Research, Relocation, and Resilience:

Moving 101

Essentials you need to know when preparing yourself for moving.

Text and graphics by Julia Kolodiazhnaia 

Illustrations by George Mathew

Editing by Ksenia Kuznetsova

- Embrace the emotional rollercoaster of moving to a new country

- Upon arrival to a new place, focus on covering your basic needs first and and gradually work towards optimisation

- Creating a sense of belonging by customising your surroundings is crucial as you navigate your new life

So, you have discussed your relocation with your future colleagues, the housing is booked, suitcases are packed, and even the flight is already behind you. Here it is - a new life in a new place! New experiences, exciting adventures, and, unfortunately, the stress of moving. Here's our brief (and very subjective) guide on how to move countries for a Ph.D. or postdoc position and stay sane:

Step 0: Be mentally prepared for the emotional roller coaster of moving

At the initial stage of your stay in the new place (the duration of this stage is very individual), you are very likely to experience a mix of "honeymoon" joy, because everything is so new and exciting, with a feeling of being completely lost, because you have no idea how things work, starting with the most basic tasks. This applies particularly to those preparing for a move associated with PhD or postdoctoral work, for whom moving is intertwined with a research career. Don't blame yourself for not feeling as excited as you thought you would be about this new "better" life; many immigrants go through this as well.

Step 1: Accept that you will have to establish your life from the ground up

Do you have a place to sleep and a full set of bedding? Have you found the nearest grocery store? What about the nearest pharmacy? Do you have a place and utensils to prepare your meals? Do you have internet access? Do you know where to get tickets for public transport? Great, you are well prepared to cover your most basic needs after moving; great job (and yes, you really did a good job, so pat yourself on the back)! As part of this step, it would also be good to find out if there are things that are absolutely necessary to do (e.g., waste sorting) or things that are banned (e.g., drinking alcohol in public).

At this early stage, it's enough to have just any answers to the questions mentioned above. Don't aim for optimal solutions at this stage yet; you're going to be overly stressed if you try to optimize everything at once, and you'll have time for that later. Moreover, if you move as a researcher, PhD candidate, or postdoc, some universities or institutes may offer a network to reach out to or dedicated mentors to assist you throughout the moving process. Accept that, at the beginning of your stay, you will be spending significantly more even on covering your basic needs, and that’s perfectly normal.

Step 2: Bureaucracy

Almost certainly, within the first weeks after moving, you'll have to deal with the bureaucratic system: register with the local immigration service, open a bank account, obtain a tax card, get health insurance, or do something else specific to your new country or academic institution. At this stage, there's a good chance you'll encounter a language barrier, so it could be worth asking your colleague or HR for help.

It's worth preparing yourself that some of the actions mentioned above may involve quite a lengthy waiting period and be interconnected (for example, you can't open a bank account until you receive your residence permit card), and the waiting period can be somewhat unpredictable. As an immigrant, there's often little you can do about those waiting times, so it's important to simply be aware of the possibility of encountering them (and to plan your actions and, most importantly, finances accordingly).

Step 3: How to fulfill your basic needs more optimally

Once you've covered your basic needs to some extent, you can gradually start looking for better ways to fulfill them. Where's the best place to get your groceries (based on the desired quality and price)? Your option could include but not be limited to several supermarkets, a local bakery, or a Sunday market - read reviews online, ask colleagues, or explore on your own (and yes, it will also take some time to get used to the local food and supermarket assortment). Similarly, after some time, you'll figure out which mobile/internet subscription and transportation pass suit you best and what hacks you can use to make your routine more comfortable and cost-effective. 

Often, finding someone who went through a similar experience in advance (for example through mentorship programs or academic networking), would help to prepare better for the move.

Step 4: Personalize your living space

Don't underestimate the impact of the space you live in on your mental health! If you plan to stay in your new place for more than two weeks, for heaven's sake, unpack your suitcases (and the sooner you get them out of sight, the better). Customize your living space (even if you don't plan to buy new furniture or bring your own, you can at least rearrange it the way you like it most). And finally, don't hesitate to use decorative elements. Even if you don’t have much space for it, and you can't put holes in the walls, you can still buy/print reproductions of your favorite artist's work, posters from your favorite franchise, or photos of family and friends, and put them on the walls with a special sticky mass or stickers. You can also consider getting figurines of your favorite characters, aromatic candles, or soft toys - so, basically, anything that will bring warmth, coziness, and individuality to your new home. Creating this sense of belonging and comfort is vital after moving to a new place, particularly as you prepare for the demands of your new environment (including research and PhD responsibilities). This will help you perceive your new home as your new base and a safe space. And yes, may IKEA and thrift stores be your allies!

Step 5: Establish a new leisure routine

Is there something you used to do before moving, like going to the gym or pool (or practicing any other sport), joining quizzes, or pursuing a hobby? Similarly to your living space, your free-time activities are something that will help you recharge and feel better. So it's worth dedicating some time and effort to organizing this part of your life, and it's better not to put it off. Seeking out advice from local people such as your future colleagues or engaging in mentorship opportunities can help in your preparation for the move and the process of settling in. Maybe not all the activities will be available to you in your new location. In this case, you can think about whether it's possible to move this activity online (after the pandemic, the number of options to do so has greatly increased), or how you can replace it. Perhaps now you have options for seaside walks or mountain hikes? Missing your old routine is normal but you’ll get over it as time passes, so try to focus on new opportunities if you can.

Step 6: The endless journey

Integration into a new environment, getting to know the culture more closely, learning the language, settling down in your new life, establishing a new social circle, and finding new friends will take time. Moving will not be easy, both mentally and physically. However, it's a wonderful opportunity to broaden your horizons, get a different perspective on the world, understand what truly matters to you, and grow immensely. 

As you take on the challenge of moving to a new place, remember why you decided to embark on this journey, celebrate even small victories, whether they're related to your research, work, or personal life, and, don't hesitate to ask for help – and you will definitely get through it!

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