Aardvark Asks – What’s It Like Moving Abroad for Work?

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Moving overseas can be daunting at any point in a person’s life. It can be an intimidating decision for many. The difference in culture. The change of scenery. The potential language barrier. All of these potential issues can make deciding to move abroad for work a difficult one. Now imagine trying to do this during a global pandemic.

The Backstory:

Josh Hills is a 24-year-old developer from Newcastle Upon Tyne. After working as a freelance web developer alongside his Computer Science BSc course, he began to see a niche for himself in the industry and distant shores began to call. “A new environment always provides opportunities to learn and experiment, which was something I decided I needed,” says Josh. “I got in touch with Aardvark Swift, and they were totally unlike any other recruiter I’d ever used. They opened so many doors so quickly and taught me things about the process of job hunting I’d never considered. Before I knew it, I had accepted an offer overseas and it all became real.”

Wanting to move abroad was never really a concrete decision for Josh. He simply remained open to the prospect and the opportunities that international studios could afford him. “Stepping out of your comfort zone is a key skill in this industry, and being young and relatively responsibility-free, dreamily eyeing my friend’s Facebook pages as they posted tales of their own adventures, made me feel like the excitement was anywhere I wasn’t.” This grass-is-greener mindset allowed Josh to consider roles further afield and not just disregard the international opportunities that were brought to him by the recruitment team. More than anything, it was the competition of the job search and the desire for personal development that drove Josh in his decision. “There’s a lot of talent all over the globe, so I decided my highest priority was finding a project I could be passionate about and a team I could continue to learn from, regardless of its location. My offer from Guerrilla was serendipitous. I was already living apart from my family, so when Aardvark Swift presented me with some options, I didn’t rule out those further away.

The Questions to Ask:

As well as the prior mentioned challenges, such as the cultural differences when moving abroad, there were several other things that had been keeping Josh in the UK. The fear of the unknown. How did healthcare work, how would he continue to repay a student loan, would post-Brexit visas be a problem?

So many unknowns and different variables. “The desire for a smooth transition raised several big questions. One of the biggest was would I fit in? Whilst my new employer offered to fly me over to visit, I had fortunately already spent some time in Amsterdam once before when I was younger, and it didn’t seem too detached from what I was used to. Old-town buildings converted into metropolitan shopping areas. The time-zone difference was only an hour, which would mean I could travel home without jetlag, and still socialise online. I also had the benefit of a singular Dutch friend.”

Guidance from the recruitment team and questions raised through conversations with family members gave him a helpful list of queries he could approach his new HR team with during the post-offer process. Everything from the cost-of-living to making sure he had a comfortable safety net to combat the unexpected.

The Post Offer Process:

As an employer, Guerrilla offered a multitude of different support methods to those relocating and that was enough to put Josh’s main concerns at ease with their down to earth and empathetic manner. “Having relocated others before and showing they were willing to invest in me in a number of ways, from relocation allowance to a temporary company apartment upon arrival, gave me so much reassurance that I had made the right decision.”

To mitigate the stress of having to arrange everything for an international move, Josh made sure to give himself enough time to get organised and work through some of the biggest questions in his head. “How was I going to move my possessions overseas? How often could my partner visit? To manage the stress, I handed my notice in with enough time to allow me a break in between jobs, something I highly recommend if you can afford it.”

Josh was even able to determine ahead of time the makeup of the company (all English-speaking from a diverse range of backgrounds) as well as clubs and social groups he might be able to join upon his arrival. “While saying my goodbyes, I did worry I would feel lonely, and braced myself for imposter-syndrome to hit harder than ever before!”

Getting Settled in and Starting Work:

After successfully moving abroad, and a few awkward remote introductions to his new teammates, integration into Guerrilla and the culture came quickly. Josh took to the challenge head-on. “Bizarrely, logging onto Slack for the first time and seeing memes I understood helped me a lot, almost as if I wasn’t so different! Showing an interest in Dutch culture helped, and I signed up for a language course. I also used my weekends to get the tourist activities out of the way so I could feel more like a citizen. It didn’t take long for me to come to resent other tourists, which I’m told is a good sign of assimilation!” Josh quickly found other English expats amongst the Guerrilla team and made sure to pencil in regular catchups to bring a sense of normality back into his life. He was soon making friends and friends-of-friends.

That is not to say moving to Amsterdam didn’t come without its challenges. Some were small and insignificant; others were more unexpected and surprisingly prohibitive. “Shopping in supermarkets was for a period very interesting, with lots of new foods to try. But it was also frustrating trying to find certain products in stores, pointing Google Lens at the words on the tins in the hopes that they might be my salvation. Dutch business culture is also a lot more to the point, and I found it difficult to read tone in messages.”

Then there were the issues and concerns that took up more of Josh’s time. He felt that he had lost the progress he’d made in the games industry in the UK, already having established himself as someone with extraprofessional interests as a developer who was fond of being involved in a variety of initiatives. It was something he’d have to build up again, almost reinventing himself for a new audience.

“Something else I’m still dealing with is the slow trickle of bureaucracy from back home. I receive at least one phone call a week related to something I’ve left behind; an upcoming driving test I’d tried to cancel, a council-tax system that hasn’t caught up with my move. At one point, someone from Hello Fresh called and tried to convince me to move back to the UK so I could partake in a 20% off coupon.” As absurd and unwelcome as some of the logistics have been, Josh has also had to be mindful of international issues. “Moving money between accounts put me at the mercy of conversation rates and I had to guess how much I’d need to be comfortable. I wonder how long I’m going to still need a UK bank account and phone number. It’s not the end of the world, but it distracts from my workday and makes me feel a bit like an international criminal on-the-run from the authorities. Hailing from a country where ‘immigrant’ is often used with negative connotations, it has been liberating to self-identify as one.”

Parting Thoughts:

“I was actually recovering from COVID while interviewing remotely for this role, so moving away felt freeing – like there wasn’t much for me to lose at that point. Travel has been a consistently unsettling experience since March 2020. What if the rules change and I get stuck? What if I don’t do my due diligence and end up making somebody ill? The UK and the Netherlands have both been criticised for their response to COVID, but at the very least, there’s been an international sense of togetherness throughout as we’re largely all facing similar hardships. I’m thankful for the privilege that I’ve had as I take what was always going to be a calculated risk; the next step in my career.”

Josh has found that moving abroad to work in the games industry is surprisingly attainable. It isn’t without its challenges, but the reward has been more than worth it. “The quagmire of considerations I expected to have to deal with did happen, but not all at once – and each one provided me with an interesting anecdote. In my opinion, the most important thing you have to do when taking your career abroad is the same thing you’d do if you stayed put – ask yourself whether this career move will make you happy. I’m really happy at Guerrilla, even if we do code in American-English (which I’m sure would upset the Queen).”

Follow Josh on Twitter to keep up to date with his Guerrilla journey.

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