Advice for living away from home

Living away from your home country is not easy at first. Some people thrive, some people dive (badly). You don’t want to be one of those who have a terrible time and go home broken. To avoid such a scenario is not difficult (I won’t say easy). So, here are 5 things to consider following when living away from home.

1. Skype (or similar)

It might seem strange to include this on such a list, but communication with people back home is important. Skype is on this list not just for you, but also for your parents and siblings. Avoid talking about the negative stuff when you talk with them, even if it is hard, but focus on the little highlights. However, using Skype can be hard for older people who are not computer savvy. For them to be confident and independent with it, you cannot install it onto their computer, they need to do it themselves. You can stand behind them and instruct them step-by-step, but resist the urge to touch that mouse. They need to invest in the time and energy to work out how to get it, install it, and run it. Knowing something of how to install and get it to work by themselves, means that they have better computer skills, and can do more without you around at home to help. Technology moves on, and Skype will eventually be supplanted by something else. At least they will have the basic skills to install and run that. They will have problems, and you can help them with the Myriad of YouTube videos out there.

2. Cook for yourself

Really, this makes a huge difference. Doing “self-care” improves your mental and physical health. Preparing food with fresh ingredients means that you’re not putting chemicals like preservatives and artificial flavours into your body. Taking the time to make something, means that you are guaranteeing that you have control of your nutritional intake. Be sure to always include fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein. Spending time doing these things is a ritual, which has its own psychological benefits.

Vegetable Food Cooked on Frying Pan, CC Andrew Weber (n.d)

Vegetable Food Cooked on Frying Pan, CC Andrew Weber (n.d)

3. Save money

This is especially important for young teachers and students living away from home for the first time. I’ve seen young teachers fall into serious depression, basically because they are stuck in a bad work situation, and don’t have the financial means to get out, and they drink their money away. Some times you might have a bad work situation, or a family emergency, or something. You need to have enough money for a ticket back home, and enough to survive until your next pay check (assume two months). Other people consider a family or personal emergency that they need to pay for. Have a safety net to bail yourself out. I heard an interview with a young homeless lady in London, who said that most people, even the high street bankers prior to the 2008 economic meltdown, are only one or two paychecks from homelessness. Don’t be that person.

4. Make friends

It seems like an obvious thing to do, but some people just don’t. You need at least two groups of friends. You need expat friends and local friends. It’s great to explore a new city or a new country with other people like yourself. However, it’s also great to get inside-knowledge from the locals. Party with both groups, go places with both groups, and enjoy life with both groups. You will have a more fulfilling time.

Black Coffee Breakfast, CC by Burst (n.d) https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-beverage-black-coffee-breakfast-374592/

Black Coffee Breakfast, CC by Burst (n.d) https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-beverage-black-coffee-breakfast-374592/

5. Have a hobby

Most people would not think of putting such an item on a list like this, but it is equally important. When you are not working or studying, you need something to do. You need something to occupy your mind. TV and video games cannot be included. I’ve seen people use video games to fill their free time. They still suffered depression, homesickness, and guilt at the lost time spent not exploring the city or country. Use your time to read, develop your painting, poetry, photographic, or other skills. Study more about education. Be productive. Have something to show for when you can’t get out on those rainy days. I met someone who was producing a blog to document all the castles in Japan. He has a goal, and an excuse to get out. There was also a final product to show; and a sense of pride for his efforts.

Painting, CC by Jadson Thomas (n.d)

Painting, CC by Jadson Thomas (n.d)

Don’t update to Windows 10

Normally , I would not give any strong opinions on anything. However, this does raise a whole lot of concerns and worries. I’ve seen reports of privacy violations with Windows 10 (Computer World, Slate, TechRadar, Tech Republic). I am a pragmatic person, and not easily shaken or swayed by things.

Photo: CC Raymond Shobe, 2015, https://flic.kr/p/wHCzQP. Windows 10 upgrade.

Photo: CC Raymond Shobe, 2015, https://flic.kr/p/wHCzQP. Windows 10 upgrade.

For an example. If I do a research project with students, I have to ask for their permission to collect data and information about them. If they say ‘no’, I simply cannot collect data or information. It’s the law in Australia, the US, the UK, and international laws of human rights. If someone first agreed, and then later withdrew from the project, I must stop collecting data from that person. If that person also says they don’t want me to retain any data, and that it must be destroyed or deleted, I simply must. It’s the law.

However, Microsoft’s new Windows 10 violates this principle of permission, and right to withdraw, and the ability to demand that data about me is or is not collected, or that data about me is destroyed. Ars Technica reports that despite all the privacy settings being switched on, the new OS still phones home, some times with identifiable information (The Guardian, 13th Aug 2015).

It was already reported about the creepy advertisements on the OS, where people playing Solitaire receive personalised advertisements (The Guardian, 31st Jul 2015). Also, how much personal data is uploaded to MS, including wifi passwords (The Guardian, 31st Jul 2015). This has got to be bad for a lot of people. With thanks to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, we know about the mass collection of people’s personal information by the US government. This mass collection is done regardless of my rights, permissions, law, of innocence or guilt. I’m not American, I don’t care about the US, and have no interests there. So, of course I would object to a foreign government collecting my personal information. What American would feel comfortable having all their personal information collected by the Chinese government? However, the collection of my personal information by a foreign government is surely going to happen by default as soon as my new Windows 10 OS is installed, and despite what my privacy settings are on. This is bad for journalists, political activists (regardless of their allegiances), and even for legitimate human research. Even if you say, “I have nothing to hide”, police forces are still staffed by humans who have their own personal agendas, and will eventually have access to that information about you. That is to say, they can look at your personal data and make deliberately false assumptions about you. Consider your internet browsing history, and the automatic pop up ads you sometimes get. What story could someone make up about you?

Update 31st March 2016: If you have Windows 10, and want to fix the privacy problems, Tech Radar offers some help, and Slate give a great guide on how to install Windows 10 and organise the privacy settings as you go.

The secret to learning many languages

I have heard of polyglots, people who can speak many languages; but now there’s a new word for me, ‘hyperglot’, people who can speak ten or more languages. How do they do it? According to the BBC it’s easy; just ‘inhabit’ the language and culture (BBC, How to learn 30 languages). That means, try to become like the speaker from that place, and temporarily abandon your own mother language and culture. Build friendships with people from the target language / culture. “Resisting the process of reinvention may prevent you from learning another language so well, says Keeley, who is a professor of cross-cultural management at Kyushu Sangyo University in Japan” (BBC). In short, try mimicking people from the target culture is more effective than trying to hold on to your old self.

However, I think that there’s one more thing that’s vitally important: a willingness to try.

Coffee Talk. CC Anna Levinzon 2008, https://flic.kr/p/4wAz5r

Coffee Talk. CC Anna Levinzon 2008, https://flic.kr/p/4wAz5r