlights?

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Without doubt, the people I’ve met. I’ve made some incredible friendships and met some truly inspirational people along the way. And of course the opportunity to experience another culture and travel has also been incredible.

The opportunity to travel within Asia and further afield is an obvious highlight. I’ve travelled to places that I wouldn’t ever have thought I’d be able to and seen and experienced many different cultures and foods. I’ve also been shown unbelievable kindness and realised how lucky and privileged I am to experience all these amazing things. 

What Have Been The Biggest Challenges?

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The biggest challenge is missing things back home – not being able to be there for loved ones when they are having a bad time and equally not being able to share the special times face to face.

To all my friends whose weddings I have missed and whose babies I’ve not yet met, I am sorry – I love you all.

In terms of challenges on a day to day level, I’d have to say one of the most difficult is the open toilets all lined up next to each other with no door, no divider, just a hole… all I can say is that the first time is the worst. My top tip to combat this is never wear a jumpsuit in the hutongs of Beijing (narrow lanes or alleyways) as you will ultimately end up half naked in an open bathroom for all the local grannies to see.

On an administrative level, it can be frustrating trying to get simple things done as everything needs a red stamp on it and you often get told things are impossible. Often things will end up being resolved and you will get that elusive red stamp on your paper but patience and perseverance is a must.

Finally, the language is a challenge and I’d recommend anyone considering making a move out here to learn it on arrival as it will make your life so much easier.

What Do You Hate Most About China?

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No matter how long I live here I cannot accept the spitting because it’s not just the spitting, it’s the hawking up of the spit before the spit that’s the most astonishing part.

I also get frustrated by a lack of politeness and awareness of others around you (but this might a British thing).

I also find public defecation an issue.

What Is The Biggest Difference Between China And The UK?

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One of the biggest differences is that there is a lot less diversity in China compared to the UK. Whilst you will see many foreigners in expat areas in bigger cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, if you travel to smaller cities you will see only Chinese nationals and hear Mandarin, Cantonese or a regional dialect. This is a pretty big contrast to the UK where you will see people from all over the world and hear a real mix of languages.

That said, I think China’s beginning to change in this respect. As China becomes a global superpower and the Chinese travel more often, more diverse cuisine will be on offer and the number of immigrants will likely increase.

How Easy Is It To Make Friends?

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Making friends was the easy part. Given how challenging it can be living in China, people are drawn together and they support and help each other very readily. People here are open, friendly and refreshingly down to earth. It’s the only place I’ve been to where it’s normal to ask for someone’s number when you’ve just met them.  As a result, China is a very sociable place to live and people are always asking you to do things and go places even if you have only met them once or twice.

How Easy Is It To Find A Job In China?

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Most people obtain employment before moving to China. This offers the best package to people making the move as housing, medical stuff, flights and often schooling is included in this package. Your employer will support you in obtaining a visa and you have to fulfil quite strict criteria in order to obtain one.

What Is The Cost Of Living In China?

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China is as cheap or expensive as you like.

If you want to live cheaply, you can shop in the local market, take the bus, share your apartment, drink local beer, eat street food and live on very little money.

Alternatively, you can shop at high end supermarkets, brunch in 5 star hotels, party at the W Hotel, live in a serviced apartment and buy every Apple product under the sun. I jest.. A higher quality of life is actually more affordable and accessible here than the UK. That said, the cost of living is certainly becoming more expensive with China’s ever increasing prosperity.

How Expensive Is It To Fly To China?

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You can fly here for as little as £550 return if you are lucky. Direct return flights usually cost around £800 – 1000 depending on the time of year.

How Does Homesickness Affect You?

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Smart phones have nearly made homesickness a thing of the past, with Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype available at the touch of a button.

On a personal level, I make sure I call my Mum every week and send photos of any adventures so there’s a sense of closeness and sharing.

My brother lives in Los Angeles so the time difference can be a challenge but as with most things in life, you find a way.

On the plus side, many of my friends and family like to travel. I spent last Christmas in Myanmar with old friends from Melbourne and Chinese New Year in Thailand with my bestie from school so I am very spoilt, really.

Obviously there are still days where I get homesick, though. We have found the best solution is to watch English films in bed with friends, drink some tea and eat some chocolate – it does get better.

What Would You Have Done Differently Looking Back?

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I don’t think I would have chosen to do anything differently. I’ve learnt from my mistakes and have found that China has made me stronger and more resilient to challenges I might face.

What’s Your Advice To Someone Thinking Of Moving Abroad?

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For me, moving abroad was the right thing to do. And whilst I found it easy, not everyone does. You will know in your gut if it is right for you. 

So my advice is – follow your instinct, try and talk to someone already living in the country that you are considering moving to. If it feels right, just do it and don’t look back. You might just find it’s the best decision you ever make.

And as for living in China, specifically, hire a bike, cycle around and get to know the city like a local!

What’s Next For You?

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After 4 years in China, next stop is Seoul in Korea – the “Soju Adventure” (Soju is Korea’s most popular beverage consisting of ethanol and water).

I’m excited by the new challenge, the new culture and the new language. I’m already planning on dumping all my Apple products at the airport in favour of Samsung so I fit in and I will be acquiring a love of Kimchi (a Korean vegetable dish), K-Pop (Korean Pop) and all things barbecue.

How Can We Contact You?

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You can contact me on Facebook if you wish. I’m the only person with my name in the world so I am pretty easy to locate!

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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‘Bahala Na’. It’s not so much a quote as a Filipino saying… It means all things shall pass and in the meantime, life shall be lived.

Tell Us Something About You That We Don’t Know?

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I was once a judge in a talent contest whilst in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. I had no idea what was going on.

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