…….. the “Newbie Wobble” from Carl Mason
I left UK Policing two years ago and now work in the Caribbean, sitting on a beach most days, shipwrecked and comatose, drinking fresh mango juice, with goldfish shoals nibbling at my toes – it’s fun, fun, fun….
Actually, that last bit isn’t quite true. I work – and I mean, as a contracted employee, WORK – in an office. There’s no paid overtime (“you’re on contract, matey”), no paid rest day working (ditto), no subsidized accommodation or transport and, being a small community, my conduct when ‘off’ duty is potentially the subject of close study – I have to watch my back.
I don’t mind, because I knew what to expect when I got here, thanks to a very wise, and extremely honest, couple of former colleagues – thanks, Mr & Mrs M. I now try to emulate them in helping the “newbies” settle in.
First, don’t think that working ‘abroad’ is a ‘doddle’. If you do, you will soon come a cropper. It’s a great life, but the employer is paying for your time and skills and, quite rightly, they expect value for money. If you’re expecting an easy ride, well, forget it. You are expected to work hard and deliver, often over and above what you signed up for.
Work is not usually the issue though. Most cops have a pretty good work ethic (note to Theresa May). However, I have spoken to roughly 20 UK ex-pat Officers and every single one has the same comment to make…
Put simply, it is loneliness that was, for them, the worst part of adapting to working abroad. As a result, I now advise our ‘newbies” that they will undoubtedly have a “wobble” after a few weeks…a “what the heck have I done…?” kind of thing.
Everyone I know has had a “newbie wobble”; a few have actually run back home, because it’s just too far away from their support networks. Most of us just work through it. But make no mistake, when it hits, the “newbie wobble” is not a nice feeling – mine got me whilst driving alongside the most beautiful cerulean ocean: there were blue skies and palm trees and suddenly, I felt like a tiny speck on the globe, thousands of miles from everything I knew – I couldn’t even use my cellphone to call home because the network was down. It wasn’t nice at all.
Referring to a lack of support, many say it’s just like being the new kid at school: it takes a while to settle in and find friends; but unlike school, systems in developing countries are often archaic (power cuts, ages to get anything done, no complaints network to resolve service issues, no direct debit, costs of transferring money, etc. etc. etc.); finding a place to live can be a pain, as can changing your diet, getting healthcare and keeping a car on the road.
The main thing, though, is the loneliness. I’d say that that is the one thing that ex-pats really need to prepare for (and you shouldn’t think that standing in a beach bar sharing police ‘war stories’ is a substitute)…
It takes a while to be accepted, even by the ex-pat non-police community. You REALLY need to think it through – what happens back home when you get a flat tyre, or your child gets sick or bullied at school? What do you do if there’s a crisis at home? Can you call on people? Of course you can! Neighbours, friends, relatives… you may not realize it, but you have a massive network of people who will bail you out in a crisis. If you work “abroad”, those people – all of them – are thousands of miles away. Oops.
Until you get settled, you – literally – are on your own. Of course, your colleagues might assist, but that’s a pot of goodwill with a shallow bottom – remember, they all went through it as well, and being unable to cope on your own isn’t going to make you many friends. You can sit in a crowded bar with a whole bunch of like-minded people who share similar backgrounds, but still be totally, miserably, crushingly alone. Be ready – it will happen.
I could finish up with a description of the benefits: the weather / beach / sailing / diving / rum-punch bits. But all I would say is that the Caribbean is exactly how you would expect, thanks to James Bond and Judith Chalmers. It’s not hard to have a good time out here (on the days you’re not working that is!). The new element is YOU and, if YOU don’t change (and learn patience and tolerance above all), then you won’t adapt. Nobody wants to know how the UK is somehow “superior” (often, it’s actually not, TBH). I have a feeling that the situation is similar everywhere else in the world to a greater or lesser extent – the one common denominator is you…
I really enjoy my days off, it’s warm all year round and beach life is great. I’m lucky to have wonderful friends and colleagues, I love my work and where I live; I am truly privileged to be here and hope to stay longer, but….
…that’s because I adapted…