Familiarisation Visit: What to do and think about?

We were invited by the company for a familiarisation week in Australia. It was a particularly challenging adventure as we had to find childcare for our three children in the UK for that week. Luckily, we had amazing support from friends. It was a busy week as my husband was attending a corporate management week and I spent the full week in full reconnaissance mode.

Planning Stage

  • full organisation of childcare for the week, including schedules of who does what and when…explanations of routines, etc. I had a full plan!
  • discussions with the company about possible dates, plane tickets, accomodation, car rental, itinerary for the week, booking flights and applying for a visa
  • looking on different websites and reading books about weather, culture, etc.
  • asking the children what they would like of their new school, visit websites of different schools, looking at pros and cons for different settings
  • Bookings of some appointments during the week: schools, nursery and potential employers by email or from a person who can help in the country

What I did during the week?

We had a very busy week, full of social events, professional activities and visits. It was quite a challenge as I have three children, in three different educational stage so I had to arrange a number of school visits. All very beneficial so I would not know what to cut out in the week. It’s long journey back so we slept then!

  • My husband and I spent one day together recovering from jet lag and discovering the area together.
  • I had a day booked with a relocation agent who showed me some rental and house to buy so that I could get a feel of the housing market in the area.
  • I visited 9 educational settings in the area of my husband’s work: 5 secondaries, 3 primaries and a nursery and picked up all the prospectus to show the children. I also took some pictures of the environment around the school to show them. I took notes as I visited the schools so that I could explain differences in the system to them. Some visits were booked prior and others not. I booked many visits during the week as I got to know the area better. Everyone was very opened and amicable to me visiting the settings.
  • I made contacts with estate agents and arranged to visit some houses.
  • Social events: We had dinner either on social events or some future colleagues most evenings. We found that beneficial to get to know everyone and create some great anchor points for the future.

What did I find helpful, glad I did?

  • We were very short with time as my husband had to go to another trip after our familiarisation visit. We debated plane journeys, shorter, longer, thinking of the children too. We found it very helpful to spend a day together before the start of the week so we could explore together initially.  I was then able to discuss my visits with him and he understood where I had been.
  • Visiting a number of educational settings and houses to really be able to make the most informed decision possible. There are lots of other schools in the area that I have visited, but could not visit them all.
  • Lots of driving about, getting to know the area. A Sat Nav was essential!
  • Speaking to future colleagues about schools and the area.
  • Going to the Tourist Information to pick up maps and lots of leaflets about future activities. More defined maps were very helpful when it came to choose a house to rent. I bought some souvenirs from a Post Office, some nice story books about Australia. We also bought some presents at the airport but these were much more expensive. These were great tool for talking about the area to the children. (Top Tips: Preparing Children for a Move Abroad).
  • Not to overload my week initially and add appointments during the week as I found  out more about the area. Allowing myself time to drive about and explore the area between appointments.
  • We managed to contact the children via video call most days or every other day, depending on time difference and activities (theirs and ours).
  • I enjoyed watching the news in a different country, interesting and different news coverage.
  • Although it was a busy week, social dinners were definitely a must!

What did I forget, should have done better?

  • I should have been a bit wiser and ask more questions about transport to secondary schools. We later found out that the schools we were keen for our oldest to go to did not have a bus route back to the house we had chosen to rent. Although we are kind of sorted now, it created some initial headaches in the planning the move stage and when we arrived here.
  • We struggled with me having a phone for the week so it made it tricky to make appointments. I eventually managed with WI-FI, emails on my iPad and the hotel phone, but it would have helpful to get a Sim card in Australia as soon as we arrived. Well, we tried but we were not successful, the system of the shop at airport was down so they could hand out Sim cards.
  • Purchasing presents prior going back to the airport. I had not been close to shops at all…

Overall, the familiarisation week was extremely beneficial and I am really glad we had that opportunity prior the move. It made it real, created some anchor points and a much easier adaptation when we arrived in the country as we know where we were going. I would certainly recommend a familiarisation week to anyone thinking of relocating a family abroad…

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